Yesterday, we chatted with Paradox Development’s Studio Manager, Johan Andersson. Fronting Paradox’s paradoxically high-brow entertainment franchises, such as the Europa and Crusader Kings series, Andersson claims the secret to beating piracy is to put valuable resources into making people want to pay for your game, rather than chasing after them with lawyers, threats, and pick-axes.
The Studio Manager also revealed that Paradox are looking to build tablet versions of their games, but are unsure of the monetization model, claiming that “it wouldn’t make sense to make time making an Android version, because people just pirate games on Android that are not free to play.”
The name ‘Paradox’ is associated with two things: front-lining as a major European publisher, and developing strategy games in an ever-growing niche market. We’re talking with the development studio, and not the publisher, a different entity.
With digital distribution, self publication and global, viral marketing, I wondered if it was still right to call games like Europa Universalis ‘niche’, given the million or so players who enjoy the franchise. Who better to get to the bottom of this with than the guy serving that niche, Johan Andersson.
Talking to Johan, I asked what’s changed over the past few years, and whether or not it was still right to use the term niche for a genre enjoyed by so many people around the world.
“There’s plenty of niches or types of games where you could still call [the market] small, but what was happening before was that there were a lot that were too small to be viable, because you had to have all the different people in the food chain getting their cuts; you needed to have stuff in stores and sell everywhere a certain amount of copies,” Johan explained.
“But now, even if there’s only 20,000 people in the world who want to play that tiny little game, that’s still viable if everyone can buy it and it doesn’t cost any distribution or publishing or store cuts.”
I recently spoke with a member of a major US games PR company, and their spokesperson had never heard of Mount and Blade, despite selling millions – according to Andersson – in the US. I wanted to know what it was about European games, or strategy games, that alienated the US market, including publishers and PR companies. According to Paradox Development Studio PR, however, the US is their largest market.
“It’s the thing where it has to be big, and flashy to be noticed in America (mainstream). Even though there are still lots, and lots, and lots that want different stuff. There’s enough people there that even if you don’t do the big flashy stuff that gets their attention of the main media, you still end up with people who want other types of games,” Johan said.
If you had to be flashy in order to market your games, I asked if there was any point trying to go that route for types of games Paradox Development Studio create. Johan reasoned that “you need to target your marketing to your audience.”
“Not everyone is listening to Brittany Spears, and if you’re making heavy metal, you’re not going to advertise in the Brittany Spears fan-club magazine. You’re going to advertise in whatever magazine is popular for heavy metal fans. You have to know where your audience is. It’s not like one big market is for everything, when it comes to games – in my opinion.”
As PC sales decline, I wondered if Paradox had seen sales statistics to support the idea that “PC gaming is dying”, or that it genuinely is on the decline. With a fiery response, Johan claimed that “We’re seeing more and more and more sales every month.”
Johan surmised that actual PC system sales were declining “because the machines aren’t growing as powerful. There was a time when the machines were becoming faster faster faster bigger bigger every year, but now’days new PC’s are not that much more powerful, as it was a few years ago.”
“I still have my old gaming PC,” Johan explained. “I’ve had it for 6 years and it still runs most games just fine – and so there’s less incentive for heavy upgrades.”
With PC sales decreasing, and tablet sales up, I wondered why we haven’t seen a game like Crusader Kings on an Android or tablet device. According to Andersson, there are two problems: usability, and piracy.
“We’ve looked into it quite a lot. The thing we really need is a very good interface designer for tablets, because we need to solve quite a few issues with it. We could make Europa Universalis, or Crusader Kings to run on a tablet, that’s not that hard. It’s a little bit of work, but we should be able to do it easily”
“But then we run into the usability problems. Because the game is oriented with clicking a lot, and that’s a little bit hard for your fingers after a while – so we need to solve that. The other important thing is tooltips: we give most of our information out in tooltips, and that’s something we have to change quite a lot if we want to run it on a tablet.”
When asked if it was something Paradox Development Studio were aggressively looking into, Johan said “We’re wanting to work on it, but we’re trying to recruit people who have the knowledge. We need to find a really good interface person for that.”
Classically, games ported from PC to Android come at a much lower cost, as with 2K’s Xcom: Enemy Unknown. This is where Johan surprised me, claiming that the monetization model was something they’d have to seriously consider.
“I don’t know the monetization model of one of those games, because you can’t sell them for $40 on a tablet. But if there’s a game that actually costs money, it doesn’t make sense to… I mean let’s say the game costs $10, and in buying the game you get everything on the tablet… it wouldn’t make sense to make time making an Android version, because people just pirate games on Android that are not free to play.”
When asked if that was a view shared by the industry, or by Paradox on the whole, Johan said “That’s my view, from what I’m seeing on other titles…”
“I’ve seen people quoting that in articles that on iOS, people tend to buy it, but on Android, there’s an insane amount of piracy compared to the actually sold copies,” said Johan, explaining why Paradox Development Studio were cautious about jumping into the tablet market.
Piracy is a hot topic, and DRM can make or break a game sale for many consumers – which is especially noted by developers hoping to build a community on Kickstarter. For many, Steam is unacceptable DRM, whilst for some, living without Ubisoft’s previously enforced ‘always on DRM’ is all they want. Every game gets pirated to some degree, so I was curious as to what Johan thought about piracy, and people who pirate his games – and how it affects their sales.
