Hidden Gems: Paradox Interactive's Secret Mobile Experiments

By Joe Robinson 24 May 2018 3

This weekend past we were with Paradox Interactive for their annual convention. It was mainly for our sister websites as this year’s show was dominated by a lot of things we don’t really cover here on Pocket Tactics: a new grand-strategy game, expansions for existing ones, a new sci-fi space-4X… and Paradox now make board games, apparently.

While the company has flirted with mobile in the past – just last year they brought Prison Architect to mobile – none of the big headlines for this year’s event mentioned our favourite handheld devices in the slightest. If you were a mobile gamer at the show, you’d be forgiven in thinking that there was nothing for you this year.

And then we found this:

ParaKnights1

If you try to google information about Knights & Dungeons or the developer, Studios Luma, nothing really comes up. We didn’t even know the game was there, and only found out about its existence thanks to the CEO of Paradox Interactive, Fred Wester:

“[Knights and Dungeons] is developed in China. We’re the western publisher – another company publishes it out there and we do it here. There’s a lot of talent in China, it’s going to be interesting to see.”

That quote is from an interview we conducted with him at the show. As the out-going CEO (he will step down on August 1st), this was our last opportunity to talk to him in his current capacity. Every year we manage to have a chat, I like to ask him to make a prediction on where he thinks the games industry is going to go.

They’re usually entertaining, but his prediction this year was oddly relevant to our interests:

“Hardcore games on mobile, and China is coming to Europe. You will see a lot more Chinese games coming out… they have really learned how to make good games now. A few years ago, a lot of Chinese games were copies of western games published in China, but now we’re seeing a torrent of Chinese games coming to Europe and the United States, especially on mobile.”

ParaKnights4As one of his last acts then, Fred seems to be trying to see if Paradox can be at the forefront of this upcoming migration, starting with Knights & Dungeons. Being a loot driven free-to-play RPG, it’s not immediately something we’d gravitate to here at Pocket Tactics, but it has an engaging enough gameplay loop about it.

This is largely a game about ‘stuff’– you crawl through dungeons and other game worlds to defeat mobs, bosses and find chests, all to get that slightly better armour, or a shinier weapon. Combat has some tactics to it in the use of abilities, but you can also automate basic attacks if you’re on a grind-run. You can even automate movement to areas of the map you’ve already explored, which brings in some ‘idle’ mechanics presented as a quality of life offering. It has a range of co-op and competitive modes.

Other random factoids: Maps are procedurally generated, so you’ll never experience the same level in the same way twice. There are pets, which you can collect, level up, and then combine for better pets. There’s different game modes as we said, but there are even boss battles and raids for larger Guilds, along with Daily Quests. It’s a game without a finish line, essentially, and your characters will be highly customizable to facilitate the need to want more stuff.

ParaKnights3As far as the business model goes, there will be IAPs, but we’re told they will only save people ‘time’, opposed to throwing up paywalls or offering raw competitive advantages. It’s being optimised for phones over tablets due to the UI and screen sizes, although that’s not to say it won’t run on larger screens (so in iOS terms, it’ll probably be ‘universal’ regardless).

This is a highly experimental venture for the grand-strategy publisher, to the point where a lot of the information I got from the team manning the booth was wonderfully vague. The phrase “early concept being tested in pre-beta” was legitimately given to me as a summary. We know they’re soft-launching the game on iOS and Android, but they’re not sure where yet. Sweden is a likely target, since that’s where they’re based, but I tried asking if they’d go after an English-speaking minor market and they weren’t sure.

They wouldn’t even commit to whether or not they were ever going to release this properly. For them, PDXCon18 represented the first, extremely tentative step in a plan to test the waters to see if people enjoyed the game.

Something like Knights & Dungeons serves as a stark contrast to their past mobile endeavours. Knights of Pen & Paper was a PC game first that they brought to mobile, with the sequel and the sci-fi spin-off Galaxy of Pen & Paper being simultaneous multi-platform releases. They’ve dabbled with Free-to-Play – Knights of Pen & Paper II was free, as was last year’s Prison Architect, but Paradox seem aware that even this controversial business model has limits depending on the game:

“[Prison Architect] was ok: It was by no means a success, but it wasn’t a failure either… It was as expected, I guess, which is kind of boring in itself! We wanted to try it out because it’s a great game and Introversion is a great team, but it had a cap on the business model – you could only spend a max of $15 in the game. We knew it wasn’t going to take off and make us millions and millions, but it was a really good experience for us. Learning more about the mobile market.”

Compared to Prison Architect or the Pen & Paper series, you wouldn’t think that the creators of Crusader Kings II and publishers of BattleTech would gravitate towards something like Knights & Dungeons. Nothing we’ve seen so far has us worried it’s a cynical cash-grab or IAP-fest, but it’s certainly not a premium game either. As newcomers to an increasingly challenging market, perhaps Paradox are looking for something that will provide them with a more dependable revenue stream, or perhaps they’re simply stepping outside their comfort zone.

Not being a Swedish resident, I’m not sure if I’ll ever see Knights & Dungeons again. I'm not sure if the game will ever truly see the light of day, for that matter. They seemed to get a respectable amount of interest in the booth, but it’ll be interesting to catch up with the management next year to see how these secret mobile experiments are coming along.

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