Interview Bigpoint & 3D Browser Games
MARCH 24, 2011 • Bigpoint GmbH is one of the major online game success stories, not only in its home territory of Europe, but progressively worldwide. Since the company was founded in 2002, it has attained lofty milestones along the way, including the world’s largest browser game provider servicing more than 170 million registered users.
As an online game company to watch, attracting 250,000 new users a day in 25 languages, DFC checked back in with Bigpoint chief executive Heiko Hubertz to get an update on what the company is focused on today.
DFC: Bigpoint has achieved a lot in the last year: scoring investments from NBC Universal and GMT, forming a partnership with social network sites like Hi5 and Orkut, and setting up an open platform for independent developers. Among these ventures, what remains your main focus and interests?
Heiko: Our primary focus is developing high-quality content for the market: Battlestar Galactica Online, Ruined Online, Toon Racer and The Mummy.
Battlestar Galactica Online is currently on CBT, and Ruined Online has been developed in San Francisco by Planet Moon. The latter is the first game we have worked on with the studio, which we launched GDC in San Francisco. The Mummy is one of the reasons why we acquired Planet Moon because they have experience with console games and we wanted to develop a high-quality game that satisfies console game users. Planet Moon will be in charge of develop and maintain games like Battlestar Galactica Online and The Mummy as well as our in-house games in the future.
DFC: So what is Bigpoint working on this year?
Heiko: This year we will work on launching and maintaining these games as well as securing distribution deals. We are also deeply involved with a cross-platform game called Toon Racer. It can be played on any computing devices and OS – PC, tablet PC, smartphone, Mac, Windows, iOs, and Android etc. We are going to launch this game in March or April. Bigpoint does not develop purely for mobile games but mobile space is such a big thing now so we are converting our games to mobile.
DFC: Now that you mention it, what is your plan for mobile games and what monetization model are you going to use?
Heiko: Mobile games are becoming a big market and if you don’t understand how it works from the beginning you will get into trouble. It will be micro-transaction based, as well as in some cases, we will set very competitively low pricing. At this point, however, we don’t worry too much about monetizing or generating big revenue but we want to put our foot into the market in the beginning to raise brand awareness. To give you an example, how we are committed to the mobile space, every employee at Bigpoint worldwide got an iPad 3G as a Christmas gift just to get understanding how the device works.
DFC: What about your bread-and-butter browser-based games and the march to 3D? How is that going?
Heiko: Games currently in development such as Battlestar Galactica Online, Ruined Online, The Mummy and even Toon Racer are 3D browser-based. High-quality games are in demand. Not everyone wants to play casual games like CityVille or FarmVille. In the U.S., we are more gearing towards hardcore gamers who are already familiar with such genre of games.
DFC: Is that bye-bye to Flash as a platform for Bigpoint?
Heiko: We are using Unity 3D for high budget and famous IP games but it’s not all about the Unity 3D engine. We still use Flash for our 2D games and also looking into Flash 3D, which we may use it in the future. We also are investigating HTML 5 for some mobile projects.
DFC: Client-based downloads seem to be gaining in popularity with consumers and publishers around the world. Is that true of Bigpoint, as well?
Heiko: We have a couple of client-based games on our portal but it’s not a big business for us. We consider quality is currently not that different between console and browser-based games. We are now spending millions of dollars to develop games to compete with the segment. Technology advancement in streaming and mobile makes it possible to stay relevant in the market.
DFC: How is your social network model evolving?
Heiko: We have a different approach than the Facebook-dependent companies out there. We work with thousands of media partners worldwide – ISPs, cables, portals like Oberon and WildTangent, etc. – that integrate our games to their sites to promote them. So traffic sources are not limited to only Facebook, and those sources drive much more users to our games. We are very unique in that sense.
DFC: Any plan to make Bigpoint games available on Facebook?
Heiko: Maybe in the future we will consider of launching them on Facebook but just as additional source of traffic.
DFC: How much traffic do your big media partners drive to Bigpoint games?
