Paradox Development Studio Interview: The Importance of Modding, DLC & The Future

Paradox Development Studio Interview: The Importance of Modding, DLC & The Future

2014 is set to be a big year for well respected Swedish developer Paradox Development Studio . Famed for their ambitious grand RTS franchises such as Crusader Kings, Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron, the studio is held in high esteem for their work in what is considered a niche market by some. I was lucky enough to interview Johan Anderson, studio manger, about the future of the studio, it’s games, and their views of DLC, the modding community and the future of the studio.

 

Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis are rather niche strategy titles, is it a more rewarding experience when a game resonates so deeply among a passionate market?

Our games might actually not be as niche as you think, we are seeing a huge increase in gamers that are discovering sandbox strategy games every day and millions of gamers are playing games created by us at Paradox Development Studio. However I personally do believe that strategy gamers are the most intelligent gamers out there and they are truly passionate indeed! They also demand a lot from us and even if we still are fairly small studio, we do our best to fulfill their expectations

 

Is there a sense of added pressure to improve and build upon both franchises given the popularity and admiration they have within the community?

I wouldn’t say pressure, because I think the most pressure is added by ourselves, since we constantly want to improve our own games. Rather it is a love story, because as long as we have gamers that support our games and ask for new features, we can keep adding to the game. And that is a dream come true for a game developer, both to get new ideas and inspiration from the people playing our games as well as getting time and resources to keep working on the game.Because when you have been working at a game for a long time and finally both gets exposed both to really playing the finished product and the feedback of the gamers, you instantly come up with so many cool ideas that could be added to the game if you only had a little more time on your hands… And thanks to the community and the support, we actually can do it. Gamers help us keep developing the game further and I thing that is something truly great.

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How does the sheer scale and complexity of both Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis start life in the concept stage? How much work and research goes into such ambitious projects?

Oh dear, where do I start? A lot. Especially for Crusader Kings II since it contained so many characters. There we had to rely on the help of dedicated betas even though many people on the team worked hard on filling in the gaps of all those dynasty lines. For Europa Universalis IV we did a lot of the historical research connected to the core mechanics while we use beta researchers to help flesh out the details of areas like Japan, India and North America. Many of us are fairly well-read in history, but unfortunately we can’t be experts on all areas – but we have huge amounts of experts among our gamers.

Did both games provide much of a learning curve for the teams working on them?

Since both were sequels, we had a foundation and a vision for what we wanted to create. However for both games, there were so many things we wanted to add, change and improve, so looking back we basically recreated both games anyway. So indeed, we learned a lot and we keep learning. That is how game development is, you always learn something new!

Crusader Kings 2 has been heavily supported through downloadable content, does DLC allow for the team to try new ideas for out for the core game?

Absolutely, the constant stream of revenue for the game makes it possible to constantly improve and patch the game, to add free gameplay features and also explore both ideas that gamers request as well as making ideas less expected come to life that we think will surprise our gamers.
It also adds flexibility for the gamers, as they can pick and choose what dlc:s they want to purchase. With the larger expansions that we did for our earlier games there were no choice – either you bought it all or you didn’t.

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In terms of the industry, DLC has been seen as something of a mixed bag of success and failure. Is there a set criteria to how Paradox approaches DLC?

Absolutely, with every large expansion we aim to release a large patch with both fixes as well as free gameplay content. It´s simple really. Even if we naturally hope our gamers will buy dlc:s and expansions, we want to make sure that gamers get the very best main game possible – even if they don´t buy a single dlc.

One of the most popular mods for Crusader Kings 2 was the Song of Ice & Fire total conversion. How vital is the role of modders to the PC game market as well as the industry on the whole?

I would say that the modding community is extremely vital for our games, however maybe even more so because they help others discover our games, we get inspiration from their work and it´s pretty marvelous to see all the creativity out there. Modders also help keep up interest in our games between versions or expansions by providing additional content and new scenarios for those that play our games a lot. We love our modding community and we have hired quite a few modders to PDS.

Paradox Development Studio have been around for some time now, what has it been like seeing the jumps in technology and how video games are becoming increasingly more main stream?

I think these are really interesting times to be a gamer in and I wouldn´t say that games are becoming increasingly more mainstream actually. With the indie dev scene and digital download distribution – smaller games can find their audience. And with less costs surrounding the releases, a game can sell in smaller amounts and still give revenue back to the team so they can keep developing games. Indies and self-published content brings in new ideas, new boosts of creativity and brave new thoughts to the gaming world. I have been playing Papers,Please and FTL quite a bit, and I don´t think those gamers could have been created by a major studio. I am convinced that good games that are in someway niche, experimental or trying out new things can find their audience and get funds enough to keep working on their vision and I think that´s absolutely fantastic.

For Paradox Development Studio games, the most recent changes are that we now make our games for PC, Mac and Linux and we can easier distribute, support and patch our games, create dlc:s and expansions and find new gamers thanks to digital download which we began with in Victoria: Revolutions in 2006. We can clearly see new gamers finding our games on a daily basis from all over the world and if we were limited to physical distribution, I don´t think that would be possible.

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After mastering the strategy genre, is there any plans to broaden PDS’s horizons with new genres?

I am guessing that you wanna rephrase that question now, since we have revealed our upcoming titles Hearts of Iron IV and Runemaster?  We have already explored strategy/RPG with Crusader Kings II and I would say that what all Paradox Development Studio games have in common is the freedom for the gamer to explore and take decisions for him/herself. And we have always had a passionate love for sandbox games – games that allow you to set your own goals and decide which tools you will use to reach them.

However for us it is still a huge step to create the first non-historical game ever for our studio – the tactical RPG Runemaster. But we believe our gamers love the freedom and exploration as well as tactical combat. Not to forget the fact that the game it is based on Nordic mythology from a Swedish game development studio that is born and raised on the myths and the sagas. We really hope our gamers will love it, even when it is something different from our grand strategy games and that they will take this leap of faith with us.

How much more of the strategy genre would you like to explore? Is there any ideas that you would love to try and implement into a game?

We at PDS are extremely curious people, I have to admit. So yes, I think we have only scratched the surface on all the things we would like to explore and implement, especially when it comes to history that is a bottomless source for inspiration and ideas. I think we are especially seeing this for Crusader Kings II now actually, that we really have ideas that we believe gamers would love to enhance the storytelling in the game–features that gamers might not always have requested – but that we think they will fall in love in! Or so we hope and pray ;)

Sean Halliday


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