“Right,” Said Fred: Fredrik Wester Interview

By Quintin Smith on September 1st, 2010 at 5:45 pm.

The Staring Eyes Of Fredrik Wester
As one of the nerdiest PC game publishers out there, it’s only right that Paradox Interactive and RPS should be well acquainted. Look! Here’s Paradox CEO Fred Wester talking on his new blog, The Wester Front, about why he loves the PC as a platform, with some hard stats as to why it’s growing, not dying. That’s interesting.

Anyway, I caught up with Fred at GamesCom for an excitable chat about the state of PC gaming, DRM, witch doctors, Paradox’s growth and why complex games have fallen from the shop shelves in recent years. It was a good time. Read on after the jump.

RPS: So, early today you mentioned that when you heard GameStop were launching their own digital download service, you wanted to get in touch with them and tell them some of the lessons you learned the hard way.

FW: Yeah, it’s been a rough ride. Starting up an online retailer without knowing anything about retail? The thing is, with boxed retail, it’s all transaction based. They want you to come to their store, and then they never want to hear from you again. They can’t take care of the technical back-end, they can’t take care of the patches, they don’t really understand the full lifecycle of the game. That’s the first lesson they need to learn- “How do I provide gamers with a service after I get the transaction?”

It’s the most important thing to learn, but it’s also the hardest thing to learn. It’s a totally different… ah, paradigm. I love the word paradigm. I use it every time I can.

I actually had six different bulletpoints- “Things GameStop has to learn”. Kinda bombastic, right? I’m not gonna contact them though.

RPS: What else have you learned?

FW: You learn a lot about how other publishers work, about their opinions on the games, and you learn a lot about gamer behaviour. We ask the users on GamesGate a lot of questions, not just about the kind of games they prefer but how they like to download their games and how they want the experience to work. I think I’ve learned a lot about service. Paradox as a publisher doesn’t meet that many gamers. Except on the forums, where we’re only ever flamed or praised.

RPS: Still. Paradox, as a publisher, is quite close to its customers. [I’m referring here to Paradox’s use of fan-created content in its games and its happy support for modders.]

FW: We try to be close to our customers, without making it sound like bullshit. Because “close to our customers” can easily turn into corporate bullshit. But we want to be out there and discuss the features of our games, and get the feedback. I mean Hell, we’re just under 30 people working for Paradox, including our in-house development team and sales. It’s kind of a small company, and we sell hundreds of thousands of games every year, so collectively our gamers know far more about our games than we do in general.

RPS: It’s a very active community.

FW: I think a game like Victoria 2, for example, there’s just so much to discuss. The most popular part of our forum is still the After Action Reports, where people describe what they did in the game with screenshots and everything. And some of these are pure gold. It’s like reading a book. There’s not so many games where you can discuss for years and years how to play the game.


RPS: But that kind of complexity’s fallen off the game shelves recently. Why do you think that is?

FW: I think it’s the same as what happened in the film industry during the 60s and 70s, when all the indie guys were pushed off the shelves and only the big 5 were left. What’s been a blessing for the games industry is that at this point, digital distribution’s come into the equation as well, and we’re selling a lot of indie titles that otherwise would have received zero recognition. Take Minecraft. No publisher would ever touch, but the guy who created it probably made a lot of money anyway, and made a lot of gamers happy.

So, it doesn’t bother me that our games are being pushed off the shelves. We’re still shifting a Hell of a lot of units. It’s just moved online.

RPS: There’s some frustration building in the UK over the government’s lack of support for the games industry. How’s the Swedish government treatment of you?

FW: Politicians talk a lot and they do little. I think the problem’s universal. Of course it’s tough, because Canada has a head start with all the tax cuts, and luring over different development teams. We actually work with two teams in Canada.

Sweden has a policy of funding things like movies. I think the Swedish government gives $100 million each year to Swedish-specific movies, and most of them are never exported. They’re just exposed to the 9 million people in Sweden. All politicians in Sweden are very confused that we have development studios that sell games to a worldwide audience, and I don’t think they consider games “good enough” from a cultural perspective to receive funding.

They’ve been very slow in supporting us. They always come to our meetings and say “We wanna support you guys”, and I tell them that the two best way to support us is to put money into education for programmers, graphic artists and designers, and to provide tax cuts. But if you mention tax cuts to a Social Democrat, they will just throw you out of the room. The discussion ends there.

I read a report in the Harvard Business Review that the most important factor for entrepreneurship is lowering the capital tax. So, maybe it’s as simple as it.


RPS: But Paradox has experienced tremendous growth recently, no?

