原作者：Matthew Handrahan 译者：Willow Wu
在近期的PDXCon活动中, 业务拓展部门副总Shams Jorjani跟媒体们说这是一个建立在意外成功上的失败。TaleWorlds Entertainment的《骑马与砍杀》（Mount & Blade）在2008年收获了不错的成绩，之后TaleWorlds与Paradox Interactive分道扬镳，《骑马与砍杀》系列也不再是他们的大战略游戏。但这也让Paradox有机会发行了年轻团队Arrowhead开发的《魔能》（Magicka），它成为了Paradox最成功的游戏之一。从此以后，Paradox每年发行大量游戏就成为了一种常态。
这一时期的许多失误促使Jorjani、CEO Fred Wester和管理团队的其他人进行了内省式的讨论。Paradox的作品应该是怎么样的呢？
“我以前经常会在展会上四处逛逛，跟同事说‘如果有看到类似Will Wright（《模拟人生》系列创始人）和Peter Molyneux（Bullfrog公司创始人）在90年代末做的那种游戏，我们就签下来，’第一年的时候大家都以为我在开玩笑，但是我每年都说，到了第三年他们就开始给我推荐项目了。”
去年，Paradox的季度盈利增加了270%，收入翻倍，在此期间他们只发行了一款新游戏——Haemimont开发的《火星求生》（Surviving Mars）。虽说《火星求生》肯定是对收益有贡献，但Paradox的重头戏还是《群星》（Stellaris）《都市：天际线》《钢铁雄心4》（Hearts of Iron IV）和《欧陆风云》（Europa Universalis IV）的新扩展包。这些游戏最晚的是两年前发行的，最早的是五年前，Paradox通过持续发行各种扩展包来获得增长。
现场有一位记者指出在2012年二月发行的《十字军之王2》（Crusader Kings 2）现在所有的DLC合计已经超过了300美元——对于某些玩家来说这是一个比较有争议性的话题：他们觉得游戏售价太高，另外他们更习惯于发行后可以免费获得新的游戏内容。
“我们想为玩家制作出真正的好的游戏，但如果开发人员的得不到相应的回报，我们也无法实现这个目标，”Fred Wester的继任者Ebba Ljungerud回答道。“这是最基本的前提，然后我们才可以继续讨论利润问题，还有其它各种事情，但是没有收入是做不出游戏的。
Paradox CPO Mattias Lilja表示他们会全力解决这些问题，这样一个花费6年开发各种DLC的游戏不能指望Steam这样的平台来帮你。关于未来，Paradox会做出更多类似《十字军之王2》的游戏，而《魔能》这样的游戏体验应该会被逐渐边缘化。
There was a 12-month period not so long ago when Paradox Interactive launched a dozen different games. Rather than being regarded as an example of its high productivity, though, the Paradox management team looks back on that period as something of a nadir – the result of drinking one too many glasses of its Kool-Aid.
Speaking in a closed room session with the press at PDXCon recently, VP of business development Shams Jorjani explained it as a failure built on unexpected success. TaleWorlds Entertainment’s Mount & Blade had performed well in 2008, despite it falling outside the Paradox comfort zone of grand strategy. This in turn led to the company taking a chance with Arrowhead’s Magicka in 2011, which “became such a huge success” that a future in which Paradox published a multitude of independent games each year seemed entirely plausible.
“You sign a game, and it takes 12 to 24 months before it comes out,” Jorjani said. “Magicka was 2011, so in 2013, 2014 you saw all of these wonky games, where the ideas were not necessarily bad, but we as an organisation maybe hadn’t matured to the point where we could execute well. And we didn’t have the maturity to kill them off earlier in the process.”
The many stumbles that categorised that period prompted introspective discussion between Jorjani, CEO Fred Wester, and others on the management team. What, exactly, should the Paradox portfolio look like?
“We had this vision of people buying a Paradox game without knowing what the game was; that ‘Paradox’ should be a guarantee for a type of game experience,” Jorjani said. “If we can get somebody to pay us $40 without knowing what the game is, that’s when we’ve succeeded. So that’s when we refined our core game pillars – what the game is, the Paradox secret sauce – and tried to streamline and have a portfolio that is consistent.”
Jorjani believes that all Paradox games fall into three broad genres: the strategy titles for which it is best known, but also management and role-playing games. With strategy, Jorjani said, Paradox already has some of the world’s best studios in-house; with the other two categories it has been necessary to cultivate relationships with “best-in-class” third-party developers – Colossal Order’s Cities: Skylines in management, for example, or Obsidian’s Tyranny in role-playing games. In the time since that misguidedly busy year, this more focused approach has allowed Paradox to thrive, and fill a gap in the market vacated by publishers chasing AAA glory.
“I used to go around at [trade] shows and say, ‘We’ll sign anything close to what Will Wright and Peter Molyneux did in the late Nineties’,” Jorjani said. “For the first year people were like, ‘Ha ha’, but I kept saying it and in the third year they started coming back with actual pitches.”
