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Entertainment Fuse was fortunate enough to get some time to speak with Paradox Interactive about the future role of publishing and developing in the video game industry. I was able to speak with Paradox Interactive’s Chief Marketing Officer Susana Meza and Paradox Development Studio’s Head of Development Johan Andersson about the future of gaming. I had some questions and luckily Paradox was more than happy to enlighten me on the subjects of their expertise.
Paradox Interactive develops in addition to publishes video games. On both publishing and development fronts, a little bird told me that “strategy is your game”. As a developer, where does Paradox’s affinity for strategy gaming originate from?
Johan Andersson: Originally the development studio started in the board-gaming development studio, as we were part of Target Games until 1999, who developed lots of classic board games in Sweden. Most of the people hired since have also been devout fans of strategy games. I grew up playing board games as a kid, and have always dreamt about making my own strategy games, and now I’ve done it for close to two decades and I still love it.
Paradox Development Studio has been a leading global developer of PC-based strategy games since 1995. Has it been challenging to keep strategy your main genre of expertise for almost two decades?
JA: While the core of the development studio has been the same people for over 15 years, we have had a constant growth of new people with new ideas into the team. It is always a challenge though, as sometimes you make things too complicated, or sometimes you grow far too ambitious and the final polish is lacking. We strive to keep creating challenging strategy games, we listen a lot to our gamer's feedback and constantly try new things to keep challenge and entertain all our gamers.
It would seem that strategy games in general are usually somewhat dominative to computers. I’ve always thought that one of the reasons strategy game developers prefer the PC over most consoles is customarily due to interfacing and compatibility with the functions a strategy game must have in combination with a mouse. I also believe that tablet touchscreen technology utilizes very similar functionality to that of a computing mouse. With the gaining popularity of tablet devices and new ideas like Nintendo’s tablet controller and Microsoft’s ‘Smart Glass’ , do you think the future of strategy games will become equally as pronounced in the console gaming world as it is on the PC?
JA: Most likely yes, but I am not sure when and how it will change. I love playing games on my ipad, but I do wish for more complex games myself. Those I try are a chore due to the interfaces being cumbersome. While touchpads are brilliant for things where you drag & drop, they are a problem when it comes to repeated handling of small details. A simple thing like zooming-in on a map is unfortunately quicker and easier with a mouse-wheel than the usual two-finger approach on a touchscreen. But we´ll see what the future brings.
Are you excited about these new technologies and their possible applications to the future of strategy gaming? Is Paradox currently developing any games that will utilize any touchscreen technologies?
JA: We do have some things in development here, but nothing we can give exact details about just yet. It is a paradigm shift in thinking about interfaces though. I definitely hope to talk more about it in the future!
Well, it’s no secret that Paradox knows a thing or two about strategy gaming, what about the business side of the Paradox identity?
As a publisher, there must be some concerns or foreseen challenges about the future of video game distribution. With the popularity of video games becoming more freely, easily and independently distributed than ever via Xbox Live, Steam, and other digital distributors, what does Paradox believe a publisher of the future must consider to ensure their longevity in an ever-evolving industry that’s so intimate with fast-paced technology and the foreboding of what may become a completely digitally distributed medium?
Susana Meza: It’ll be important to stay on top and ahead of the curve when it comes to how people access and play games and adapt their organization accordingly. Publishers who struggle today are publishers who for whatever reason have not managed to make that shift. In the case of Paradox Interactive which now has more than 90% digital sales, this shift has also meant we can be much more responsive to the community when it comes to bringing more content to the market both in terms of new games but also for existing games. A lot of “unnecessary steps” have been cut out of the production and distribution chain.
It is an exciting time in the gaming world. Kickstarter helped to fund over $9,000,000 for video game developments in the first half of 2012. What do concepts like independent development and Kickstarter funded games represent to a publisher?
SM: At Paradox Interactive we work with a lot of smaller teams in what can probably best be described as a hybrid between a traditional publishing model and independent development. We bring expertise in the areas where a lot of smaller teams lack both resources and skills like sales, marketing and distribution while the developers work on what they do best i.e the game and turn their vision into reality.
Initiatives like Kickstarter pose a great opportunity for many to pursue independent development and it’s a great complement to those who can’t or don’t want to work with a publisher. Some will succeed beyond expectations and some will realize that there’s much more to successful games development than just to secure funding. Either way it has opened a lot of exciting doors and brought development closer to the end consumer.
If video game distribution went entirely digital, the developers would, in essence, not need the funding to create hundreds of thousands of plastic cases to house their games, the ink to print millions of instruction booklets, or the funds to ship these millions of units to storefronts. If games were completely digital, would there still be a need for publishers?
SM: As mentioned before, we believe the role of the “modern” publisher has very little to do with getting boxes on shelves and everything to do with ensuring the game is visible and reaches through the “white noise” of the avalanche of new games released every month through a multitude of digital platforms and formats. Spending a big part of your game’s budget on printed goods and getting boxes onto shelves is no longer equal to a successful launch and from what we can see, most growing publishers (AAA excluded) allocate their launch budgets differently. We certainly do.