Feature Article

Why This PC Publisher is Embracing Next-Gen Consoles

The blurring lines between hardware platforms.

by

Last week, Paradox Interactive announced plans to release "new and existing franchises" on the latest generation of consoles. If you're not familiar with Paradox, this news arrives with all the shock value of a jar of mayonnaise. But the Swedish publisher best known for Magicka and Crusader Kings is practically synonymous with PC gaming, building its identity on the sort of niche strategy games that rarely make their way to consoles. Why change that now?

"The idea to develop for consoles goes back quite a long time, actually," says Paradox CEO Fredrik Wester. We're sitting in the lobby of a Miami hotel during last week's Paradox Convention. Outside, the mild January weather couldn't be more different from freezing Stockholm, the city Paradox calls home. It's only fitting when you consider the new ground Paradox is preparing to tread.

"We've been in contact with Sony and Microsoft for probably five years," Wester says. "But not until this generation of consoles have they had a focused approach to digital downloads."

Wester is being diplomatic, of course. Early into the last console generation, Microsoft and Sony's approach to digital distribution wasn't just unfocused; it was an outright mess. There may not be a better example of digital gatekeeping gone awry than the case of Fez for Xbox Live Arcade. Fez, a puzzle platformer from the two-man Montreal outfit Polytron Corporation, was released in 2012 to critical acclaim despite technical issues such as dipping frame rates and the occasional hard crash. A patch released in June 2012 fixed a number of these issues, but resulted in a bug that broke a small percentage of players' saved games.

Early into the last console generation, Microsoft and Sony's approach to digital distribution wasn't just unfocused; it was an outright mess.

The controversy that followed was one centered on the practice of platform holders charging developers to release software updates. Microsoft allowed Polytron to release the first patch for free, but the policy at the time required Polytron to pay "tens of thousands of dollars" for any subsequent title updates. This steep cost left Polytron unable to patch the save bug, and the resulting outcry from frustrated consumers was nothing short of cacophonous. One year later, Microsoft changed that policy by scrapping patch fees altogether.

Meanwhile, Sony has been even more aggressive in its pursuit of a developer-friendly platform policy. Developing for the PlayStation 3 was a challenge for many studios, in terms of both the hardware's obtuse system architecture and Sony's red-tape-laden approach to software certification. With the PlayStation 4, Sony has adopted a more PC-like system architecture, and has very publicly stated its goals to streamline the publishing and certification processes.

With these changes in policy, Sony and Microsoft are slowly developing a more open digital distribution model--a model that reflects the philosophies of a certain Bellevue, Washington, company.

Paradox publishes some games, like the multiplayer action romp War of the Vikings, that would feel right at home on consoles.

"I think Steam's approach has been a winner," Wester says. "Valve hasn't tried to create a walled garden around its technology or platform. That's turned out to be really successful."

Valve's success has trickled down, with digital purchases now accounting for 98 percent of all of Paradox's software sales. Being able to continually bolster a game with patches, expansions, and free content updates is one of the reasons Magicka has sold 2.7 million units despite its rocky start, and one of the reasons the average playtime for Europa Universalis IV is an eye-watering 190 hours.

"Crusader Kings 2 has been patched close to 20 times in two years," says Wester of another recent hit from the company's internal Paradox Development Studio. "If we had to go through a green-light process, pay for the patches, and go through administration, we wouldn't be able to support our gamers with those updates."

Consoles are far more like PCs now than they've ever been, allowing digital publishers like Paradox the opportunity to reach players that were previously out of reach

All of this, according to Wester, has led to a very different gaming landscape. Consoles are far more like PCs now than they've ever been, allowing digital publishers like Paradox the opportunity to reach new players that were previously out of reach. To Wester, games like Dark Souls have shown there's an appetite for challenging, time-consuming games that demand a lot from the player--games that share many qualities with the niche strategy titles that Paradox is so well known for.

