Interview: Paradox on Cities: Skylines’ success, outdoing EA and why PC is the place to be

PC stalwart Paradox Interactive kicked 2015 off in style by launching Cities: Skylines to great aplomb.

The title outsold Grand Theft Auto, FIFA and Dying Light in its first week, and went on to become the publisher’s fastest-selling game to date.

Hot on the heels of that game’s success, COO Susana Meza Graham tells MCV why 2015 is set to become the ‘year of the platypus’

Cities: Skylines has been incredibly successful, selling more than 60,000 copies over 10 days in the UK alone. You must be over the moon with the game’s success.

We’ve always worked really, really hard on our games and our releases, but when they’re received in the way that Skylines has been, it’s just so gratifying because you feel like all of that hard work really paid off. You’ve created something that people get so much joy out of.

If digital data was included in the UK charts, Cities: Skylines would’ve been the biggest-selling game during its release week, ahead of blockbuster titles such as GTA V. What’s your opinion on the availability of data for digital titles?

Sales charts serve a purpose – they bring awareness of what games are out there, which games are popular and so on. But, more and more, I find that there’s more discussion surrounding what the most-played games out there are, which games people are talking about the most, the number of simultaneous players in a game and so on – information such as this brings a more nuanced picture alongside the sales figures. But it would be ideal if the charts reflected both retail and digital sales, since our sales are 95 per cent digital.

Do you think there was a particular reason Skylines took off in the way that it did?

Timing-wise, it released in a good window. People were really craving something like Skylines in the genre and the niche.

The price point also had a huge role to play; it was modest, which meant that more people dared to try it out and take a leap.

Of course, it’s also a great game that offers so much replayability for people. All of the stories that have come out of people playing Skylines – that’s marketing you can’t buy.

"All of the stories that have come out of people playing Cities: Skylines – that’s marketing you can’t buy."

Susana Meza Graham,Paradox Interactive

Skylines has been compared to EA’s 2013 reboot of SimCity, which was met with some consumer backlash and mixed reviews. Did that title’s reception affect consumer interest in the city-building genre?

Of course, because people were still longing for a more old-school-type city-builder. There was a pretty clear want from the community. But because there was a huge community for city-builders out there, that meant that as long as we were able to convince them that our product was a good game, a lot of people would take the leap.

There was even one ex-SimCity (2013) developer who took to crowd-funding platform Patreon to fund new mods for Skylines…

The modding community has just embraced this game completely.

We had 5,000 mods within the first few days of the game releasing – that level of engagement I don’t think anyone expected really. The community basically formed and started building overnight.

Outside of two games released on PS3, Paradox has remained a largely PC-only publisher. Why stick with PC?

The PC platform has been a very open platform. It’s enabled us to develop both our games and our offering on the business side together with our community.

We released our first expansion for a game called Victoria in 2006; at the time, downloadable content wasn’t even discussed in the games industry. People were still saying that it would take 10 years to move onto digital distribution.

That eventually went quicker, but the fact that we were able to do it early developed this idea of releasing content after release and that the franchise wasn’t doomed if the base product didn’t sell. It allowed us to experiment in a different way.

One game coming to console is Magicka 2, on PS4. What are your expectations for that game?

We had ambitions to bring the original Magicka to console, but for various reasons we weren’t able to.

We certainly weren’t the company back then that we are today.

We have quite a few games in the Magicka world today; the original, Wizard Wars and Wizards of the Square Tablet. With these combined, we have an install base of millions of players.

Even by Paradox standards, the expectations are fairly high. We expect the title to do well and reach an audience consisting of those who have played Magicka before, but also a new audience with the PlayStation launch.

Why bring the game to PS4 only?

If you want to do something right, it’s not a bad idea to focus and do that really well before spreading yourself too thin. We haven’t always been that smart in the past, because we’ve always had such big ambitions that we haven’t always been able to meet or own goals.

Also, Sony contacted us; it was encouraging and really wanted to work with us. It felt like our titles could bring something to the platform that its gamers wanted.

Your games appeal primarily to a select portion of the gaming audience. How has the market for such niche titles changed from the past?

With digital distribution in particular, it’s become easier for people like us, who may not have a distribution network that spans the entire globe, to reach out to gamers that match that target audience.

That’s one of the reasons that we started with digital downloads in 2006 – we knew very well who our customers were, we just weren’t able to reach them. Outlets like Steam and other digital retailers have done a lot to support that.

"The price point of Cities: Skylines had a huge role to play in its success; it was modest, which meant that more people dared to take a leap."

Susana Meza Graham,Paradox Interactive

2012’s Crusader Kings II maintains an extremely dedicated player base – the average playing time is 99 hours. What does the success of such a title say about the state of the games market?

The main thing it says is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ game. There’s room for all different types of games and playing experiences.

It also says that it’s not necessarily the size of your team that determines commercial success. Colossal Order and our publishing team really proved that with Skylines.

Crusader Kings II is a great example of the PC platform being used to regularly distribute post-release add-on content. How has the market for such content evolved in recent years?

We only see interest increasing.

With our games we release paid expansion packs and smaller cosmetic DLCs, but we also release free content at the same time. The expansions don’t build on each other – you can pick and choose depending on your own personal interests.

That’s a very exciting way to go about it: having a really good product as a base and then developing and adding content depending on what you see people playing and liking, as well as what the developers are passionate about.

With the success of Skylines, this year is already off to a great start for Paradox – what’s yet to come in 2015?

2014 was a bit of a tough year for us – we decided to postpone several titles because we felt they weren’t really at where they should be. Everyone was working really hard and we weren’t feeling the fruits of that labour.

We knew 2015 was going to be a massive year for us – we call it the year of the platypus, because our logo is a platypus skeleton. We’re keeping an eye on making sure that we deliver on everything we set out to for 2015. We’ve always had a tendency to dream big, but now we’re buckling down and trying to deliver.

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