Paradoxical Success

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February 26, 2017

Grand strategy

Independent Swedish computer game company, Paradox Interactive, is most well known for their (insanely) intricate historical turn-based strategy games. Their two most popular and successful games are Crusader Kings II, which spans over 1,000 years of medieval history, and Hearts of Iron IV, which revolves around the years leading up to and including World War II. As evidenced by the “II” and “IV” in the titles of these games, Paradox likes to refine and reinvent the same game several times. In fact, sequel-building has remained their steady M.O. for game production for many years (see other titles such as Victoria II, Magicka 2, Knights of Pen and Paper 2). Recently, however, Paradox has decided to step out of its historical turn-based strategy comfort zone a little bit. In 2015, the company broke new ground with the release of city-builder, City Skylines, developed by Colossal Order. That same year, Paradox also released Pillars of Eternity, a crowdfunded RPG developed by Obsidian Entertainment. Then in 2016, along came yet another title, Stellaris, that, while still technically a grand strategy game, takes place in a fictional future realm situated in outer space. All three titles were and continue to be enormously successful, which shows that Paradox is way more than a one-trick sequel crafting pony.

Expanding horizons

Paradox’s decision to expand its collection of genres is both a strength and a weakness; while adding new types of games to their catalog increases the likelihood of reaching new fans and customers, they also risk alienating hard-core players only interested in historically based grand strategy games. Perhaps Paradox feels confident that their existing franchise titles will continue to be beloved by many, and thankfully developers still invest resources in frequent updates and new downloadable content (DLC) each quarter. Part of Paradox’s appeal lies in the developers’ constant communication with players through development diaries and patch updates. Another way Paradox is innovating its brand is by releasing some titles on consoles. However, in doing so, the company does add more to its workload, and many PC gamers have felt frustrated with other companies that have gone this route, as it can stop resources from going towards further PC title development.

Opportunities and threats

One of the most exciting new opportunities for Paradox is the announcement of public access to their annual convention, PDXCon, set to launch this May. In previous years, the convention was only accessible to those in the gaming industry. Additionally, earlier in 2016, Paradox Interactive announced that it was interested in evolving into a publicly traded company, which, among other things, would give greater voice to its loyal gaming community in the development of future titles. Both of these developments cement Paradox’s commitment to developing and nurturing its devoted fan base.

As befalls all independent publishers, competition with large gaming companies remains the most obvious threat. Sega, for example, offers the Total War series, real-time strategy games based in historical eras such as ancient Rome, and medieval Europe. Sega’s budget is massive compared to Paradox, which allows for greater quality of graphics. However, many Total War players have complained in recent years that the games have been released unfinished, requiring day one patches and constant upkeep by Sega. Unlike Paradox, Sega does not prioritize developer-fan communication, which damages its reputation and might in fact cause many to turn towards Paradox titles.

Strengths:

  • Historical niche
  • Independent company appeals to gamers dissatisfied with big name companies
  • Games permit customization/modding
  • Strong communication between developers and gamers
  • Software constantly updated and fixed
  • Community
  • Competitive pricing – less than full-price games, but enormous depth

Weaknesses:

  • Issues with English grammar/spelling can sometimes make games feel slightly unprofessional
  • By including games outside of historical niche, potentially waters down company profile/brand
  • Branching out to consoles alienates PC gamers, means less resources going toward developing and updating PC titles
  • High learning curve for grand strategy titles, lack of tutorials
  • Limited visuals, animations, graphics due to budget

Opportunities:

  • Becoming publicly traded company
  • Develop new historical eras instead of just redoing existing titles
  • Continue to produce more DLC
  • More beta testing opportunities for fans
  • Crowdsourcing
  • PDXCon open to public – annual event?
  • Continue to cash-in on their unique personality as a developer

Threats:

  • Big name companies are catching on to the idea of customizable content
  • Smaller budget compared to competition
  • Level of public interest in strategy games
  • Other up-and-coming independent game companies
  • Esoteric fan base can be restrictive
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