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Interview: Bigpoint's Big Plans Begin With  Battlestar Galactica

Interview: Bigpoint's Big Plans Begin With Battlestar Galactica

February 10, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

February 10, 2011 | By Christian Nutt

This week, Bigpoint launched its first major project in its American expansion -- Battlestar Galactica, a Unity-powered browser-based MMO based on the popular television series which finished its run on Syfy in 2009.

The game, which has been under development for a bit more than a year, is currently exclusively running on Syfy's website. Syfy, of course, is part of NBC Universal -- which owns 35 percent of Bigpoint, and is lending the company some of its IP (including The Mummy.)

CEO Heiko Hubertz tells Gamasutra that the game will be promoted on the Syfy TV network starting this week, including "a lot of TV commercials," in hopes of building a big audience for the game.

Though the game was developed by external studio Artplant, which is based in Norway, continuing development for the title will take place at Bigpoint's San Francisco studio.

"At GDC we [will] fly all the people from Europe to San Francisco, so they have a chance to go to GDC, and also so that we will take over, here in our San Francisco office, the project's maintenance. Continued development of this game will happen with our team in San Francisco -- especially the guys we recently acquired through the Planet Moon acquisition."

Here Hubertz alludes to the fact that Bigpoint's development forces were recently bulked up via the acquisition of developer Planet Moon's staff. This pushes Bigpoint's San Francisco headcount over 80; the two teams will come together in new offices in the near future.

"We didn't acquire the company; we just took over the employees," clarifies Hubertz. "So almost 40 of them are now working for us, and they're working mainly on Battlestar and The Mummy.

"So that was the main idea for us -- to find a team who already has experience in third party IPs, has the knowledge to develop high class games for consoles, etcetera, but also have a feeling for casual games. So I think it was a good fit for our company, and so far, with what we have done now in one month, I'm very happy that those guys are here on our team in San Francisco."

The company is not exclusively focusing on NBC Universal IP: it is also soon launching its first original U.S.-developed game, in-browser multiplayer shooter Ruined. "That's the first game that we developed here, and that's not IP based; it's our own IP," says Hubertz. The game will launch with a few maps available; the San Francisco team plans to update the game with post-launch content.

In 2010, Hubertz spent 50 percent of his time in Germany and the other half in San Francisco, but he intends to spent 70 to 80 percent of his time in California this year -- as the company continues its big push into the U.S. market.

Bigpoint currently has between 650 and 700 staffers in its German office, where it continues to concentrate on HTML and Flash games for its domestic market. In the U.S. the company is concentrating on full-3D console-like experiences that play only in browsers or as apps on iOS and Android mobile devices.

The studio has no interest in developing for consoles or handhelds, Hubertz says. "Just type in the URL and start to play, or just click on the app and it runs. That's what we want to do, and what we are really focusing on. And not to try to involve too many third party distributors or platforms in between."

This means pushing growth in a segment of the market which is still nascent; there are high quality download and retail PC games, and there are successful casual and social games, but there are few successful in-browser console-style titles -- a fact Hubertz acknowledges. The goal for the company is to "change the entire online game industry through the quality of games we are launching now," he says.

"We're really trying to attract the type of group who played, in the past, console and PC games, and are now switching over to browser-based games, because now we can offer them a very high quality of game. And not only in the art style, but from the gameplay, from usability, from the depth of the gameplay -- so it's many, many things we are changing in the industry at the moment.

"Because this industry in the U.S. is only about social gaming and console gaming; there's nothing in between, the PC game business is not that big. So you have to decide, do you want to do casual game stuff -- just click on stuff -- or do you want to do real games, high quality games? And we decided, 'Okay, we want to be the high quality game industry, and let's develop those kinds of games.'"

In fact, Bigpoint U.S. does not intend to explore the social games space aggressively, despite success in that arena in Europe. "We said 'Okay, let's not touch this market at the moment.' Maybe we'll launch some games on Facebook and do some tests, but this is more something the German department will be in charge of," says Hubertz. 

Though the U.S. offices opened about a year ago, Hubertz suggests that they were initially formed to figure out a plan of action to tackle the U.S. market. These plans are now coming to fruition.

"As we started the company here in the U.S... It was more the idea, 'Okay, let's bring a small team together, with people who really know the industry, who know the business', and we can have those to understand the market. And I think they understood the market quite fast. 

"We knew, 'Okay, what did we do wrong in the past, with our games which we developed in Europe?'

"It was very quick -- the decision, 'Okay, if we want to be successful in the U.S., we have to change our thinking about this industry.' And that's the reason why we developed games here in the U.S., that's the reason why we picked a technology like Unity to develop games of high quality."

Hubertz is also quick to point out the game budgets are in the millions, and so are the marketing spends -- much bigger than most browser-based titles.

The U.S. branch of the company is already profitable, says Hubertz -- but it will be interesting to see how the situation evolves as more resources are brought to bear and more games are launched.

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