FW: We’ve grown ten times over in terms of gross revenue since 2004. And we spawned Gamers Gate, which is doing really great as well.

RPS: What do you put that growth down to?

FW: We’ve been very focused. We haven’t been lured into doing… Nintendo DS stuff. We haven’t got caught up in that “We have to be on console now!”

We’ve sold our games. We have our fans. We know what games they like. We know what games we want to produce. We’ve just added more games to the portfolio instead of spreading it out over consoles, which is actually a very high-risk business. If you release a box at retail you have to pay a licensing fee upfront for every game you print. You have to try and get the development fee back, and the license fee. And you don’t have control over everything either. MS and Sony need to have their seal of approval over everything.

RPS: So you’re shifting away from boxed products?

FW: I think this year we plan to have between 60 and 70 percent of our revenue as digital downloads. Course, releasing a title like Lead & Gold which is digital only helps with that equation, but when we release boxed games we expect the sales to be 50/50, boxed and digital.

RPS: And of course you recently unveiled Paradox Connect. Does everybody have to have achievements now, then?

FW: Yeah yeah yeah. Part of me agrees with you. If everyone launches their own service then you’re going to have 28 different people to work with for every game. But we just wanted the whole experience to be seamless. As much as I like Steam- I use Steam myself- I know a lot of people are turned off by the fact that you need to install a client. We’re completely web-based and voluntarily used. You can just play the game as normal, and if you want to connect your forum name to the service you’re welcome to.

We have a lot of exciting stuff planned for Paradox Connect that we just can’t talk about right now, because we don’t want to over-promise and underdeliver.


RPS: The whole thing mirrors your stance on DRM, which all Paradox games are free of, right?

FW: Yes. We left DRM three years ago. We saw that DRM caused crashes, made it harder for people to install the game on their machines, and we don’t want to put boundaries around people who’ve actually bought our game. If you purchase it, it’s yours, and you can do whatever you want with it. Ach- not, whatever you want- you can’t, like, create… you should be able to install it on multiple machines and download it again if you want to.

If you pirate our game, you probably get bad karma anyway. That’s our only DRM. Bad karma.

RPS: Have you employed a witch doctor yet?

FW: We’re thinking about it. We have a Sami population in Sweden which are an indigenous people living up North, and since I’m from that area I’m pretty well connected with all the medicine men up there.

RPS: I heard you guys were thinking about having negative achievements.

FW: Right.

RPS: I was talking to the producer outside, there.

FW: Right. Tom.

RPS: He said that you’d have some negative achievements to do with things like…

FW: Right.

RPS: …playing the developers at the game.

FW: Right.

RPS: You haven’t heard about this.

FW: Right.

RPS: Have you?

FW: Nope.

[Laughter]

RPS: Right! Moving on…

FW: I’m always the last one to know in our office, though sometimes it’s the opposite as well. At the press conference this morning I was like- Reena (she’s our Vice President of sales)! He’s going to present a game you’ve never seen before! Don’t kill me! Like, how’s she meant to sell a game she’s never heard of?

I’m not surprised a company like Microsoft has bad communications. There’s thousands of people there. We’re a company of thirty and we still can’t communicate.


RPS: What does Paradox have in store for next year?

FW: We’re releasing three new free-to-play games next year. We’re experimenting and we’re not sure how it’ll turn out- we’re not sure of our business model yet, but we have a few very exciting online games coming out.

RPS: Are they existing brands?

FW: No. Wait-

RPS: …!

FW: Well. Nah. But one of the games is… something… how do I put this? It’s gonna be very cryptic. It’s a type of gameplay that we’ve never touched before. And it’s a type of gameplay that’s completely different from what a computer game typically offers. We’re gonna announce it at mid-September, and I promise you, you’ll be the first to know, because I think it fits your audience very well. You have a lot of nerds.


RPS: We have a lot of nerds, yes. I mean, we are a lot of nerds.

FW: Fantastic. I love it. You know, I always read the comments on your site. There’s a nerdy, academic humour that I really like. I’ve actually commented anonymously a few times. I would never say “Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox”. Or maybe I will! Or someone else should start doing it in my time.

[The RPS readership should consider this a mass call to start leaving at least one comment from “Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox” on every single post.]

RPS: So, you let a girl from IGN shave your head during E3 because you got the advance figures as to how well Victoria 2 was selling.

FW: Yes. Also, I’d played the game and thought it was very solid. I have to say that, as I’m the CEO and I can’t sit here telling you it was a shit game, but after the Hearts of Iron 3 release which we say was really unstable- we weren’t really proud of that release, and thought we could do a much better job- I think we’ve improved our QA internally.