"Our identity is definitely PC," remarks Wester. "We've been a PC company, and I've been a spokesman for the openness of PC gaming. But our main priority is still hardcore games, no matter the platform. We're going to deliver a hardcore gaming experience for people who identify as gamers. The most important thing is not what platform we're on; it's that we're not dumbing down the experience."

Therein lies the biggest challenge for Paradox: how do they take these games with such a strong PC lineage and adapt them to console controls? Action games like War of the Roses should be a simple enough job, but what about the company's dense strategy and role-playing games?

Paradox has been experimenting with other business models lately, including Magicka on tablets and the free-to-play Magicka: Wizard Wars.

That's where the Steam Machine comes in handy. Valve's new living room box gives PC developers the chance to test new controls and interfaces without first signing a deal with Microsoft or Sony. Many of the problems that need to be solved on a console need to be solved on a Steam Machine as well, so having that type of testing ground has proved to be a valuable resource for the development team back in Stockholm.

"Our strategy games are the biggest challenge for traditional console controls," admits Wester. "EU runs surprisingly well on a Steam controller, so we have the chance to play around with the living room experience. We're getting there, step by step."

In the end, Wester wants to stress that Paradox is still early into this console experiment. He has no plans to change what types of games Paradox releases; his goal with this move to consoles is to bring those same types of games to a broader audience of players.

"To us, the platform has never been the most important thing. It's been the gaming experience," says Wester. "Historically speaking the easiest way for us to deliver our gaming experience has been through the PC. So if we can do that through other platforms as well, then why not? Our gamers are there as well."

"How you play a game is more important than what system it runs on."

Discussion

108 comments
TheShadow153
TheShadow153

I'm a PC gamer, I can upgrade components when you want, as long as a consolero should expect the real owners delay five years upgrading their consoles, with a PC have a property, on the other hand those with a console only have a condominium with a company and not a property

shinjuki
shinjuki

They do realize that PC is not a person right? It's a whole bunch of individual components. No one at all is gaining anything other than the game makers when PC games are sold.

Microsoft cared about PC games some time ago. Were worried because Sony was taking gamers from PCs. Then they made an Xbox.

MN121MN
MN121MN

Does this mean, PI is finally moving away from it's Grand RTS genre into a more, arcade style RPG such as War of Vikings or Mount and Blade?



The plot thickens .....

Ultramarinus
Ultramarinus

Eh, I don't really like this. I can't even imagine playing any of their grand strategies with even Steam controller which blows away traditional console gamepads. Mingling with consoles or the like eventually means dumbing down in one way or the other, I can't recall a situation that this wasn't the case.

dark_sith_
dark_sith_

As long as they remain "PC-first" dev and publisher, and keep giving us great games like CK, Victoria and EU series, I have no problems with them wanting to expand. But if they start to orient themselves mostly on consoles, leaving those games which made them what they are today on the sidelines, they will lose most of their fans and customers, many of whom have been with them since the first EU game.

HuSSaR83
HuSSaR83

I hope they dont go the bad route and start optimizing their games more for consoles than PC in the future.

Justin Jervis
Justin Jervis

That last sentence is damn near perfection. I mainly game on PC now but I use to game solely on console. I think it's a shame that the gaming community is so divided between platforms. For generally no reason at all other than the self-proclaimed 'Mine is better than yours' bragging right.

lonesamurai1
lonesamurai1

Their coffers are no doubt empty which is why they want to release games on the VCR boxes, why else would they or any publisher want to do that, it's really all consoles are good for suckering those poor guys into buying an inferior version on console and making a little dough from it.

GarGx1
GarGx1

I'm a long, long time PC gamer and enjoyed tons of Paradox games over the years. I wish them luck releasing games on the consoles. Absolutely no harm in a company increasing it's business and revenue.


A word of warning though, regardless of what Paradox say, their games are very much PC titles. I don't mean genre's as they have their fingers in a lot of pies, I mean in the sense they release buggy games and always have to patch them extensively.


I hope for Paradox's sake that Sony and MS don't do a characteristic 'U' turn on their new 'open' patching policies, leaving 3rd party companies at their whim. That could be very costly for a company such as Paradox who are spoiled by the unrestricted nature of PC. 


