Paradox Interactive wants to sell games through a subscription model
Note: the screenshots from the Steam store were taken during a sale.
A few days ago I read an article here about how Paradox Interactive, the developer famous for its grand strategy games, is thinking about adopting a new selling model. The reason behind it is: their games have too many DLCs, and to buy a whole game pack would be prohibitively expensive. The article says that, for example, all of Crusader Kings 2 DLCs would cost over 300 USD. I went to Steam to check it and… it is correct.
As it is possible to see, the content costs 317 Euros but was on sale, so it’s only 131 Euros. That’s a lot for an eight-year-old game.
“But man, you don’t have to buy everything! Most of this content is cosmetic or music.” Yes, that’s correct, but even the expansion DLCs, which add new civilizations or mechanics to the game, would be expensive to acquire on their own when not on sale: the game has 16 expansion packs that sum up to a hefty 182 Euros (or 82 Euros at the moment of the sale). Keep in mind that, since a few months ago, the base game has become free-to-play, which lowered the overall bundle’s cost — but I still think it’s too high.
I love Paradox’s games, but it seems they have been bitten by the EA-The Sims bug. Just like Crusader Kings, The Sims was famous for having way too many expansions, raising the overall price to be able to fully enjoy the game. Paradox Interactive says they will test the model before fully implementing it, but the problem isn’t just the acquisition price: these games are launched barebones and you have to buy the expansions to have a full experience. This sounds suspiciously like the “games as a service” philosophy, which I’m adamantly against, and that’s why I consider it a problem, especially because it’s the norm for every Paradox strategy game.
Imagine you buy a Paradox game at launch for $60. A year later, it already has 3 or 4 cosmetic DLCs, which can be ignored, and one expansion DLC for $20, which adds new features and maybe modernize some old ones. Now imagine this happening year after year.
The price for the base game might drop from $60 to $30 or $40, but if you wait a few years to buy the game together with expansions, you will already have to expend $100 or more to enjoy the game with the new features. The subscription model seems to make sense then, right? It might be, but each new game will still be launched “incomplete” and will be updated through paid DLCs for many years to come, and they will always end up being too expensive when summed together.
My point is: it would be better to have a few “full” games released every few years, with optional DLCs that don’t really change the game in a deeper way, than a game every 10 years with dozens of DLC released in-between. At least I, as a consumer, would prefer things this way, since the way the company currently works isn’t financially sustainable for me, and I think this is true for a lot of people.
I play Paradox’s games since the first Crusader Kings, and I bought every new game they released since then. When the acquisition of new DLCs became too expensive, I stopped playing. Even if they implement the subscription model, the consumer is still paying, in the end, between $180 and $300 for a single full game, and that doesn’t seem like a fair price, no matter how good the game is. That was the reason that made me stop playing The Sims years ago— it was just too expensive to be worth it.
It seems the games still sell well enough for Paradox to think a subscription model would be relevant and help to sell even more. However, I remember that, when The Sims games started to have too many expansions, people were getting mad at EA (which at that point had already bought Maxis), and the same thing seems to be happening now. Crusader Kings and games like it don’t have a following as big as The Sims had in the past, but it’s becoming common to read people complaining about endless expansions and just dropping out of the game completely. Negative reviews also become more common as new expansions are released at the same high price points.
Let’s not forget the backlash Paradox faced a few years ago when it raised the price on their games in some regions (you can read about it from Eurogamer here and Polygon here). The problem seems to always repeat itself after a company grows too much: there is a “disconnect” between how they value their games and how the consumer base values them, which may cause some attrition, especially when the company needs higher revenue to keep operating with bigger teams. It’s a recipe for disaster, especially in a market as volatile as video game development.
Even with all that being said, I don’t hate Paradox — their games are awesome, have high quality, and I would wholeheartedly recommend everyone that likes management, strategy, and history to try them out. But, with their current price-point and no foreseeable shift in their DLC policy, it's usually a hard pass for those who aren’t fans already. It’s really a hard sell, even more, if you consider the complexity that revolves around grand strategy games.
But hey, at least the base game for Crusader Kings 2 is free now, so it might be of some consolation for the people who always wanted to try it.