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The Paradox of Value

CEO Fredrik Wester talks about publishing, digital distribution and why the economic downturn is good for the industry

Paradox started life in 1999 with the aim of creating a top-level team-based shooter MMO, but while those plans didn't work out, the company's new direction found success with the Europa Universalis franchise and the grand strategy genre.

In 2006 it created spin-off company GamersGate, a digital distribution portal, and here the company's newly-promoted CEO, Fredric Wester, talks about the Paradox plan - from publishing criteria to the effects of the economic downturn.

Fredik will also be a panellist at the forthcoming BAFTA Presents: Digital Distribution panel, in association with the GamesIndustry.biz Network, on April 28 in London.

GamesIndustry.biz So how has business been for Paradox?
Fredrik Wester

This is going to be our greatest year ever, mostly due to the fact that we're geared up for 2009 with a lot of high quality productions. We've learned a lot about publishing and producing games in the four years we've been active as a publisher, so I think that 2009 is going to be a year where we take the next step in that respect, from being a very small, niche company, to expanding the company and making bigger, better games.

I think that our customers and the people who review our games will see a clear difference between our games this year to previous years.

GamesIndustry.biz You talk about expanding the audience reach, although you're still focusing a lot on the strategy side of things. Will you branch out into new genres, or do you think the games you're creating will attract new audiences?
Fredrik Wester

I think it's mainly the games themselves - strategy has been our focus, mostly because we know that genre very well, and we also already have a lot of these people on our forums already, we have the target group at our fingertips, so to speak. It's easier for us to supply our target group with new games than it is to find a new core game and then try to find a target audience.

That's a big difference between how we work, and how many other publishers work. We have 135,000 members on our forums that just love strategy games, they come to our boards just to discuss them. That's a great marketing opportunity, to present them with a game and ask them what they think.

GamesIndustry.biz So there's incremental growth, because you're keeping the audience of your previous games, and as the word spreads, more people are coming in - but nobody's really leaving?
Fredrik Wester

Something like that. Of course, people are leaving as well, but the closest we can get to the subscription model, and doing something like Blizzard is doing despite being so much smaller than they are, is to work a lot smarter with marketing, for example.

Say you have USD 5 million as a marketing budget, it's not hard to put together a good marketing strategy. If you have, like we did for Hearts of Iron II, USD 100,000 for worldwide marketing... including in-stores... then you have to do a lot of thinking about how you're going to reach all the people who are supposed to buy the game.

It needs some perspective on how to work with marketing, and I think we learned a lot on how to be smart on that. I'm not going to say other people are stupid with marketing, but a lot of other companies I think overspend on their marketing without really thinking about what they're trying to achieve, who they're trying to reach.

They're just covering GameSpot and PC Gamer with lots of ads.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think companies are reacting well to the changing media landscape, increasingly from print to online?
Fredrik Wester

I think if you take the media, in terms of power, then previously you only had two major sites - GameSpot and IGN. Now you see a bigger difference, depending on target group, area and a lot of different things. I read blogs a lot - they're really making an impact on the industry. Sometimes we get almost no coverage in the specialist press, but we do get coverage in the blogging community, and we can still sell a lot. I think that says a lot about the power of blogs.

GamesIndustry.biz In terms of the portfolio, you develop some titles in-house and publish some third party titles - how do you make decisions around which titles you want to publish? For example, East India Company looks like being a classic strategy game, so it was probably an obvious choice, but what criteria do you have for new games?
Fredrik Wester

Well, we get around 200 game submissions every from developers and even other publishers - there are a lot of games out there that aren't being published by anyone, even though some of them can be very high quality.

We find two types of game - if there's a game with such undeniable charm that you just have to have to love it... I have two examples, Mount & Blade and the hilarious Stalin vs Martians. If you're presented with a game concept that you just can't say no to, then you have to publish it - that's the first rule.

The second one is how well something fits with our target audience, so I don't have to personally love a game as long as it sits well with our audience. Those are the two main criteria that we check on.

Mount & Blade has been a huge success, people are playing it like mad - we're having to do a multiplayer expansion now due to popular demand.

GamesIndustry.biz Interesting - that's a game which harks back to a really old game, Lords of Midnight, one of the first open-world fantasy games...
Fredrik Wester

Correct, that's what we were thinking, and also like others, such as Elite or Pirates. It's up there in the league with some real classics. And if you've seen the Stalin vs Martians trailer... it was a one-pager, I told our producer to go find the game, and get it as cheap as possible, but we're definitely willing to pay for it!