EU4's 'Free Trial' DLC strategy evokes memories of the Demos of old

By Alexander Williams 27 Mar 2019 0

The history of freebies goes back a long way. Once upon a time, physical magazines (remember them?) were the biggest way that gamers would learn about and know to purchase a new game release. If you were very lucky and nobody got to it first on the rack, or you really splurged and had your own subscription, mags sometimes came with 5.25” floppies, 3.5” rigid discs or, in the heyday of the practice, CDs, with a fine selection of demo games and high-res images from the magazine.

Many games first had the opportunity to excite people by literally getting into their hands in this way. “Try before you buy” was the order of the day, and it was a good order. Out of those crazy times came Quake, Daggerfall, Syndicate Wars, MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, Fallout, X-Wing versus TIE Fighter – and almost everything that saw traction from the introduction of the CD age up into the early 2000’s where magazine culture finally crawled to its death.

But what has this got to do with EU4? Back at the end of January 2019, DDRJake, game director for Europa Universalis IV, tweeted an interesting thing:


For a number of years now, Paradox have been experimenting with more aggressive strategies on the Steam platform. The rise of digital distribution and being able to serve a niche audience quickly (before the deluge of game releases has made discoverability horrendous) have served the publisher allow, allowing them to grow from being a rather niche mid-tier company to someone who could almost be AAA - just without all that corporate nonsense.  Things didn’t always run smoothly, like the 2017 kerfuffle when Paradox increased prices right before the Steam Summer Sale, ruffling feathers everywhere.

By and large though, engaging in frequent sales and more aggressive engagement with the broader community has been very good for Paradox, and its something they've carried over to their own bespoke marketplace, Paradox Plaza. But they need to keep driving people to these ever-lasting grand-strategy titles is still there, and there's always room for creative thinking.

First Hit’s Free

A good dealer knows what the guys on the street want. When it comes to EU4 players, what they want is the ability to kill a bunch of dudes and make a lot of political maneuvers while saving a few dollars for their pockets. To that end, Paradox has hit on a very interesting (although not entirely novel) strategy.

firsthit

EU4 has a lot of DLC. In fact, entire articles have been written which run down which of the EU4 DLC you may want to pick up first, which is critical, and which you might can pass over. Even with that assistance, you still have to decide where to start. This is where Paradox's new strategy comes into play.

Once a month they pick one of the major DLC, they let you play it for a week and it’s on a significant sale for the rest of the month. This month, they’re running community challenges which focus on doing something or exploring some part of gameplay that that DLC enables. Hopefully this plan continues for the rest of the year, and even spread to their other grand strategy games. Simply reading a guide as to what a DLC does and what someone thinks about it isn't always going to answer all of your questions, and even then there's much to a Paradox DLC that's subtle, or takes a while to kick in if it's more of a late-game thing.

January

 

Mandate of Heaven focuses on the Asian sphere of influence, particularly China. With a release date in early 2017 and a clear focus and content, this was a good choice for establishing a new promotional line. If you started with pure vanilla EU4 and enjoyed playing it, adding MOH would very aggressively encourage you to shift your focus of play to nations which will behave in very different ways than the usual focus on Western Europe, and that is going to enhance replayability.

There was no community challenge associated with this particular sale, but a major patch was released during January for the game as a whole which also added to the enticement.

Feburary

Art of War is rightly considered one of the most essential DLCs for EU4. The expansion to diplomacy options, the ability to use the casus belli of your subjects, and various refinements for managing the end of wars truly changed the face of the game – and given that it was a 2014 release, a newcomer might not have picked it up, considering it less important than more recent pieces.

No community event was really attached to Art of War, though there was a lot of talk and developer discussion about the upcoming rework of some of the Western European maps. Also Man the Guns for Hearts of Iron 4 came out that month and there may have been some hesitation to step on the release with a community promotion.

March

When EU4 DLC gets talked about, Mare Nostrum always gets some heated discussion. While it definitely introduces new naval missions and an entire new naval mission system along with the Barbary pirates, it’s such a grab bag of things in general that it doesn’t feel coherent enough to warrant the name. Trade Leagues are amazing, being able to promote mercantilism is great, and the new espionage options are solid, but it feels like the whole would be better named about trade and not just the sea.

This month, the community challenge is to play is Prussia and keep Europe from unifying into larger states. That is an impressive choice to have people work at, not the least reason being that one of the means they suggest to do so, the Condottieri, were introduced in the DLC promoted last month. That’s a good tie in.

The Horizon

What will be next month’s free/discounted DLC? While Paradox is close lipped on the issue, we can make some guesses based on the three examples we have. All of them have been packages which introduce some pretty intense mechanical changes. They are older DLC. They have moved the focus to different types of play which can occur within EU4.

If I were to be a betting man, Cradle of Civilization, with its very local focus on the Middle East and a lot of mechanical shifts which further augment trade options (introduced and modified in Mare Nostrum) would be where I throw the majority of my money. My second choice would be Conquest of Paradise, with its expansion of play in the New World and the opportunity to really bang on playing colonial nations. Either of those would bring more options and extend replayability for players who haven’t been picking up DLC along the way.

Whatever comes down the pipe, it’s great to see Paradox experimenting with more modern approaches to marketing and sales, and we can hope that other pillars of the strategy community observe how successful this is been for them and follow suit. The time has come.

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