Civ V designer Jon Shafer parts with Paradox, “creative differences” blamed

Jon Shafer, the lead designer of Firaxis’s Civilization V and his own strategy game At the Gates, is gone from strategy specialists Paradox only six months after joining. Paradox say neither that he ditched the company nor that they fired him, rather that they have all “decided to part ways due to creative differences.” How enigmatic! We didn’t even know what he was working on.

“Jon is an ambitious person with a lot of drive and passion and he has led some good discussions in our teams over the past few months,” Mattias Lilja, Paradox’s executive vice president of studios, said in today’s announcement.

“However,” he continued (always a however!), “during the course of these discussions, it has become clear that we want different things creatively and we have therefore taken the mutual decision that it is best to part ways. We wish Jon the very best in the next part of his career and would like to thank him for his efforts during his time with us.”

Our Adam talked with Shafer after he joined Paradox in May, gabbing about his time on Civ, why he joined Paradox, and some ideas he was thinking about as possible paths for strategy games to explore. He wouldn’t tell us what specifically he was making at Paradox but it was a new project and he was building a team. Adam thought maybe a hint could come from some of those ideas Shafer was mulling:

“I think one of the big opportunities for strategy games right now is to add more character. Both in the form of characters but also in the form of what I’ve talked about already – the variety in the world, the flavour of encounters. Sometimes things that you find in the world can be great, sometimes they can be disappointing, but they should always be unpredictable.”

Maybe that’ll bubble over into what he does next, or maybe we’ll never know. Some of that spirit seems to be in At the Gates, which is still in development. Adam talked with Shafer about that too, so do have a read.

46 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    Well Civ 5 wasn’t exactly great to start, but it was certainly better than Civ 6.

    In any case, here’s hoping the guy finds a new place.

  2. Eightball says:

    Maybe he didn’t want to be in DLC development for the rest of his natural life…

    • dahools says:

      But he could then extend his life with dlc.
      Now he’s got no chance and will have to be mortal.

    • wackazoa says:

      Oh my gosh! I was thinking the same thing. Like:

      Shafer: “Hey guys, I got this great idea for this game. We are gonna put all this stuff into it!”

      Paradox: “Whoa there guy, save something for the DLC.”

      Shafer: “Well I was thinking we wouldn’t have to do DLC.”

      Paradox: “Yeah…. this probably isn’t gonna work. Good luck at your next place.”

      • rochrist says:

        Of course, that isn’t actually how Paradox operates, but Hawt Taek anyway Dude.

        • SaintAn says:

          It is.

          • DragonDai says:

            But it’s absolutely not. Crusader Kings 2 is the prime example of what you’re talking about, and it’s basically become Crusader Kings 3 and Crusader Kings 4 by this point. There is 10 times the game there was now than at launch. Yeah, you’ll pay a bunch to get all that game, but not only are you getting many games worth of content, but you can pick and choose the content you like.

            Paradox’s system is a system I wish basically all publishers would adopt: Support your games for MANY years with massive free updates AND massive paid updates, all while letting the customer decide what content they are interested in playing with. It’s pretty much the perfect system.

      • Rindan says:

        Have you played a Paradox game? They are not sitting on hot content holding it back for a day 1 release. They actually have the opposite problem. They release the game before it is fully filled in, and then spend the next literal decade coloring it in.

        At the end of the day, Paradox has two things going for it. First, they make games that are generally unlike anything else. No one has ever accused Paradox of copying anyone. Hell, I am not sure if anyone has even accused Paradox of being inspired by anyone. Second, they work on the games forever until they are complex beasts. Crusader Kings II is something that only Paradox could make. They make these insanely complex games by working on their old games rather than shitting out games every year. Further, you don’t actually need to buy the DLC. The DLC is truly optional. The DLC generally just lets you play more with the new mechanics, but you still get the new mechanics. If you want to be a space cyborg bent on extermination, you need to by the Stellar DLC. If you just want to play with space cyborgs bent on extermination or maybe just play a normal cyborg, you can do so without buying anything.