RPS: If Ship Simulator Extremes sells really well, what would you be willing to let a member of RPS shave off you?

FW: I could… I could shave my legs, for example. How do you do that? Waxing. You could wax, perhaps, half a leg?

RPS: Half?!

FW: I have pretty hairy legs, you know. That’s a bad thing. But yeah, you give me a sales figure and I could get you some exclusive footage.

RPS: Grainy footage of you shaving some part of your body.

FW: Or I’d have a body stand-in, like they do in Hollywood.

RPS: I’d know, Fred! I’d know.

FW: Ah.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

__________________

« | »

, , , , , , .

70 Comments »

  1. PleasingFungus says:

    This is journalism at its finest.

  2. Jimbo says:

    I’m Fred Westest.

  3. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Right.

  4. Fred Wester says:

    I just want to say it was a fantastic interview

    Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox

  5. LordCiego says:

    [The RPS readership should consider this a mass call to start leaving at least one comment from “Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox” on every single post.]

    You didnt even had to mention it

    Signed, Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox

  6. Greg Wild says:

    Great ask things and get responses session. Keep doing nice word things like you do.

    That is all

  7. Tei says:

    Out mission, as nerds, is to take over the world. So we train with militar simulators, as complete and fun as possible.

    I have visited plenty of our militar underground bases, and I am confidents our hovertanks and nullspheres will win the war.

    One day, we will broadcast the order MORLOQ, and we will abandon our basem.. undeground bases, and take over the world. And the next thing you know, there will be TV programs about math. We just have to solve the problem with the big fire ball in the sky.

    The experimental reproduction program is working well… nerds with childrens. So we have another way to raise our numbers, other than spore reproduction.

  8. Ridye says:

    Sadly, never tried their games or services. Might be the time to start changing that.
    Nice interview!

  9. Ignorant Texan says:

    Seeing as how he doesn’t wear glasses, I believe nerd was used as an insult!!!!!!! :P

    Or, is he too sexy for glasses?

  10. SirKicksalot says:

    “Take Minecraft. No publisher would ever touch”

    Minecraft’s creator had a meeting with Valve a couple of days ago. What could that mean?

    • Ysellian says:

      I’d love to see some sales stats for Gamersgate Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox.

    • Ysellian says:

      Ah sorry didn’t mean to reply to you :(

    • Quintin Smith says:

      In the context of the interview, Fred’s talking about a publisher putting out Minecraft as a boxed game.

      Though Minecraft potentially getting a Steam realese IS interesting.

    • Tei says:

      You can view minecraft as a “pixel art” editor for maps. So maybe these conversations are about to use minecraft for that, creating maps for Source games in a coop enviroment.

      Like the CUBE engine.
      http://sauerbraten.org/

    • tomeoftom says:

      Notch made about forty-five thousand euros in sales a few days ago, (before the hefty Swedish tax). Just today he’s already made more than thirty-two thousand. I’m kind of scared by what might happen if Steam picks him up.

  11. Gunsmith AKA Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    BANDWAGON, HO!

  12. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    I have a strong affection for small seals. Not, like, a sexual affection. I just think they’re neat.

  13. Fred Wester says:

    I admit it; I’m William Hague’s secret lover.

  14. ChaK_ says:

    cheers fred, CEO of paradox, if you read me keep rolling

  15. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    He seems like a nice bloke, the kind I’d go for a pint with.

  16. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox

  17. Xercies says:

    I wasn’t expecting a Bernard Crbbins reference in any title in RPS. Good job!

    Anyway i instantly like this guy, he seems straight talking and i do like his games soemtimes…though they genrally are a bit to complicated to me.

  18. Fred says:

    Thanks for all nice comments. About Minecraft, the developer first released it on his own site, and only after selling a lot of units got attention. I really hope he can get an agreement with Steam, this would mean a lot of units sold. Quintin really caught me by surprise on those negative achievements, next time I’ll be better prepared :)

    • Lars Westergren says:

      NEGATIVE ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: “On stage, forgot pants.” (Failed to provide satisfactory answer to an interview question)

  19. Wolfox says:

    And a new meme is born.

    - Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox

  20. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    I love you Quintin.

    • Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

      We all want to smooch him, but only one will be chosen. Who will it be?

  21. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Thanks, I appreciate it!

  22. Cooper says:

    I’m Sp– Fred Wester!

  23. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    If Crusader Kings 2 does well, I promise I’ll let Quintin Smith shave my armpits.

  24. Bostec says:

    Fred West? Burn! Burn at the stake.

