Johan Andersson is studio manager at Paradox Development Studio
As a game developer, you really need to know your gamer – by which I mean, the person that you want playing your game. What does he or she want? What will make them fall in love with the games you create? If you know your gamers, you know how you can both fulfill their wishes and surprise them. You can give them things they didn’t even know they wanted. There isn’t one big market for everything when it comes to games. But in a world where people keep saying that the PC market is dying, we at Paradox Development Studio are increasing our sales for every strategy game we make. This is in large part thanks to the games we create, which I think get better every year, but more importantly because of how we treat our gamers.
Loyalty is the most profitable long-term concept in the world
Loyalty is the most profitable long-term concept in the world, and loyalty isn’t just given because you want it, but loyalty and respect are given when you return it. “Do to others what you would want them to do to you,” said a very wise man in Roman Judea about 2000 years ago, and that is as true today as it was then. Treat your gamers as you want them to treat you and you’ll end up successful. (Of course, having a good game is damn helpful.)
We take pride in paying attention to our audience, and let that guide much of what we do. It helps enormously if you as a developer are part of your audience, as you can then add in that extra quality. If a developer is not enjoying the game they are working on, then the gamer won’t be buying it either.
Communication is a two-way street
I personally believe that any meaningful flow of information must go both directions. When you communicate with your gamers through forums, Twitter, email, Facebook or other venues, it is very important that you as a developer reply to their comments and answer their questions as often as possible and as openly as possible. No one knows your game as well as you do as a developer. Make sure you and your team talk directly to your gamers, answer their questions and listen to their feedback. A gamer that is heard is far more likely to listen to you as a developer when you want to give them information.
Any meaningful flow of information must involve both directions.
If you just give gamers information, and don’t respond to their feedback, they will end up detached from you and not feel any loyalty. Gamers have lots of ideas, and in a nurtured community that is open, honest and creative, those ideas mature together with input from other gamers. Gamers need to feel that they can give suggestions on improvements that are actually being listened to. If you listen to them, creativity will flow and it can inspire the development of completely new features for a game. We created our Ruler Designer DLC for Crusader Kings II completely based on gamers’ ideas from our community, because they wanted to create their own rulers. Our upcoming Europa Universalis IV expansion Conquest of Paradise is strongly influenced by our gamers’ feedback that the excitement of exploration was lost, since everyone has a rough idea of where the new world is when beginning to play. This made us dare to take a leap of faith and create an option for a completely randomized new American continent in an otherwise historical game. We regularly have votes, polls and question threads to find out what our gamers want. The gamers are the ones playing the games. Of course they should be able to influence the future development of those games.
Modding games is awesome for everyone!
Your honor, I bring you the exhibits Day Z, Counter-Strike and Dota.
We are firm believers in exposing as much as possible about the game for modification. We also try to foster a spirit of modding in the community and try to support their needs through patches. I just love seeing all the creative things people come up with when they have a game engine to build upon.
A dedicated modding community allows deeper understanding of gameplay features.
User mods are beneficial to everyone; first of all, the modders get experience in developing, which can become useful when they want to try a career in game development. Great designers like Jon Shafer and Henrik Fåhraeus were both modders before starting professional careers. Secondly, it is a large benefit for other gamers, who get more content to enjoy. Finally, a dedicated modding community allows deeper understanding of gameplay features, even the less visible gameplay features. The fact that our gamers can create mods makes them much more engaged, which leads both to more vivid discussions about the game features and much more creativity that we can listen to and get inspiration from.
Don’t hide stuff
Gamers are smart people. Most of them aren’t going to throw money at the screen just because you say it’s a good game. They want to try before they buy. So let them do that! Create a demo so gamers can try it. It’s just common sense. Otherwise people may pirate the game just to try it out. Some piracy is a natural rebellious response to the lack of demos. I personally feel that not creating a demo is also a signal that you as a developer don’t believe in your game, because you’re scared to let gamers give it a spin.