        You might not like their games, but they have nothing to do with the current DLC abuse. They just work on an entirely different model. If you don’t like it, eh, don’t buy it.

        Personally, I like games in Paradox’s “forever develop” and pay with DLC mode for some genera. You get a different type of product when it has a decade of work pumped into.

        • wackazoa says:

          280 hrs in CK2, 100ish hours in EU4, 100ish hours in Victoria 2, and 30ish hours in HOI3.

          Also have played 10-15 hours in both CK1 and Victoria 1.

          Paradox published – 15ish hours in Pillars of Eternity and 40ish hours in Cities Skylines.

          Also about 20 hours in Rush for Berlin, a game Paradox published or developed back in like 2007.

      • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

        Yeah, Civ V released in a totally complete and workable state, and was not later made into a much better game through patches, DLC, and further content. It’s totally out of place with what Paradox does.

  3. bragonskeletons says:

    Shouldnt he like, actually finish At The Gates before he goes off making anything else? Radio silence over there everytime I check up on it

    • Kalle says:

      At the Gates failed as a project. It happens. I see nothing to suggest that Shafer did anything but pour his heart into the game but at some point you need to drop the failures and move on. Or do you expect him to spend the rest of his natural life on the game?

      For what it’s worth, I kickstarted At the Gates. I was looking forward to playing it. But my $30 investment was a risk and I’m ok with that.

      • ChairmanYang says:

        While I think that’s ok, he should at least release the game as it exists, along with the source code. Better than giving nothing.

      • bragonskeletons says:

        I never stated I expected him to work overdrive, just finish. I’ve been checking up on it now and then for absolutely ages, and had absolutely no clue whatsoever it had ceased as a project, there is nowhere at all on the website I see that, you can still “buy” the game for god sake.

        • klops says:

          Exactly. I visit At The Gates site couple times a year to see what’s happened and the information given to supporters reminds me of That Which Sleeps.

        • Kalle says:

          The Kickstarter money has already been used up in development and it was a modest budget to begin with. So where is Shafer going to get money to pay for rent and food while he finishes the game? If he takes it up in his spare time, great, but I have no expectations that he should be forced to take on what would essentially be an unpaid second job to finish the project.

          The reality of the world is that if you can’t bring in your project on time and on budget then something has to give.

          • bragonskeletons says:

            You’re missing the already stated fact that absolutely nowhere does it say that the project has failed and ceased. I shouldnt have to dig for that information on forums to find out what is going on, it should be stated on the website where you can still BUY the game. Even the kickstarter does not say a word about it, that is very misleading to people who have just found the project, go on to buy it through the website, and find out they’ve paid for something that will never be finished. A lot of people seem to be defending him for some reason, and I’m confused as to why, he doesnt seem to care so why should you?

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        I’m not sure where you’re getting this information. News articles from the time Shafer joined Paradox (May 2017) say that he will continue work on At The Gates. That doesn’t seem cancelled, just extremely slow.

  4. brucethemoose says:

    If the interview is anything to go by, I bet his ideas didn’t fit into Clausewitz.

    He wanted a new/overhauled strategy engine, Paradox didn’t, so they parted ways.

    • Syt says:

      Could very well be. AGEDO ran into similar issues when they partnered with Paradox – P’dox took over March Of The Eagles half way through development, because it didn’t gel.

  5. Retzinsky says:

    Why does anybody care about what this guy is doing? He seems to have a really hard time sticking with a project. Civ 5 1.0 was divisive at best and he left at launch. Then he spends two years at Stardock with only Fallen Enchantress to his name, which was largely a fixed-up relaunch of another game. Next he kickstarts Conifer/At the Gates which has managed two blog posts in the last thirty months and is four and a half years overdue. Now he’s left Paradox after only six months with nothing to show for it. His personal blog hasn’t been updated in over two years, he quit his game design podcast over three years ago and hasn’t even tweeted in over a year.

    Are we sure he’s not just a full time reclusive masturbator at this point?

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    • satsui says:

      Yeah, I’m with you on this. I keep hearing his name tossed around as if he’s a celebrity, but every game he touches seems to improve AFTER he’s gone.

