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How Paradox Development Studio makes its hit strategy games

July 11,2016 00:08

To give you an example of the persistence of our games, we looked a two-week sample (taken on April 19, 2016) of the average play time for these games on Steam. The average playtime for the top 100 games on Steam over this period was just shy of four ...


Paradox Development Studio has been around in different forms since 1995, but it started operating as the studio we know today around the early 2000s. We have consistently raised the bar for ourselves with each release, culminating in the last three major releases from the studio — Crusader Kings II in 2012, Europa Universalis IV in 2013, and the recently released Stellaris.
With each new major release, along with a huge amount of additional content, the studio has smashed record after record both in concurrent players over time and sales. Both Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV reached their highest number of players years after the base games’ release.
To give you an example of the persistence of our games, we looked a two-week sample (taken on April 19, 2016) of the average play time for these games on Steam. The average playtime for the top 100 games on Steam over this period was just shy of four hours. Crusader Kings II had an average play time of 12 hours and 32 minutes, while Europa Universalis IV play time clocked in at 16 hours and 43 minutes.
The studio’s business model became more concrete during the launch of Crusader Kings II. This strategy consists of following up a launch with a long-term series of paid DLC expansions that are released simultaneously with extensive free content and upgrades. Paradox recently broke the 1 million players/month mark, demonstrating how the model delivers content that keeps the community playing the studio’s games over long periods of time.
This model is only a part of the reason for Paradox’s extensive success and growth over the last five years. It is, in fact, the result of a set of business priorities that have allowed us to maintain commercial growth, organically grow our player base, reinvest the successes of previous titles into upcoming and ongoing development, and still keep the company lean and genuine.
We call this the “PDS Formula.” There are several principles that have been kept true over the years, some of which have proven to be a challenge as the studio has grown from a team of seven to a major studio of almost 100.
Above: The French are plotting something. …Image Credit: Paradox Interactive
Making what we know but not limited by it (new ideas)
We’ve consistently iterated on what we know, but we try to prevent this from turning into repetition. We push the envelope with new ideas but always make sure we have a large degree of “focusing on what we know and do best” in our projects. For PDS, that means large strategy games that distinguish themselves from other titles in the genre.
Everybody makes a game
This is, of course, a question of scale, but at Paradox Development Studio everybody makes a game. Regardless of which department you belong to and which role you have in a team, it is vital that you acutely feel that you are making a game and are aware of the importance of your input. What you are creating will be a part of the player experience. “What can I make for the player/I’m making this for the player” often comes up when the studio discuss priorities and upcoming tasks. A game is made by more than just designers and programmers.
Give people a chance to prove themselves
People have been known to take on new challenges and have a chance to prove themselves quite quickly within the studio. It’s often less about previous honors, pedigree, and resumes and more about what you actually create and deliver — and whether you make others around you better. As we’ve grown, the mobility between job tracks within the studio is perhaps not as quick as it once was, but our external environment changes often and so must we. We try to ensure that this type of constant change also comes with the payoff of personal development and the ability to assume responsibility.
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