If you looked at the public reaction to Imperator: Rome, you'd be forgiven for thinking the grand strategy title was the worst in Paradox's history. But according to the developers, Imperator selling better than expected—although they're working on improving the game's public reception.
While the Business of Video Games podcast is a production of Paradox staffers Daniel Goldberg and Shams Jorjani, it typically touches on non-Paradox games. But with the release of Imperator, the pair invited Imperator game director Johan Andersson on to dissect the game's release and the divergence in the reception.
Imperator, which launched about a fortnight ago, is "performing better than expected" as far as Paradox projected. The developer are happy with the critical reception, but the user reviews have been a stark contrast—Andersson said most people were estimating that the user reviews would be around "the low 70s".
"People complain about our DLC policy, all those things, so maybe we'll get 70s ... because we thought it was a kick-arse game, we liked it, we were super proud, we got everything we wanted in the game," Andersson said.
Imperator's current user rating: 38 percent from over 7600 reviews.
Andersson noted that focus group tests before Imperator's release were positive, so it's been a bit of a shock to so far. But when asked if he'd prefer the critical reception to be swapped with the user reception, the developer said he'd rather the current situation. "I think like, the critics ... they're professionals," he explained.
"Usually ... I would rather have high critical score than a high user score, because critical score is usually based from a lot of factors. A user can go, 'This game does not run at 60fps, I want all games to run at 60fps, so it's a downvote.' And on Steam you have either 0 percent or 100 percent, and you get the average from that."
Now that the game is launched, Paradox and their coders can spend more time fixing issues that have been cited in the user reviews. Andersson noted that the need to supply different vendors with copies of Imperator actually puts a freeze on development while parity is checked across platforms and localisations of the game, but now that the game is out, more focus can be put on moving the game forward.
The podcast goes on to touch on how Paradox ended up competing with themselves—users drew comparisons between Imperator and older Paradox titles with several years of content—and the effects of users' changing "goalposts" (user expectations).
There's also a neat story about Warhammer Online's attempt to compete with World of Warcraft, and how the constant adding of content into WoW meant that Warhammer Online could never catch up.
An interesting metaphor used in the podcast is the idea of someone who doesn't smell. People who shower don't get any praise, as you'd expect. But you don't get criticised for showering too much—you just need to make sure you don't smell. So the Paradox devs drew a line between that and content—where is the line between not having enough content ('smelling') and spending too much time on development, adding in more content that most users won't praise or notice, time that could be invested into other features that will impact the game's success?
It's a complex answer that changes with every project. As for Imperator, the studio is balancing and finalising the content for the 1.1 content update, which has its own set of challenges: large content updates require a month of lead time before release where the build is "frozen", and companies in Sweden take five weeks of holiday over July, so everything needs to be done and dusted before then.
You can listen to the whole podcast above; the discussion about Imperator starts from 6:24.