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Interview: Paradox CEO Wester On  Victoria 2 's Head-Shaving Profitability Bet

Interview: Paradox CEO Wester On Victoria 2's Head-Shaving Profitability Bet Exclusive

September 15, 2009 | By Chris Remo

September 15, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Late last month, Paradox Interactive CEO Fredrik Wester made a surprising statement in a post on the publisher's official forum: he was so confident that Victoria 2, Paradox's most recently-announced title, wouldn't turn a profit that he pledged to shave his head and publish photographs if the game ended up being a financial success.

The game is a sequel to 2003's Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun, an in-depth strategy game set in the Victorian era. Wester said it had "a terrible launch" -- which is why his expectations for the new game are reserved at best.

Wester's post referenced a poll conducted last year, asking Paradox community members what game they wanted to see the company develop next. Victoria 2 narrowly beat out the World War II-era strategy game Hearts of Iron III, the latter of which ended up being announced days later and was released this August -- and hails from a more commercially successful franchise than Victoria.

Gamasutra caught up with Wester to ask why he greenlit Victoria 2 in the face of his own expectations. As it turns out, he was won over by both the forum community as well as Johan Andersson, producer and lead programmer at Paradox's internal studio -- and personal champion of the Victoria games.

"It started off with a production meeting; you sit down and decide what to do next," Wester recalled. "Everyone thinks they know best. I think I know best, because I know a lot about the market. Johan thinks he knows best because he creates all the games. He's the brains behind our studio."

So they decided to put the question to the community.

When the poll tilted in favor of Victoria 2, "I was surprised," Wester admitted, but "Johan wasn't so surprised. He said, 'No, that's the game the team wants to do as well.'"

So the CEO presented an ultimatum. He told his producer, "You can do this game, and I'll shave my head if it ever sees profit. But if it doesn't show profit, then I decide the next game."

"What is that next game going to be?" Andersson asked. Wester cynically replied, "I don't know. Barbie in Space."

Still, the exec sees his unorthodox wager as a win-win: "Either I get to keep my hair, or I get a profitable game," he pointed out. "And I don't doubt that our team will deliver a great game."

The Benefits Of Private Ownership

If Paradox were a publicly-held company, it's likely shareholders wouldn't be thrilled at Wester. But the CEO himself owns 49 percent of its stock, and its employees own the rest.

"We basically decide ourselves what to do," Wester explained. "We do what we feel is the best thing for the moment and what the fans want to see."

Since Paradox, particularly its internal studio, largely operates within an extremely well-defined market -- deep historical strategy games on the PC -- it understands its fanbase to a degree many broader multiplatform publishers by definition cannot. And Wester hopes that Victoria 2 will be able to overcome its predecessor's launch woes with the help of a dedicated audience that has grown in the years since its release, an audience so invested in the game that it has collectively created the extensive "Victoria Improvement Project" mod.

"We switched distributors [for Victoria] in three different territories at the same time, which was a big hiccup in the release," Wester recalled. "Then, two years after the release, the game picked up speed on digital distribution. We started selling a lot of digital distribution copies."

"So I hope that we have a lot fans out there that played the original game," he went on, "because I'm going to be losing my hair some time in June next year. Maybe I'll do it in advance in May to avoid the summer heat. Having to wear a cap all summer doesn't look very good."

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