Paradox Interactive, famous for popular strategy games such as the city builder Cities: Skylines, the history-themed (and very complicated) Europa Universalis series, and the hilarious fantasy action role-playing Magicka franchise. The in-house developer, Paradox Development Studio, recently ventured to where it had never gone before with the deep space strategy game, Stellaris, which went on to outshine all other Paradox titles.

In Stellaris, players are challenged to explore and colonize the reaches of space, working alongside or against alien species, in an effort to become the dominant power in the galaxy. The game launched to high praise, with 68,000 concurrent players on its first day, dethroning the previous record holder, Cities: Skylines. But that wasn’t the only record that it broke. Stellaris sold over 200,000 units within 24 hours of its release, making it Paradox’s fastest selling game ever.

Various promotional campaigns have contributed to Stellaris’ success, including a Cookie Clicker-like mini-game called Project Augustus, where players are challenged to click repeatedly to help power a small spaceship to its destination and unlock bonus items for Stellaris. As an added incentive to pick up the game, Paradox offered to copy all the names of pre-order customers to a USB drive, which would then be sent into low orbit via a weather balloon “to let drive-by extraterrestrials know who among us are the most enthusiastic to explore space and meet new friends.”

[a]listdaily speaks to Henrik Fåhraeus, game director of Stellaris, and creative director of marketing, Steven Wells, about Paradox’s trek into space, sending a list of names into the upper stratosphere, and how it got so many fans excited about experiencing grand strategy on a galactic scale.

Paradox Interactive
Henrik Fåhraeus, game director for Stellaris

Paradox Interactive doesn’t develop or publish many sci-fi games. What convinced it to release Stellaris?

Henrik: We have always wanted to do both a space game and a fantasy game. Although we love history, there is something liberating about working with a “tabula rasa.” By taking a stab at the 4X genre we also hoped to make a truly accessible game (at last!), which would help us reach new groups of players and draw them into our type of complex gameplay.

How did you grow awareness of Stellaris before it launched?

Steven: We had a rather large marketing campaign by Paradox Interactive standards, but the short of it is we created a three-phase marketing campaign focused on key assets, such as trailers, streams, events and community support, all of which attempted to convey Henrik’s vision statement, “Explore a vast galaxy full of life and wonder.”

What inspired the Project Augustus mini-game promotion?

Steven: The game was inspired by games like Cookie Clicker or the Steam Summer Card Clicker Game. We didn’t want to simply make a worse version of any specific gameplay element of Stellaris, so we decided to move away from it completely.

What are some of the challenges in promoting a sci-fi themed strategy game?

Steven: The sci-fi strategy space is very crowded (pun intended), so the key challenge was standing out and conveying uniqueness. The Paradox Development Studio brand did much of the work for us with Stellaris, but we simply focused our messaging on the parts of the game that were relatively unique, such as the early focus on exploration/surveying, the random event chains, and the variety of species.

How did Paradox come up with the promotion to send the names of pre-order customers to space?

Steven: For a while, we toyed with the idea of sending a rocket into space to celebrate the launch of Stellaris. We also wanted to think of something new to offer players that wouldn’t require developer time. As a joke, someone suggested offering our biggest fans future space burials at a pre-set price. This joke, combined with the high cost of sending actual rockets into space, pretty quickly morphed into the final idea of sending a balloon with our pre-order customers out into space.

What would you say helped Stellaris gain success so quickly?

Steven: The most obvious reason is Stellaris being the first of many Paradox Development Studio grand strategy titles, with their dedicated fan base. I think there were more people that felt passionately about Stellaris—on both the developer side and the publisher side—than any campaign in recent memory. When you have a great game like Stellaris, with its veteran design and development team, combined with so many people keen on spreading the message from the publishing side, it becomes easier to get it out there.