    • BaaBaa says:

      Cut the dude some slack. His views on why 4X games are getting stale are spot on. His ideas could really push the genre forward. He dared push Civ out of its formulaic comfort zone more than others, and yes, with mixed results. But you know what? It’s hard being the guy who takes creative risks and pushes back against convention and tradition. You expose yourself to a higher risk of failure and your reputation suffers for it. Clearly it’s taking its toll on him. And yet we need people like him to save us from the same old same old.

      • Aetylus says:

        I think the poster above is querying quite why people think he is the guys who Saves Gaming by successfully taking creative risks and pushing back against convention and tradition? All evidence seems to suggest that he is a Decent Game Maker, not the messianic lovechild of Sid and Johan.

        If you are looking for someone to inject something fresh into strategy, you’ll need to look on the fringes. My picks are Daniel Lopez Soria or MuHa games. Failing that, let
        Richard Bodley Scott loose on grand strategy.

        • BaaBaa says:

          I think people who look at the evidence don’t always understand what they are looking at. It’s unfair to judge the success of a new creative direction by comparing its first iteration to some super polished Nth iteration of the previous direction, which I think was the case with Civ 5. It’s the same in any creative profession: you break some rules to create something different, possibly make a mess in the process, but also open the door for the next person to come along and taper off the rough edges of that new thing. So yes, naturally it looks like things only improved after that original attempt.

          You should also appreciate injecting new ideas into a well established franchise is a much different experience for the person doing the injecting, compared to an indie dev doing their own thing.

          In any case, I don’t think he’s the ultimate messiah, but someone who has potentially great things to contribute if he’s not crushed under the weight of his missteps.

          • BaaBaa says:

            Admittedly, he had the chance with At The Gates to do his own thing, but looks like he was hampered by health issues. It’s all too possible he ran out of money too.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Answering only for myself, I would say that I was keen to see if someone could bring something new to the Paradox stable of games. I’ve played the crap out of EU I-IV and HoI I, lesser amounts of HoI II-III, CK I & II and dipped into Victoria. I like those games really quite a lot, although not enough to bankrupt myself buying the entire DLC mountain. Still, I badly want them to announce something a bit different as their next project. I don’t think we’re going to get it unless somebody new and enthusiastic can shift the old guard out of their nice safe rut.

      The White Wolf collaboration doesn’t look like it’s going to produce the spiritual successor to V:TM so I was hoping Shafer might deliver something exciting on the strategy front. I’ll just have to keep waiting.

      • wackazoa says:

        Well Pillars of Eternity, Tyranny, Steel Division, and Magicka are all under Paradox’s banner. Unless you were talking about in house productions…. in that case they pretty much only make one kind of game with many different skins.

        • Someoldguy says:

          Yeah I mean the games they make internally or partner with the developer from the earliest stage of development to shape what the game will be. Pillars and Tyranny are down to Obsidian with paradox brought in as a publisher for what they had made. From what I know of them, the same thing is true of the other titles. Paradox may have agreed to publish but the core game design was already in place.

          What I was hoping for is a new game created within Paradox itself, which is what I understand they wanted Shafer to do. Similar to their partnership with White Wolf on the strength of the IP rather than a set concept for what game(s) were to be made with it.

      • Meathim says:

        What about Stellaris? That is quite different from their other games. It’s part 4X for one thing, which is a bigger deal than one would think.

  6. Smurph says:

    I always wondered how he would fit in at Paradox. Their flagship series all seem to be helmed by internal people who have paid their dues at Paradox and I didn’t see them giving a spot like that to an outsider with zero Paradox games under their belt.

    • unimural says:

      My immediate reaction was that he encountered the darkness and cold that is the winter in Sweden and decided there must be better ways to live one’s life.

