At the recent MEGA games conference, StepFeed spoke to Paradox Interactive Executive Vice President of Business Development Tobias Sjögren about the company's unique business model, the future of their games on mobile and consoles, and the opportunities that virtual reality offers. This interview comes fresh off the heels of Paradox Interactive’s successes with the wildly popular City Skylines and the critically acclaimed Pillars of Eternity.
StepFeed: Do you think your business model of supporting a game for several years with expansion packs and smaller content packs as you have successfully done with Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV can translate from strategy games with huge replayability to games of different genres?
: Yeah, I think so. We obviously don’t know for sure yet, but we definitely are exploring this [for Pillars of Eternity]. It has been done before in different genres to lesser extents, but we definitely are one of the best companies doing it right now. It all comes down to serving the community the right way. If you keep giving the community what they want, they’re going to keep buying your product.
SF: Pillars of Eternity recently came out. In many action, adventure and RPG games, graphics are important. Do you see potentially falling behind graphically as an obstacle in supporting this game for several years?
TS: Graphics over time are becoming less important. You see many indie games that are so pixelized. We’ve reached a level in game design where it’s not important to reach the next best graphical level. When I started in the gaming industry, it was all about the graphics and making better graphics than the previous game ... It was all about the technical innovation. Today, it’s all about what kind of mood you want to create. If you want to have the most realistic engine ever, you could. Pillars of Eternity is a classic RPG. It looks like a classic RPG game, only more beautiful than they looked then and I don’t think players 2-3 years from now will have a problem with how it looks. We’re not selling to the gamers who are out there to be amazed by the graphics.
SF: Following that business model, how will you keep users interested or invested in the story over several years?
TS: Well, it’s too early to say. The team has just shipped the original game. I know there are a lot of ideas on how to take this further, but exactly how they do it, we’re trusting the game design geniuses over at Obsidian. There also will be a lot of listening in on the community and what they want to come out of this game.
SF: Paradox’s games aren’t the first that come to mind when you talk about virtual reality but are you trying to adapt your formulas to VR?
TS: Absolutely. We have the kits so we are experimenting with it but I think that’s what you should do with this kind of thing. Try out these kinds of ideas and somewhere, someone is going to figure out something that works. I’ve seen a couple of game concepts which are amazing. When we find something that works with our kind of games, we can make it ourselves and we’ll absolutely do it. Hearts of Iron 4 is coming out this year, and we have updated the graphics to give it a more 3D look and with that I could easily see how it could work with a VR headset looking left or right with different overviews.
SF: Do you see your games coming to phones and tablets?
TS: Well, we’re definitely working on it and we do have the kind of game that would be well-suited for the mobile platform, but our biggest obstacles right now would be battery life and mobile CPUs.
SF: Strategy and grand strategy are massively popular when it comes to the MENA region but you also have the problem of widespread piracy.
TS: This goes back to our business model of long periods of support for content. We also have plans to increase the level of user-generated content. These features are much better than any kind of copy-protection software. We never forced copy protection into Steam, because people will crack that anyway. It’s the type of thing where nature will find a way. For us, it’s much better to see the game development as a service and if people want to subscribe to that service in the easiest possible way they’ll buy it through one of the systems out there like Steam. You can’t really fight someone who wants to crack the game. Piracy is growing our user base as well. Of course, it is better if everyone pays for it, but I think everyone will eventually as well.
SF: Let’s move into different input methods, consoles and Steamboxes. Valve really hyped being able to play Civilization, which is often compared to the games Paradox produce and develop. Do you think about porting your games to consoles and using different input methods?
TS: Oh, absolutely. We’ve had the prototypes for the Steam controllers for quite some time and we just got the latest ones that are pretty much finished. Steam really did a great job of iterating them into something really cool. We’ve been playing around with them for a while and I think it’s going to work just fine. It works a bit of learning like the first time you play a game on an iPhone, for example, but as soon as you have that in your muscle memory it works fine and I think our games will work just fine.
SF: Why do you think people are so reluctant to plug a mouse and keyboard into a console and just play games more suited to a mouse and keyboard?
TS: I think it’s because the most common place you sit and play on a console is a sofa. But I see more and more keyboards with trackpads coming which would be a way to play games designed for a mouse and keyboard on TVs. But I do think it is really strange that not many people play them.
SF: When porting conventional PC games over to consoles there is a worry that the depth of the game will be affected. PC gamers are very protective of their games. Do you think it’s a legitimate concern?
TS: Yeah, absolutely. That’s why we haven’t released our games on consoles so far because it would never work. As you mentioned, people won’t connect the mouse and keyboard. Technically it would be possible but it’s also the kind of experience where people play different games on PC and consoles and input is definitely a factor. We at Paradox would never compromise with the input.
SF: Finally based on what you’ve seen, is there hope for our game development scene in Lebanon and the Arab world?
TS: Absolutely, it’s very similar to 2000, 2001, and 2002 in Sweden. We didn’t have a game developer association yet, but I see many similarities with what’s going on here so it might take you guys some time to catch up as an industry. There’s obviously a lot of talent here and I’m sure we’ll see some big hits very soon.