  25. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox, Raised By Puffins says:

    Less “The Staring Eyes of Fred Wester”, more “Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox, woz ‘ere“. Good to see someone aboard the good ship RPS keeping the home-memes burning though.

    • Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox, Raised By Puffins says:

      Oh, and nice interview. Cheers.

  26. WiPa says:

    Right.

  27. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Canned food is the best thing in the world and you can never have too much canned food.

    - Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox

  28. Danny says:

    I’m too sexy for his games.

  29. Flimgoblin says:

    I’m Spartacus!

  30. FunkyBadger says:

    Scandies are awesome.

  31. Batolemaeus says:

    “We haven’t got caught up in that “We have to be on console now!”

    Consider yourself e-hugged, Fred. <3

  32. Sarlix says:

    Great interview. Could possibly use a touch more Fred West though.

    • Ned Lester, CEO of Paralocks says:

      Wester*

      That was just a horrendous typo.

      Blame Bostec!

  33. Fredrik Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    Köp mina spel. Tack.

    Fredrik Wester, CEO of Paradox

  34. Taro514 says:

    I would just like to say that:

    a) I’m not Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox
    b) I like Paradox, and their games, particularly Hearts of Iron (yeah, even HoI 3). In fact I think I actually bought HoI2 twice (once on Steam, cos I wanted to re-play it and couldn’t be bothered to dig through storage boxes for the CD)
    c) I didn’t realise that Paradox were behind Gamers Gate. Now that I do, I’ll use them.

    Oh, and d) this is my first ever comment on any gaming website, ever. That’s in over 20 years of gaming! Do you feel special, RPS?

    Signed,

    Not Fred Wester

  35. Nimic says:

    If you’re all Fred Wester, can I be Johan?

  36. Random RTS Nerd Commenter says:

    This is now my favorite interview, ever.

  37. gorbidballs says:

    Never change RPS.

  38. cw8 says:

    I bought Vicky 2, where are his bald pics!

  39. Coillscath says:

    Between these guys, Stardock, and Valve, I think the gaming industry’s going to be okay.

    • TheOptimissed says:

      Yea, between someone who promises to rid the world of all evil and then publically devours newborns while mowing down all those that dare point it out in shock (Mister Wardell and his Bill of Lies and Empty Promises aka If I Make The Rules That Doesn’t Mean I Myself Would Ever Follow Them), a publisher that leaves out the promise-the-opposite-first part, but still feels sell-now-make-playable-later is a functional approach to delivering games, and a company that is still coasting along on a game series that never was better than average and had the worst gun and game sounds and gun handling ever(HL) and also took/got all the credit for what really was a mod running on their game engine that was more fun than the game they did themselves(CS), I am sure we’re in the best of company.

    • Mad Doc MacRae says:

      Who pissed in your cheerios this morning?

    • theleif says:

      @TheOptimissed

      You sound like Glenn Beck.

  40. Pained says:

    Mommy, mommy, why is every interesting game that Paradox ever published completely bugged into unplayability upon release and not bearable until the third or fourth patch half a year / year down the line?
    - Because they hate our freedom, son. Because they hate our freedom.

  41. Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

    I let a girl shave my head. And yes, it was as good as in my wildest fantasies.

    Köp mina spele! Kauf mein games! Jawohl! Argh.hh…Mein Leben!…

    Tack, that’s like a Stephen King reference with an extra C.
    (Bonus achievement points for getting this and owning the hardcover)

  42. zipdrive says:

    That’s one of the coolest interviewees I’ve ever heard/read/whatever.
    The questions were OK, too, Quinns.

  43. adonf says:

    wow, you guys are great at this ‘talking with people’ thing !

  44. pimorte says:

    What about it being a Richard Bachman reference? :p

    I sense the beginning of a new “Quinns needs iron”

    • Fred Wester, CEO of Paradox says:

      You, sir, have just won a 7 part vacation in a fairly nonbright tower.

  45. UK_John says:

    Sorry to rain on the parade, but I am not sure anyone in the PC games industry truly knows what will happen over the medium and long term (2-5 years) if and when PC games disappear from retailer shelves.

    No one knows what the Mom and Dad’s and little Johnny’s are going to do in the future going into game stores that are just carrying console and hand-held games.

    I am not as confident as Mr. Wester. Although I understand he needs to talk the market up. After all, that’s the main reason we have the overt bias toward the big North American publishers we have in our gaming media today.

    Currently it’s an interesting market, with the U.S. going more multiformat and PC indie, and Europe going more old school PC only almost as a continent! Hence we get Mass Effect in the U.S. and The Witcher in Europe, one definitely written with console in mind, the other definitely a PC title….