December 27, 2018

Lessons learned from the Paradox podcast - Season 3

Paradox Interactive is a company that's both making and publishing games. In their podcast they talk about the business of video games, and if you want to listen to it on your own, you should search for The Paradox Podcast on iTunes or wherever you can find popular podcasts. I've earlier summarized season 1 and season 2, and this is season 3:

S03E01
  • Strategy/simulation/management games are not that common on consoles like Playstation. But Paradox has released their city-builder Cities: Skylines on the Xbox and now they release the Stellaris game. But you will most likely have to redesign the game's UI. 
  • Paradox is working with an external developer to transform the game from PC to console. This is also what they did with Cities: Skylines. 
  • Paradox believes in function over form, meaning that the backend is more important than the frontend. Some developers spend too much time developing cool graphics but their games are boring. Paradox argues that a fun game is more playable than a game with better graphics. 
  • Going to an event like E3 or Gamescom has some value even though it's difficult to quantify this value. How many people will buy the game because you showed it at E3? It's impossible to tell! Reaching out to potential customers at these events takes time and money (400,000 people visit Gamescom over 4 days), so if you are small you should work with someone who has resources, like Paradox has. 
  • People have different motivations why they want to play a game. Some want to explore the world and others want to have a realistic experience, etc. You should focus on why a player wants to play your game, which needs does the player have? This is more important than making a game for a certain age group or a certain group with a specific education. Someone who is 16 and someone else who is 64 may have the same reason why they want to play your game. But when you start marketing the game you might focus on a specific age group - younger people tend to watch YouTube and older people tend to watch television.  
S03E02
  • All games released by Paradox has a product team. Each team has a product manager who can best be described as the CEO of the product and takes care of the overall direction of the product. The game is NOT the product, but is included in the product together with how the game is sold, the price of the game, etc. In the product team, you can also find a producer, who makes sure the game is released on time and within budget, and a product marketing manager, who takes care of the selling and marketing of the game. 
  • As a product marketing manager, you will study who's writing about the game, is what they are writing positive, and have they understood the message from the marketing manager? For example, have they understood that Paradox is bringing strategy games to console? 
  • It's more difficult to market a game for console than for PC. In the console case, you have to do in-store advertising, such as in the PlayStation store. 
S03E03
  • Cities: Skylines is out on Nintendo Switch! What Paradox didn't do was that they didn't announce they would release the game on the Switch until the day it was released. The reason was that CS is a well-known game and if they had announced it before it was released they wouldn't have had anything to talk about when it was released. 
  • What is the job of a product manager? As said in the last episode, the product manager is the CEO of the product so the CEO of the company can focus on the overall direction of the company and not micromanage the products. The product manager is responsible for the financial results, budget control, and the product team to make sure everyone has the same vision, ideas, and goals. 
  • A product manager at Paradox can also be responsible for a segment. Segments at Paradox are strategy, management, and rpg, and each segment includes one or more games. 
  • It often happens that Paradox is cancelling a game they have been working on - they are killing 50 percent of the games before they are announced. The main reason is that the vision of the game is no longer shared by everyone and the game doesn't have any meaningful choices. Even though you have experienced game developers it's still impossible to know if the game idea is going to work before you have a playable version of the game. And if it doesn't work it is important to kill it as soon as possible because it will be more difficult the longer you work on the game.   
  • The game development process at Paradox can be divided into the following steps: signing, proof-of-concept (this is where most games a cancelled), alpha, launch. 
S03E04
  • What's the job of a community manager? The basic idea is that the community manager should represent the company among the players and represent the players within the company. 10 percent of the job is social media, they come up with strategies for creating communities, how to make the game appealing for people who have never heard of it before, and how to bring the community back into the game to make the game better. 
  • Players love to talk about games on social media. But should you listen to them or should you listen to the people who are not talking about the game because the spend all time playing it? You should listen to everyone but you should also try to find trends among the feedback you are given. If you can't solve the problem (maybe it's not technically possible) then you should tell them why and they will most likely accept the answer and be happy. 
  • You can measure how good a community manager is by looking at the engagement rate: how many people interact with the content, how big are the discussions on services like Reddit. An engaged community will buy mores stuff. 
S03E05
  • When you have a big company you need an Event Manager who is responsible for organizing events such as PDXCON. 
  • Paradox is preferring to organize their own events instead of attending major events, such as E3, even though they are doing that as well. The reason is that they have realized it's easier to reach out to the media when organizing their own events because your own news tends to get lost among the noise at major events. 
  • There's a saying that it's a waste of time (if you are a small developer) to attend major events because it will not help you to sell more games. A better way is to instead of spending money on aircraft tickets, invest the money in your game. But what events can do is to create a long-term relationship with your players because they will like you more when you meet them face-to-face. But then you need a finished game so you should attend these events when the game is released. One of the first Minecraft events was when Notch met some players in a park, so it doesn't have to be expensive. 
  • One new type of event is role-playing where people are pretending they are in your game. 
  • Some time ago when Paradox was less successful, Paradox pretended they were in Los Angeles for E3 by changing the name on the press releases from Stockholm to Los Angeles. This got them coverage on news sites who were doing roundups about what was going on at E3. If someone wanted to meet them in Los Angeles, they pretended their schedule was full. 
S03E06
  • Paradox has a Twitch channel and their employees are streaming their games for 20 hours each week. They are also streaming other stuff such as when the company is releasing a new quarterly report. But they say it's difficult to measure if people who watch the stream is buying the game they stream. Most people tend to open a new tab and google the game and this is impossible to measure. 
  • People have stopped trusting game trailers because they know a trailer is picking only the best parts of a game - so they want to see actual gameplay so they watch someone streaming the game. 
  • The problem with streaming is that you have to be entertaining all the time while you are streaming. When you make a YouTube video you can edit the bad parts - but streaming is live. 
S03E07
  • What is a producer? A producer is keeping track of the game. Paradox is in Sweden and some of their games is being developed in other countries, so a producer can be said to be the main point of contact between Paradox and the studio developing the game. 
  • Paradox argues that metacritic and user scores by themselves don't have a correlation with how profitable a game is. Not everyone is reviewing the game and some groups may hate a game because it includes something they don't like and give a bad review. But they also say that it's easier to get new users for a game if the reviews are good, but users who already play Paradox games don't care about reviews if they buy a similar game from Paradox. 
  • A successful producer is also a producer who's identifying if the game being developed is not going to be a good game. Cancelling a bad game is sometimes the best alternative because then you have time to work on a good game. 
  • To make a successful game you need an experienced studio with the right attitude and relationship with Paradox, and you also need enough time to develop the game.
...and that's the end of season 3!

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