Ever since it came out, I’ve wondered whether Paradox Interactive’s Imperator was really a failure. The Rome-themed strategy game earned a lot of positive reviews, and I personally thought it was a fine game with some major drawbacks. Yet the game quickly faced a massive backlash from players, especially from among Paradox’s most loyal and experienced customers. Despite all that, and the mea culpa stance Paradox adopted in the face of the criticism, the company claimed the game sold well, and I’d heard similar things informally when I ran into Paradox folks at other events. Who could really call Imperator a bad game, when it achieved just about everything a new game is supposed to?
Success, and the measuring of it, was the subject of my interview with longtime Paradox designer and creative director Johan Andersson. He’s in a phase of his life and career when he is enjoying the greatest success and security of his life, but against that backdrop he judges Imperator a profound and troubling failure.
“People didn’t like it,” he said. “I did the wrong decisions in how to make the game. Because my view is-- I’m not an artist. I’m not here to create something. I don’t create art. I’m not a craftsman or a factory worker who creates a product. I’m an entertainer.”
In this interview we discuss why Imperator didn’t work as a design, and the career crossroads at which it has left him. Andersson has achieved a level of security and independence that an increasing number of people can only dream about, thanks to a career of making good games for a company he helped build from the ground-up. But as Andersson’s story suggests, it’s not an unequivocal story of hard work being richly rewarded. It not only depends on how you measure success, but who is doing the measuring.
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