My Dinner with Johan
TomChick - News - 03/27/08 - Link

Paradox Interactive is tiny. I'm told there are 22 people there. I guess I'd figured the company was as massive as their strategy games, crammed to the gills with artists, programmers, and beta testers. Well, maybe not beta testers. The conventional wisdom about a Paradox games is to wait for the first patch. But now they have a full time QA person. We'll see how that goes.

Paradox is also relatively young. They've been around for about ten years, but I tend to think of them as an old company because their strategy games are so niche. I mean, these are the kinds of games you could play on an Apple II back in the day, right? So I was a bit surprised at how young Johan Andersson looks. He's their main developer guy, and he's been around since the beginning. He's the name you see in interviews and on the company's official forum posts. And even though he's 34, he doesn't really look it.

He's a slight fellow, and he says he's recently lost weight by dabbling with being a vegetarian. "I have meat once a week," he confesses. He ponders what to get on his pizza and eventually decides to go with just sun dried tomatoes and cheese.

Andersson has just arrived from Stockholm to visit a few US cities, where he'll deliver review copies of Europa Universalis: Rome, along with a demonstration to help newbie reviewers on their way up the learning curve. You can see all over the internet what Paradox is trying to avoid: bad reviews from people for whom their games are not intended. These are, after all, not for everyone.

In fact, they're for a select few. The average Civ IV player might look at the box for a Europa Universalis and think, 'Hey, I'm ready for this!', only to be baffled by the complexity and general aimlessness. Paradox has a laser beam focus on its target audience, and they've done very little to try to grow beyond that audience. There is no talk of streamlining the gameplay, or making console friendly ports, or even revising their basic model to make it more accessible. For that, there's GamersGate, Paradox's online digitial distribution service, which caters to a much larger audience with its variety of titles. It must afford Andersson the luxury of making these detailed strategy games that only a German could love.

The airline has lost Andersson's luggage, so he has to demo EU: Rome for me without a mouse. I consider making a snarky comment about how Paradox should have put more hotkeys into the game (and, dammit, they should have!), but I figure that's a pretty mean thing to do to a guy who doesn't even have a change of clothes or a toothbrush.

Over dinner, I ask Andersson about the controversy among Europa Univeralis fans who complain that the third game was too sandboxy, and that the series needs the historical fidelity of the first two games. It's a common complaint from die-hard EU fans. Just ask Troy Goodfellow, who will probably hold forth at length about it.

"EU2 really didn't work as a long-term game," Andersson says. "It works in a World War II game, which is just a few years. They can have a more rigid history to follow. But it doesn't work in a game that lasts several hundred years, where you're playing Spain, and Spain is very prosperous and you still get the Spanish bankruptcy, or Hungary's the greatest power on earth, but you still get inherited by Austria because that's what happened historically. It doesn't make sense in a long-term history [game]."

I wasn't aware that the developer had come down on one side or the other of the issue. It almost sounds like he's disowning the EU2 model. "Yeah, I've been communicating that on the forums for the last three, four years. It's a model that doesn't work. I mean, Crusader Kings doesn't have it. EU3 doesn't have it. Hearts of Iron has it, but it works. But EU2, it really didn't work in the long run." Furthermore, he says that EU2 was their worst selling game.

I'm also surprised to learn that Paradox's best selling game is Hearts of Iron II, which applies their epic scope to World War II. To poor effect, in my opinion. But what do I know? It's their most successful game. I guess everyone loves World War II. Or at least they love it more than Medieval or Renaissance Europe.

Andersson quickly wraps up his EU: Rome demo to get a taxi to the airport, where he's flying on to San Francisco to meet with other publications as well as he hopes his luggage.

CORRECTION: I checked the tape and my recollection of Johan's comment about the sales of EU2 is wrong. After I asked which was their most commercially successful game, he talked about a bit about HOI2 and then volunteered the following: "Of the EU's, I think EU2 is the one that sold the far least of the EU games."

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