Heiko: Traffic generated by media partners can account for less than 50% and more than 20%, depending on country and game. We also use SEM, and viral marketing is a big part of generating traffic.
DFC: Do you consider Zynga a competitor?
Heiko: We don’t consider Zynga as our competitor. That’s not the way we are looking at. If you look at what we do, no one is doing what we do. We develop and deliver high-quality 3D games like Battlestar Galactica Online and Ruined Online, as well as casual games like Farmerama and Zoomumba, to users worldwide. In that sense, Bigpoint is very unique. And that’s why we have been growing so fast.
DFC: Who is most likely to play Bigpoint titles?
Heiko: For our past games, usually 85% to 90% of our users are 16 to 30 year-old males. But for our casual games, it’s totally different. Sixty percent are male and 40% are female – probably age 30 or older. The broadening user base is definitely helping our business.
DFC: So how are you going about targeting younger demographics now?
Heiko: Our media partners are quite diverse and they are able to reach out to different audiences.
DFC: Bigpoint now has offices in four countries and five cities: Hamburg, Ta’ Xbiex (Malta), San Francisco, Sao Paolo, and Berlin. What led you to set up offices in those cities and markets?
Heiko: In Europe, it’s possible to manage the operation from Hamburg because thanks to how many countries and cities located nearby. But the U.S. is a big country, and because of time difference and all, it just doesn’t work managing from Hamburg. Also, what is popular in Europe does not necessarily mean it will be a hit in U.S. since those two markets are so different.
Among many factors we look at are business development, product development and local trends, which turned out to be the main reason why we decided to set up our office in the U.S. For business development, as I stated before, finding distribution partners is crucial as this is also a people business. You have to be present to connect with them. And when you develop a game for a specific market, there are so many things such as culture and trends that you have to take into account. Lastly, you have to physically be present to be aware of what’s happening. Frankly speaking, we missed out on Facebook early on because it took a few years before people in Germany talked about Facebook.
DFC: Does each office have a unique responsibility? And how different is one from the other?
Heiko: For Brazil, we set up our Sao Paulo office for business development, PR, marketing and trend watching. But we do not develop games there specifically targeting that local market because it’s quite similar to the European market. In Malta, 10 local staffs are located in Bigpoint International where they mainly deal with the licensing business. So they oversee in and out licensing deals such as Battlestar Galactica Online and local publishing partners.
DFC: I see there’s no office in Asia where the online game market is relatively big. This seems like a big omission. What are your plans for Asia?
Heiko: The only thing we are doing in the region is through partnerships. The Asian market is so different from the U.S. and the European market. Honestly, we tried but failed in the past. It requires a lot of work: localization, local marketing etc. At this point, we plan to focus on the Americas and Europe. Once we succeed in these regions, we may make another go at the Asian market.
DFC: Bigpoint launched DevLounge in May 2009 and more than 100 games were uploaded onto the site. You relaunched DevLounge last year with new design and an increased revenue split. What can independent developers find waiting for them on your portal?
Heiko: Our open platform – the Bigpoint DevLounge – is essentially a streamlined process for adding new, third-party developed games to our global network. The business model is similar to iTunes: Developers keep 70% of the revenue. The platform helps third-party developers integrate with our payment solutions, connect to our APIs, and generate performance data. The platform also includes marketing and CRM hooks. The entire platform was recently re-tooled, and the business model revised, to make it more attractive and easy-to-use.
DFC: In an interesting collaboration, Bigpoint recently announced it will be working with Playboy. Can you elaborate on that?
Heiko: We’re not developing any games specifically for Playboy. Rather, Playboy is one of our key partners in the U.S. (and abroad) as we continue to expand our presence and generate broader awareness. There are of course lots of synergies between their target demographic and our core/hardcore gamers. Like our other 1000plus worldwide media and distribution partners, Playboy will offer our games through their portals. One of the games we’re building in San Francisco, Ruined – the post-apocalyptic shooter – will include an in-game non-player character (NPC) modeled after Playboy’s recently-crowned “Playboy Miss Social,” which stemmed from a Facebook initiative and app they created.