“All our games get pirated!” exclaimed Johan. “But… the funny thing though is that people who play our games for more than a short period of time, they tend to become devout fans of it and they want to spend money on it. And yeah, so what if a few hundred thousand kids download it, try it once or twice and then throw it away. Yeah, I’d love them to pay for it… but it’s not the worst thing in the world.”
“Its sucks more if someone goes ‘hey, I’m never going to pay any damn thing for your games, but I still play them for like 50 hours a week’. If you do it that much you should really pay for it.”
When asked about the piracy rates of other publishers and developers, Johan claimed that “we don’t see those numbers.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard lots of PC… major publishers saying there’s a “20:1 piracy rate!” Or a “10:1 piracy rate!” and it’s like… yes… there might be that, but for our games, yes for day 1 they might be a bit high, but we don’t see those numbers. There’s far less pirates on our games.”
With a lack of demos on the market now, we wondered – as many of you guys do – if people used piracy as a form of alternative demo system, directly asking Johan if people often download his games illegally, play them, fall in love with them, and then purchase them.
“Yes – there are so many people we have seen that have written ‘oh, I tried a copy of one of your games, and it was so fun, and I really wanted to play it’ and then they bought it. And of course we’re doing all these things with all these DLC’s, and updates, and patches and so, so it’s kind of like a hassle if you’re playing it and want to have the pirated version updated all the time.”
“And then people become loyal because we give them shit loads of stuff free as well.”
Asking if Johan thought demos were necessary, he said that “I really really hate it when people release games and don’t have a demo out.”
“I mean, I would not pay money for a game if I haven’t tried it in a demo or so before. Unless it’s a Blizzard game because then there’s been times I just bought the game without trying first. I haven’t been dissatisfied since Diablo 3.”
We asked Johan if any statistics had backed up the idea that demos were a positive, and not a negative aspect of a games release, to which he said “when we release a demo, the pre-orders increase. Because we can see sales statistics live on Steam. So, demos drive sales.”
“It increases hype because you get all these nice articles about the demo, people talk about it, but you need to have a good demo out. A demo that makes people want to play more.”
At this rate, it was beginning to sound like demos and piracy worked hand in hand to increase sales of Paradox Development Studios’ games, a claim that shouldn’t be made, but could certainly be discussed. As absurd as it sounds, we hesitantly posed, is piracy more useful than it is damaging for you? “There’s the argument that a pirate was never going to be a sale anyway, so you could say you’re turning someone who was never a customer, into a customer. If not, a non-customer remains one,” we said.
“It’s not that simple,” Johan retorted. “There’s different discussions there, at one point there’s ‘is it a sale or not, because he was never going to pay money’ but that’s not true, because there’s a lot of people trying a game as a pirate and then paying, after they pirated it.”
“There’s a lot of people like that in the world… so yes you could argue that piracy is a way to drive sales, but then on the other hand you have the other thing… if you create something, and you want people to enjoy your creation, but they have to pay money for the creation, then they are abusing your rights by just taking your work and enjoying it. It’s a little bit like slavery. “Ok, you’re working for free for me, for my enjoyment” and it feels like a violation.”
“It’s not about the money. It’s about no, you don’t respect my opinion – I created this thing, and if you want to enjoy what I created you should pay me. It’s a lack of respect.”
“But then again, I really really don’t like how certain industries are going after pirates. It’s like 99% of people who pirate movies, music, games are not criminal people that are in there for earning money. They don’t think about… they don’t have malicious thoughts. And I so hate when big companies try to sue people for downloading a few movies. It’s not going to get them more sales, it’s not going to recoup the money, it’s just going to alienate their customers. It’s stupid.”
Although this clearly wasn’t a defense of piracy, so much as a reasoned response to a nagging issue, we asked if there was a certain industry empathy for those who pirate through lack of the appropriate means to pay their way. “I think it’s safe to say that before many people get into games development they had probably pirated a few titles at some point in their lives. Does that create a sort of ‘secret empathy’ within the industry for pirates?”, asked PCGMedia.
“I’m not sure that everyone has pirated before becoming a developer, but I think that everyone who downloads games for free is someone who will eventually pay money for games. They like games. And if they had more money, they would buy more games. And that’s for 99% of the people who pirate. There’s always assholes and tight bastards who will never pay, but you can’t think about those – you have to think about the majority of the people… you’re not going to earn more money by pissing off potential customers.”
“Make the games DRM free, give the people who pay money a lot of extra stuff, and be nice to people: And don’t sue your potential customers.”
“Don’t spend the money trying to track them down, spend the money making it easier for people to want to pay for your stuff.”
Setting piracy aside, we wanted to know what’s next for the famed strategy studio. I asked whether we’d see a foray into 3D games – slightly shiner projects.
Ominously, Johan said “Yeah – that’s likely… I can’t say more. We are announcing something in January, where we’re going to show off two games.” When asked out-right if they were going to be 3D, Johan said “There will be 3D in them, yes.”
There’s also an expansion coming for Crusader Kings II, as Johan announced:
“We’re still working on expansions for Crusader Kings II. There’s one in late November for Crusader Kings, which is focusing on the Abrahamic religions; more features for people playing as the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We are actually enabling Jews, which wasn’t previously possible to play in the game.”
“In Crusader Kings, religion matters quite a lot. We’re adding more flavor to what the religions are.”
Source: PCGMedia telephone interview