To the console gamers out there who have never played a classic Paradox game, have fun and remember the tutorials alone last around 10 hours ;)

wexorian
wexorian

GL but we know that RTS will never work on consoles waste of time and money, neither magicka will work on it

poopinpat
poopinpat

Maybe if more devs stated porting strategy games to consoles Sony/MS might get their shizz together and start providing some proper M&K support!  Unless they already did that in recent years, haven't owned a console in a while.

SipahSalar
SipahSalar

TRAITOR. YOU SHAME US ALL. YOU ARE BANISHED!

CBTDesigner
CBTDesigner

I would love to see something along the lines of Civilization:  Revolution or the XCOM series.  Maybe Paradox will spur Firaxis into action, while coming up with a unique offering for the XBOX One...

stoveoven
stoveoven

This, along with the announcement of Tropico 5 coming to PS4, makes me really happy today

cinerius
cinerius

Since consoles do support usb keyboards, in an ideal world where consumers know what they're buying one solution could be putting strategy titles as downloadable games, with a large red warning that says "Mouse & Keyboard necessary", or "Better with Mouse and Keyboard", just like many games on Steam have a "Controller strongly recommended" warning.

Right?

V3rciS
V3rciS

Consoles > PC
Basement crawlers flame me...

ziproy
ziproy

These guys make alot of stuff. Mount and Blade would be an exellent choice for consoles if they develop it right, I just discovered it recently and it's amazing. I have no desire to play any strategy game, RTS, Deep Strategy, or otherwise Mouse > Controller in all respects.


Console gamers should NEVER get another Strategy game again. It's their fault Ensemble Studios went the way-side, since they didn't buy that stupid Halo RTS M$ forced Ensemble to make. God only knows how RTS's would be if the Age of Empire guys were still alive

Halloll
Halloll

Wii U is next gen right?

Dannystaples14
Dannystaples14

Good for them. A company that puts effort into its games should get rewarded for that with sales. Console has the bigger gamer base, that is where they will get it. Plus, consoles need someone to put something different on there. RTS have never worked on console. Not in any even slightly competitive way anyway and that seems to cause a lot of RTS developers to not even bother trying.

rob9999991
rob9999991

@lonesamurai1 LOL...You sound bitter! If you knew anything about gaming or were a true gamer you would know that a good game is a good game no matter what the harware...but no, you are just an angry troll... Oh well...sucks to be you!

dark_sith_
dark_sith_

@lonesamurai1 On the contrary, I believe they are doing better then ever. Crusader Kings 2 was such a smash hit that it propelled them from niche developer into a mainstream one. More then two years later that game is till going strong, raking in money from the vanilla version and several expansions as well as from smaller DLC. Very few developers can say that they have a game generating such amount of income so late in its life-cycle. Europa Universalis IV is going strong as well, with the first meaty expansion released only recently.


Keep in mind that these games don't have astronomical budgets like other AAA titles, and they work on the same engine, with Paradox able to create new content relatively easy (and there is a lot of new content out there). So their games don't cost nearly as much. That's why they are able to branch out and work, as well as publish, on numerous games at the same time.

ggregd
ggregd

@lonesamurai1 They have a total of 100 or so employees between the publishing company and the development studio.  The article says they "publish" 98% of their games by digitally, so they're not paying for packaging and transportation.  They had revenue of $150 million in 2011.  

Unless they're galactially incompetent managers or they have a thief among them, I doubt they're in any financial trouble.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@philippnovikov butthurt what? Console British cigarettes? That doesn't even make sense! If you are going to insult people sue a damn dictionary and not some slur some child in 5th grade made up in the 80s. Baka....

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@poopinpat No. Trust me, you console kids don't want to feel the sting of 40 panzer 5s raping your base/1000 battlecruisers/vikings/necros/mutas/anything else in any other strategy game. Leave the RTS to the adults.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@cinerius Sounds sensible to me,  consoles are missing out on entire genres due to not having enough buttons on their controllers, it's kind of silly when they COULD support a kb/m setup for certain games.

