The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Editorial: The Paradoxical Pay Policy

Regular writer James Tanaleon gives us a guest editorial

Published on 24 MAY 2014 7:58am by James Tanaleon
  1. business and industry, background / research material, english

To many people, Paradox Interactive has been the go-to source for the “grand strategy” genre. Their award winning flagship titles include Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV as well as the now upcoming Hearts of Iron IV. For individuals, however, who have been fans of these titles when they didn't have so many Roman numerals after their names might have also noticed another significant change aside from new engines and new graphics. To these individuals, the way in which Paradox monetizes their games has also shifted. Not only has this change produced mixed feelings among fans, but I believe constitutes a rather important and brilliant shift in marketing policy and traces a significant trend among PC games in general. 

So what's changed? Well, “back in the day,” like most other developers of the early millennium, Paradox would publish a game and different markets would give it a particular price. You would pay for this price and enjoy your copy of Europa Universalis II or the original Crusader Kings. The games were generally well put together for their releases and, in many ways, revolutionary in their conceptual design. Many gamers who profited hundreds of hours of gametime on these classics in turn had no problem profiting Paradox from the one time fee. Paradox would almost perpetually hotfix and patch the game on their forum with such regularity that even their lead designer Johan Andersson has a forum signature that read “A patch is never late! Nor is it ever early. It arrives precisely when I mean it to do!” 

Nowadays, however, the way in which Paradox has released its game content has changed—and it has become more expensive. The new pay model seeks to take advantage of the rising popularity of DLCs or Downloadable Content. These expansions range from small aesthetic and graphic changes to major overhauls of game mechanics and user interface. Each of these items are individually priced and are available through the bevvy of online marketplaces that are now frequented by many PC gamers. Now, instead of receiving a full game which only requires patching here and there, it seems that Paradox is set on releasing a base vanilla game which, although fun in its own right, is really just a foundation on which they build elaborate and game-changing DLCs. Some of the most recent examples have been happening in both Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV where the studio has been so ambitious as to explore territories in gameplay manipulation that they have never attempted before. The inclusion of India in CK II's “Rajas of India” or the introduction of Viceroyalties in “Conquest of Paradise” for Europa Universalis IV demonstrate that Paradox is willing to treat their fans with a radical blossoming of possibilities. 

This is a rather fascinating strategy since the vanilla releases of these games constitute a more orthodox return to what the previous title in the franchise was about and then suddenly a blitzkrieg of magnificent DLCs allows the player to change everything. Personally, I think this is a brilliant model and one that, despite the higher overall cost, is a genius stroke for the Swedish company. Through this model, they preserve the integrity of the original experience via the vanilla and then provide hearty DLCs that are more than just the silly fluff that we've come to expect from bigger titles. I believe that this pay model is also quite necessary for a niche market player like Paradox as it allows them to monetize their games without succumbing to the pay-to-play model or being left without any incentive in the one-time-fee model to enhance and revolutionize. 

How was this switch possible at all? Steam and Gamersgate. With the advent and popularity of switching to a digital download format for many gamers, it is now possible to release DLCs and add-ons with relative ease. Gone are the days when an expansion of such magnitude required a separate trip to the local store. Now, all the DLCs are one click away from download and the way in which Paradox has managed their launcher screens to accommodate both DLCs and mods has streamlined this cafeteria process. The internet age of gaming has truly made possible certain marketing strategies which are beneficial for the company's revenue flow and, by extension, to the consumers who are now treated to a wide variety of rich DLCs that they can mix and match. For those who are bemoaning the added cost, the digital realm also has a solution that comes around every few months: the Steam bundle sales. Considering the revolutionary steps these expansions are making and the hours of gameplay involved, it's clear to see why this new way of selling Paradox games is a win/win for all parties.