If you have delays in development, communicate them to your gamers and tell them why. Don’t lie or hide information like that or they won’t trust you.
Don’t nickel & dime the gamers
Gamers are loyal to us at Paradox Development Studio because we constantly update our games and give them loads of stuff for free for the games they have bought, after release, even if they don’t buy a single DLC.
In both Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, we are using a modular system where players receive all the patches and game updates even if they don’t buy any of our DLC. Our goal is that regardless of what DLC you decide to get for the game, you should always get to enjoy the very best game that we can make. We improve the game and add gameplay features for free in major content patches, which in turn helps to keep the game evolving. We always try to give out a patch that includes new gameplay features together with each expansion, and our players keep coming back to the game to see what we’ve improved since last time they played. In many ways, our games becomes almost like small MMOs.
They are potential customers, not thieves!
Don’t spend money trying to track down the pirates. Instead, spend the money on making it easier for people who want to pay for your stuff and reward the ones that do buy your games with free updates and free gameplay features. I repeat: Stop chasing the pirates, focus on rewarding the buyers.
I really dislike how some companies, especially in other entertainment industries, are going after pirates and try to sue them for downloading a few files. Yes, it sucks that you have put your heart and soul into a game that people play without paying for. But hunting the gamers is not going to increase your sales or recoup the money; it’s just going to alienate your customers in your attempts to scare people into buying your game. And that’s a pretty stupid move.
Again, people want to try the game. If there is a demo, most gamers out there will try it out and as long as it gives a good grasp of the game, they will be satisfied and decide if they want to buy the game or not based on it. If there isn’t, well… there are a lot of people trying a game as a pirate and then paying, after they pirated it. Yes, our games get pirated; we are not safe from that. But we have also realized that gamers who play our games for more than a short period of time tend to become loyal fans and start spending money, because they loved the gameplay and want to support us so we can keep creating games.
Stop chasing the pirates, focus on rewarding the buyers.
I truly believe that almost everyone who downloads games for free is someone who will pay money for the games, sooner or later. Either straight after pirating and playing the game – because they felt the game was really good – or when they have the money to do so in the future. Of course, there are always a few assholes that will never pay for a game, but you have to focus on the majority of your gamers and you’re not going to earn more money by pissing off potential future customers.
Respect your gamer
So here is my simple conclusion: Respect your gamer. Pay attention to your gamer. Make your games DRM free. Give the gamers who buy your games a lot of extra stuff for free, and be nice to your gamers. Without them, you are nothing. And I hate to break it to you, but even the pirates could still be your audience and a potential part of your fan base, and you need to keep that in mind. They really like games. If they had more money, some of them would probably buy more games, and lots of them will. Many gamers will choose to pay for your games if you treat them well, listen to them, respect them, let them try the game with a demo and develop awesome games that you yourself as a gamer truly love.
If you respect your gamers, they will respect you. Gamers are people who love playing games and they should be encouraged to do so. Gamers want to support you if you create good games, so you can make even better games in the future for them to play. We at Paradox Development Studio are completely self-funded, so the money gamers spend on our games goes straight into free updates, new expansions and new games that hopefully will be even better than the previous ones. Without our loyal strategy gamers, we would not be able to make games. And we have fans because we treat them with respect. We share their passion for games and we as game developers are gamers ourselves. We treat our gamers as we ourselves want to be treated when we buy games created by other studios. Respect your gamer.
Johan Andersson is the studio manager at Paradox Development Studio. Paradox Development Studios’ latest releases are the critically acclaimed empire-building game Europa Universalis IV and the strategy/RPG Crusader Kings II. The studio has created nearly 20 strategy games and sold millions of copies since it was founded in 1995 which includes award winning strategy franchises such as Hearts of Iron, Victoria, Crusader Kings, and Europa Universalis. Today the Sweden-based studio is the center of a vast community of fans and modders, with a reach that spans the entire globe. Ever since the start, the studio has always been huge supporters of user created content and all games they have ever released are completely moddable.