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@V3rciS Lol basement crawlers. Obviously only people who live with their parents could possibly have a PC. Makes all the sense.

nl_skipper
nl_skipper

@V3rciS Consoles make good coasters, so I agree.  my PC is too valuable to use as a beverage stand.

shaunmc
shaunmc moderator staff

@V3rciS Dreamcast > Saturn


COME AT ME, BRO! 

C_A_G_E
C_A_G_E

@ziproy Mount and Blade would be great. Love that game. Playing it with a controller on the couch is something i would be up for. 

ShadowOfKratos
ShadowOfKratos

@Halloll 

Are you asking if the Wii U is more powerful than Xbox One and PS4 (current-gen)?

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@nl_skipper @cinerius And also not having the power to actually play some of these games. Or the networking capability when it comes to a lot of online games.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@nl_skipper@V3rciS then you are spending way too much money for 'your' coaster. You want to be a chump then chump it is. This tidbit supports the idea PCs are in trouble now. Too many things can do what that expensive toaster can do for less. If a game looks great on 1080p 60 inch tv do you think for most players they give a damn yours is 2300X2300 (no idea resolution maxes for most machines) on a 20 inch? Oh you got bigger? How much did that set ya back fanboi? Kinda getting the picture?


The best PCs have to pay more to even come close to a console. and those that are cheap their screens are WAYYY too small and often doesn't work with a TV well except for games.... if that.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@lonesamurai1@Kinguard73@philippnovikov Ok so now your saying the console oddballs. Think about this a moment. You barely even got close to making sense with that one which took you two tries to come close and we are odd why? Because we actually USE a dictionary?


We apologize we don't fit into your 80's 5th grade mentality. It's kinda passe' ya know?


But hey! we are laughing at you as are likely even PC fans because they prob no longer want you to be one of their fans.


So toss those insults. It's kinda fascinating like watching a monkey pee in it's own mouth.

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@Grenadeh @Kinguard73@nl_skipper@V3rciS Idiot? I apologize for your lack in economics. Course then again someone like you is prob ruining errr.. running this country so kinda makes sense you'd draw that conclusion.


They think they are right too....


if no where else this is a fun to see just how delusional the human race often is. Just a bunch of lemmings flying of the cliff of Honey Boo Boo...

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@Grenadeh @Kinguard73@nl_skipper@V3rciS That most would have to pay to put together unless they goto Alienware which will cost a lot more. Geez... is this just a guessing game for you or are you just trying to make me enjoy this?

Kinguard73
Kinguard73

@naz99 @Kinguard73@nl_skipper@V3rciS LOL those who done it know. So regardless what you say they know it's true. Casual far outnumber Hardcore PC gamers and could give a flying flip what yer PCs of Gold can do. Support the dying franchises. More and more PC devs are going Console now regardless of what you think because we casuals as a group can pay FAR more than the handful the makes up your personal Circle 'of' Jerks.


Fanboi... it's called common sense...

naz99
naz99

@Kinguard73 @nl_skipper @V3rciS None of that is true or based on any facts so.......you may as well speak to a brick wall because nobody is going to take you seriously....drop the fanboyism then you may be more sucessfull with your posts

Grenadeh
Grenadeh

@Kinguard73 @nl_skipper @V3rciS  A GTX660 or so will run you between 160 and 300 dollars, and by 300 dollars I mean a 7 series. Potentially cheaper. With even a first gen I7, and that video card, you will easily outperform both consoles combined for years to come.


Drop 1000 bucks on a 770 jesus Titan or the soon-releasing 800, you'll outperform them for 10 years but yea its 1000 dollars. Still cheaper than you'd pay for 1 console and a few games.

Europa Universalis IV More Info

First Release on Aug 13, 2013
  • PC
  • Macintosh
  • Unix/Linux
Europa Universalis IV explores the world history in an experience crafted by Paradox Development Studio.