He added: “Some of the big publishers that used to do a lot in PC gaming have now all moved on to bigger things, and we’ve landed in this very comfortable middle-class of gaming that’s been dead for a very long time. That leaves a lot of doors open. Some stuff that used to be interesting for publishers is not big enough for them any more, but it is absolutely big enough for us. Cities: Skylines is a very good example of that.”
Cities: Skylines was a major hit for Paradox, breaking company records when it launched, and reaching five million sold in March 2018. Colossal Order’s game was also a key contributor to its Q1 results, which perfectly illustrated the way in which Paradox has changed over the last five years, and pointed towards where it will head in the years to come.
Paradox increased its quarterly profits by 270% over the prior year, and doubled its revenue, despite Haemimont’s Surviving Mars being the only completely new release during the period. While Surviving Mars certainly played its part, the bulk of the release schedule was expansion packs for Stellaris, Cities: Skylines, Hearts of Iron IV and Europa Universalis IV. The most recent of those games launched two years ago, the oldest three years before that, and yet all continue to receive premium expansions that drive company growth.
One journalist present pointed out that Crusader Kings 2, which was first released in February 2012, and now has more than $300 worth of DLC – a contentious point for some gamers, who feel overwhelmed by the cost of entry now, and are perhaps accustomed to receiving more post-release content for free.
“We want to make really great games for our fans, and we can’t do that if we don’t charge something for the development,” replied Ebba Ljungerud, who will replace Fred Wester as CEO later this year. “That’s the base of it, and then you can discuss margins, and you can discuss this and that, but if we don’t make money then we’re not going to be able to make the games.
“So for us it’s not so strange that we actually charge people for extra content. And yeah, you can say with Crusader Kings 2 it’s a lot of money over the years, but it’s also a game with a lot of hours, with a lot of gameplay.”
“I’d argue go out and find any other game that can involve this many hours of gameplay at the base cost, never buying any more DLC,” Jorjani added. “I think we’re in the top 1% of the industry in terms of the value we provide.
“We have to deal with the issue of people being conditioned by how other games in the industry work. And the conditioning is, if you don’t get all of the content then you’re missing out on something, which is not true in our games. We need to get better at bundling and presenting stuff on our product pages, so that when you come in you’re not inundated with a torrent of DLC and you feel like you’re getting gouged.”
And Paradox must be fully engaged with these issues, chief product officer Mattias Lilja pointed out, because individual games with six years’ worth of DLC is not a problem it can expect a platform like Steam to solve. Going forward, Paradox will be moving further and further towards experiences very much like Crusader Kings 2, and further away from experiences like Magicka.
“If a game can’t be played for 500 hours we probably shouldn’t be publishing it – as a general rule,” Jorjani said. “But we will still probably publish games with shorter play times, because Rome wasn’t built in a day. If you want to make a Skyrim-type experience you can’t start making that day one. You need something else first, and then you move on to that.”
Of course, there is more than one way to monetise a 500-hour experience, and Paradox is open about looking well beyond premium games and DLC to inform where it goes from here. One suspects that the portion of Paradox’s audience that would bristle at the idea of free-to-play would outnumber those who take issue with $300 worth of DLC for one title, but these more open and flexible business models are influential in terms of the company’s thinking.
“If I’d gone to Henrik [Fåhraeus, game director of Crusader Kings 2] and said that in 2018 we’d have $300 worth of DLC, he would have slapped me across the face,” Jorjani said. “Today I could walk in and say we’ll have $30,000 worth of content in six years and people wouldn’t smack me. They’d say, ‘Hmmm, how are we going to do that?’”
Mattias Lilja added that one of the main reasons that the Paradox portfolio is dominated by “premium plus DLC” is simply “because it works”. Indeed, not only is the company looking at other models, “we’re not particularly attached to [premium plus DLC] either.”
“If we could simultaneously have different ways of paying that would make people happy, we would do that,” he said. “But we don’t have the data, and we don’t know how that would play out… I don’t think we have anything particularly against a free-to-play grand strategy game. We just have no idea how that would do.”
Upon leaving the room, it was difficult to see past Lilja’s comments as the most telling of all. Paradox has spent the last five years moving towards a structure where it has a smaller, more focused catalogue of games, all of which effectively operate as services – only under a financial model more at home in the industry of five years ago. Whether that will always be the case remains to be seen, but Jorjani was clear about where the real growth in the games industry is now happening.
“If we look at the industry as a whole, the premium business model is shrinking, that part of the business is shrinking” Jorjani said, earlier in the conversation. “That doesn’t mean that you can’t drive or grow [within it] – we can probably do that for many more years – but as whole, our focus as a company is growth, and what’s growing is free-to-play.
“We know that our games don’t perhaps translate that well to free-to-play, so the interesting thing is where the convergence point is with the hybrid models we’ve seen; where there is a premium, starting price-point, but there are other ways to charge for content without upsetting everyone. That’s the real challenge for the next five to ten years.”（source：gamesindustry.biz ）