  7. fearandloathing says:

    Another point for team “who cares”. This guy was a bubble, and I’m not sad to see it pop. And I can’t think of a reason why PDX hired him in the first place, other than demonstrating their new status as mid-sized internationally known studio by hiring some “celebrities”. Bashing aside, here is the meat of the post: Civ5 was a terribly designed game. I am not talking about 1UPT here. AI was utterly incompetent at utilizing underlying mechanics, so all you’re doing was playing against an over-buffed AI that goes through the game semi-randomly, without any plans etc. Design’s failure to adhere the same level of abstraction for similar things (e.g in unit trees) harmed both immersion and gameplay. All these are documented by established modders of Civ5. Shafer, as a ex-modder, designed the game like a modder and a second-rate one that. He willingly fell into pitfalls of adding content or mechanisms, without realizing or caring how these would work out together. It took two large expansions to make it play like a strategy game.

    So it is just one game and everyone can make mistakes, right? Well he doesn’t have anything else to show up, other than pumped up interviews and design ideas a la Molyneux. Here’s your reason about PDX Shafer divorce. PDX can be faulted by many things, but at least their designers are clear-headed.

    • fearandloathing says:

      Couldn’t stop myself: It’s also telling that this guy worked with two of the top strategy studios, one was a well-established megacorp, the other highly innovative and focused, yet he wasn’t able to put his “brilliant” ideas to practice. Wow.

      • BaaBaa says:

        I wouldn’t call the internal PDX dev studio “highly innovative”. They have created their own differentiated niche, I’ll grant you that, but their games (EU, Victoria, HoI, CK, and even Stellaris) just recombine the same ideas in previous games to take advantage of the existing features of their Clausewitz engine.

        • fearandloathing says:

          You have a point, I won’t deny that PDX uses the same formula over and over again with minor refinements. What I meant by innovative was more like on the genre level, while there were other real-time grand strategy games, PDX pretty much single-handedly turned it into a playable, refined sub-genre, going beyond the duality of clickfest rts’ and board-gamey tbs’. And that’s partly owed to them staying by their original design but also learning how to streamline. Stellaris, in many ways, is a great leap forward for PDX. While it suffered a lot at the beginning due to same old PDX mentality and trappings, it looks like it will diverge in the future.

      • jeremyalexander says:

        The only thing Paradox is focused on is how to rip people off by chopping up their games content and selling it for hundreds of dollars until their “complete experiences” cost more than a new computer.

        • klops says:

          You can buy just Crusader Kings II and have a complete game, so it’s not a rip off. It is up to you to decide if you want to buy DLC for their games so again, not a rip off.

          I bought CK2 and enjoyed it a great deal. Later on, I bought couple DLCs and enjoyed some of them a great deal (the viking one, for example), some of them a bit and with one of them I don’t know the difference. No one scammed me and I knew what I was buing from the beginning.

          If you are a completionist and/or an obsessive collector, that is your problem. If you can’t enjoy a game without all its DLC, its not the game developers’ fault.

        • fuzziest says:

          All the hot takes over Paradox selling a bunch of DLC are so juvenile. Just don’t buy DLC if you don’t want to. Pretty simple. I bought CK2 and enjoyed it for a few months and never felt the need for more. Why is that so hard?

          • wackazoa says:

            They are no different than the Sims. I personally dont know why people hate on EA and dont have issue with Paradox.(Personally I enjoy Paradox games, just will never buy them before year 3 anymore and only when they are on sale.)

            You can play the Sims without any of its DLC as well. Only you arent getting the “complete” game. And the free patches also add things that you cant touch unless you have the DLC sometimes, the province improvement in EU4 come to mind.

            I dont hate Paradox. But Im not gonna ignore their buisness model.

  8. jeremyalexander says:

    I don’t know the guy, but he’s left 2 prominent strategy game companies in a row in fairly short order. I’m guessing he might be a little difficult, possibly? Still Civ 5 was arguably the best Civ and I played them all at launch, and it’s light years better than the awful Civ6, so I’m looking forward to what he does next, if anything at this point since he can’t seem to hold a job.

  9. SaintAn says:

    With all the talk about sexual harassment and assaults lately, I automatically assume sexual harassment/assault at news like this now.

  10. Nobodyspecial says:

    link to youtu.be
    Those who tried to work with him in the past cheered.

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