Paradox Interactive is fast becoming a rising star in the videogames industry and Shams Jorjani, Producer and Business Developer at the company, is a testament to that fact. In what seems like the space of a year, he’s gone from a mere Producer to one of their top people. Ask him about his new and almost sudden ‘Rockstar’ status, and he’ll joke it’s because he was the guy in charge of Magicka – the wonderfully silly indie title that became Paradox’s bestselling title.
His rise is synonymous with Paradox’s success, as their revenue growth numbers for the last financial year were very impressive, and it seems they are putting the money to very good use. With 26 projects in 11 countries, Paradox is as active as any of the ‘big’ companies, and they’ve proven they don’t need AAA-budget games to get to where they are. At the recent Paradox Convention near Stockholm, Sweden, we sat down with Shams and talked to him about everything from Card games to Connect.
Heats of Iron TCG
When we saw him last, not only was Shams heading up the Magicka franchise, but he was also advocating the Hearts of Iron Trading Card Game. This was new ground for Paradox, but with Shams being a massive card game fan, it was clear they had the right minds behind it. The Hearts of Iron TCG was released in October last year, and we asked Shams how it had gotten along:
“It’s been good in some ways, bad in others. It’s been good in the sense that the game is fun, it has a core following – and we were kind of surprised that it managed to get a core following, so it’s a very good proof of concept.”
“The bad part is that we probably should have done it slightly differently in the sense that we should have developed a Client-based system that we could have released over Steam or on the tablets. But we’re definitely hanging in there in the card game space, and we feel it’s close to Paradox and there’s room to grow because no one else is doing anything good.”
You might be tempted to cry out “but what about Might & Magic?” at this point. Shams has played a lot of Might & Magic, and is not a fan of how it’s managed. From the sounds of things, the idea though moving forward is to have a single card-game ‘engine’ that can then be applied to as many franchises as possible. You can read our coverage of the HOI TCG here.
What you also may or may not remember from last year was the announcement of Paradox’s own social network and proprietary game service – Paradox Connect. The company announced a host of online titles last year including Dreamlords: Ressurection (which was the launch title with the ‘soft’ launch of Paradox Connect), Salem (coming later this year), Gettysburg: Armored Warfare and the Hearts of Iron card game along with others. Sadly, the project stalled last year, for one very simple reason:
“Well, basically, we had a really talented guy heading up the entire thing, and he basically went on Paternity leave. Sweden has very generous terms of Paternity/Maternity, it’s like 390 days in total, and it’s made it difficult to take the project forward in the same manner. At the same time, we realised that if we want to do this we need to actively start building our own backend in a completely new way.”
Dreamlords, it seems, has gone “silently into the night”, as Shams told us. Meanwhile games like Gettysburg have had to move on and make other arrangements (it will be a Steam exclusive), and whilst newly released Paradox titles are having the service worked in, nothing is really going to be seen for a few months, with Salem being the new ‘official’ launch title.
“Paradox has traditionally been very sceptical of technology, and a lot of people talk about it like it’s a holy grail – if you have the tech everything will fall into place. But we’ve kind of proven that we don’t need the tech, just a good concept. So we’ve kind of shied away from engineers and technology, but we realised that if we wanted to do this we need that backend; we need a database etc… so we’ve hired a super-talented technical producer. You should see something within 4-5 months.”
Looking back on 2011
It was an interesting year for Paradox last year – they had amazing growth, break-out titles like Magicka, and they released quite a few games over the course of the year. It hasn’t all been rays of sunshine though – Magicka, initially, and Sword of the Stars II proved they don’t have everything down quite right yet, and even the Hearts of Iron TCG and Dreamlords taught them valuable lessons. As Shams puts it:
“It’s been a sobering year in many ways. It’s kind of like you’ve encountered the problems, and then it takes time for why you actually have that problem, and then you have to figure out how to correct those issues and make sure you’re set for the future.”
Sword of the Stars II probably had the biggest impact out of everything that happened that year, which convinced the company to change the way they make games and the way they structure things with their third-party studios:
“A lot of contracts have grey areas, and something that we work really well with is that we’ve improved them, and made them more transparent. It sounds silly, but by having more clear contracts, we can have less technical problems in our games. For instance, we specifically state that this micro in-game store thing should be made a part of this delivery system, or whatever. We make sure we define all this stuff a lot earlier.”
When we asked Fredrick the same question, he echoed Shams statement that they’ve changed their business practices, so 2012 is already off to a good start.
One of the last things they talked about during the press conference at the Paradox Convention this year is their new indie games initiative – ‘Indie 2.0’. According to Shams, there are 1200 people working in the Swedish games industry alone, and around 800 students graduate annually with some kind of degree in games.
Given how hard it is to get a job in the industry, not to mention how tough it is to get investment for a new business - “not a lot of people want to work with indie developers, and indies don’t want people to invest in them” – Paradox have come up with a method of helping the new talent grow whilst also adding to paradox’s prestige and perhaps even their games portfolio:
“The idea is that we find devs that have an idea that we would sign if they were an established dev, and then we bring them in, have them with us for 6 months, assign them a producer, give them equipment etc… and take them through the motions, help them take the game from 0 to alpha or beta, and then we decide if we want to spend another 6 months or more on this game. But we have to be really upfront with them, so we’ll tell them if we’re not interested but we could easily point them to other companies that are, or introduce them to Steam because they do a lot of indie stuff right now.”
This is essentially an easy way for them to find another Magicka – something Shams was very up front about, “there are a lot of developers in Sweden and it’s a cheap way for us to tap into that.”
“What we did with Magicka is what we want to do now – for their first project we helped them learn how to make games, and now we’re thinking, they’re all graduating with uni degrees, we have the space, we could make this part of how we sign games.”
“Instead of me going to LA to find games at E3, I could just have a coffee with them at home. There’s a lot of stigma about publishers and how evil they are, and I think it’s so not true for the smaller ones, and not all publishers are evil. But we get a bad rep, and we’ve been working hard to wash that away from our reputation.”
We don’t know what it is, but somehow Paradox seems to have been filled with a new energy this year. Everything from the titles and initiatives they’ve announced, to how people like Fred and Shams talk when they speak to the press… it’s hard not to get swept up in their excitement, and we haven’t even seen any of their late 2012/2013 stuff yet! Thanks to Shams for talking to us.