February 2, 2019

Lessons learned from the Paradox podcast - Season 4

Paradox Interactive is a company that's both developing 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 1season 2, season 3, and this is season 4:

S04E01
  • The successful game RimWorld is a perfect "paradox game" they never published/developed because RimWorld is a combination of the games Factorial (manufacturing), Don't Starve (survival), and The Sims (social). 
  • Paradox has acquired the game Prison Architect, which is a game first released in 2015. They acquired it from the company that developed it, so they didn't acquire the developer itself. Prison Architect is a good game because it's a sandbox where you can create your own stories, so Paradox believes they can come up with new content in a similar way as Microsoft is still making money from Minecraft by updating it. Prison Architect is obviously not as big as Minecraft, but both games are similar to each other. Paradox also plans to develop other "Architect" games, such as Ski resort Architect. 
  • Paradox has an idea that to provide free updates to an existing game, they can sell paid updates (DLCs) to game and that will also pay for some free updates to the same game. A seven year old Paradox game is still getting free updates because some people pay for the paid updates. 
  • There's currently a war between developers if they should put their game on the Steam store or on the Epic store. A better idea is to focus on making a good game and put it on a store, and competition between stores is good.
S04E02
  • Farming Simulator might sound like a stupid game idea - who would want to spend time drive around in a tractor? But it turns out people like to farm, the company behind the game announced they will turn farming into an e-sport, so what you think is boring can be fun if you make the boring parts fun to play.
  • The quality of games released every year is increasing because people can now go to school and learn game development, which is not something you could some years ago. But releasing a good-looking game with no bugs is no longer enough - it also has to be fun to play. And you also need to figure out a way to market the game, which is what Paradox can do for you. 
S04E03
  • Paradox has recruited Rod Humble to lead a new Paradox studio in US called Tectonic. He has made 200 games (including Sims 3) and has 30 years of experience. 
  • Rod Humble believes in "The Valve style" when making games. Valve is a successful game developer and they believe in: 
    • Small groups
    • Each group members should be specialized in one area while still having a broad range of skills
    • Small amount of documentation (1 page is enough)
    • Moving fast by prototyping ideas without first having to ask if you are allowed to do it and then some manager has to make that decision one month from now 
  • Game developers make art - they sell a fantasy, telling a dream. A game is not like toothpaste which you actually need. 
S04E04
  • An interview with Wendy Young and her experience of working through the ups and downs in the game industry. 
S04E05
  • How can you reach a new type of audience that plays another type of game than the audience you already have? Just because you make a game that attracts that type of audience does't mean they will automatically be aware of your game. What Paradox did to make the new audience aware of the new game was to launch a dating app which is an odd thing to do if you are a game developer. But it would make the new audience be aware of the game. 
  • To measure if your marketing idea was successful, you measure of many people found what you wanted them to find. For example, how many watched the trailer, how many media sites wrote about the game, how many signed up for the newsletter, how many pre-ordered the game? But it's still difficult to really measure if it was a success if you have nothing to compare the numbers against.     
S04E06
  • It's difficult to analyze whether a feature in a game contributes to the number of sales. For example, will adding multiplayer result in more sales? No-one knows. 
  • Paradox has released a new game: Imperator: Rome. It has caused a lot of anger in the community and has bad user reviews on Steam. Some users argue they are tired of the "Paradox way" of releasing a game for full price and then DLCs over the years. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future and the podcast argued it was too early to discuss it in this podcast because they have to first analyze why there's a mismatch between the users and Paradox.
  • There's currently a small war going on between Steam and Epic Store. Some developers have decided to try to make a little more money by releasing their games only on the Epic Store. Many gamers are upset by this decision, and the question is why are they so angry? According to the podcast, the answer is that it's annoying to maintain a friends-list on several accounts, which is why people prefer to buy games just on Steam because it's simpler to have everything collected in once place. Another reason is that the Epic Store doesn't have the same features as Steam has because Epic Store is a younger service. On the other hand, gamers were also upset when Steam was launched, so what gamers actually dislike is change. Another good article on the topic is: Why People Are So Mad About The Epic Games Store
S04E07
  • Paradox's latest game, Imperator: Rome, has been out for two weeks, and it has received mixed reviews. While the professional game critics like the game, the gamers are not. Who should you listen to? Paradox says you should listen to the professional critics because they will give you the overall state of the game when it's released, while gamers may give the game bad reviews because of some minor details. As you develop the game after release, you should instead listen to the gamers because they will continuously publish reviews as the game becomes (hopefully) better and better. 
  • Paradox's business idea, or the "Paradox way" which has been discussed in the podcast, is to release a complete game and then release content (dlc) to the game over the years, and you have to pay for these expansions. Gamers argue that Paradox has come up with the idea (to make more money) to instead release an unfinished basic game, forcing more people to buy the dlc to get a complete game. But Paradox still argues they developed more than a complete basic game and the players are instead expecting more and more from the basic game. The gamers, on the other hand, argue they should expect more from the basic game because Paradox is now a bigger company with more resources and experience.
  • What should you do when your game gets bad reviews? Paradox went through all reviews on Steam (currently 7658 of them) up to one particular date. You should listen to your customers, but not always do what they say. Then you should come up with a long-term plan and not panic-fixing the game. What Paradox learned is that they have to become better at communicating what a player can expect from a game.   
S04E08
  • The first couple of minutes of game-play are becoming more and more important. The reason is because of services where you pay a monthly fee and it allows you to play as many games as you want, and then it's easier to change game compared to if you had bought a single game. This is similar to uploading a video on YouTube - you have to make sure the first seconds are interesting or the viewer will click on the next video.  
  • Less than one percent of Paradox customers are using Linux. Is it worth the investment? You have to remember that it's often more difficult to make a game work on Linux so more than one percent of the customers who need support are Linux users, making a Linux customer more expensive. Isn't it better to invest the money in making the Windows version better?
  • The three game shows that are important to Paradox are: GDC, E3, and Gamescom. 
  • How will we purchase games in the future? Free-2-play, subscription services, streaming services? No-one knows! But what is sure is that the best game will still make money despite the payment model. 

This article will be updated as they release new episodes!

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