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E3 Interview: Bigpoint CEO Hubertz On Battlestar, U.S. Goals

With the Battlestar Galactica MMO set to beta by the end of 2010, Bigpoint CEO Heiko Hubertz explains to Gamasutra at E3 why the U.S. market is "the biggest focus of the entire company".
With the Battlestar Galactica MMO set to beta by the end of 2010, Bigpoint CEO Heiko Hubertz explains to Gamasutra at E3 why the U.S. market is "the biggest focus of the entire company". The game, which Germany's Bigpoint demoed a "very early build" of to Gamasutra, uses Unity technology to deliver detailed 3D visuals in a browser. It's under development by Norwegian studio Artplant, though Hubertz says "we do the game design and producing really close together with [rights holder] Universal." The Latest Word on Bigpoint U.S. Hubertz says that development of a newer, unannounced game has begun at the company's new San Francisco offices, which have been operational since this March. In fact, the company has hired 18 staffers in San Francisco so far, says Hubertz, describing these staffers as a mix of general staff and "the first team" of developers. "By the end of the year we think we will be at least 25. Everything depends on the successful first game we're developing. As soon as we see the business is successful we will hire more people, of course." Details of the San Francisco development team's project have not been announced, but Hubertz says "we also hope we can launch this at the end of the year in a beta." The U.S. is "the biggest focus of the entire company, including Germany," says Hubertz, and of the U.S. office he says "the goal was to build a complete, independent infrastructure from Germany. Not to be a European company but more to be a U.S. company, so we only hire U.S. people. I'm the only German who works in the U.S. entity." In fact, Bigpoint U.S. Has hired many positions thus far -- even those they have in Germany, such as publishing roles, will be duplicated in the U.S. office to ensure it can operate independently and self-sufficiently. While the company wants to step up its localization efforts for its European-developed games, a bigger goal, says Hubertz, is "to develop games in the U.S. market, because what we have seen is that the games from the U.S. are quite successful in Europe, but the games we develop in Europe are not that successful here in the U.S. So what we want to do is develop the games here for a higher success rate." The company also has The Mummy Online under development with Schell Games, based on the Universal film franchise. Working With NBC Universal In 2008, NBC Universal acquired 35 percent of the company, a move Hubertz tells Gamasutra was motivated primarily because of the company's interest in the U.S. market and access to IP -- the relationship makes it "easier", he says, and implied the terms are favorable. Though other parties had been interested in Bigpoint, he says, "the most strategic fit was definitely NBC Universal, for their huge TV networks in the U.S. and their IP, and their support, and it made absolute sense. And both parties are really happy." The Battlestar-derived MMO game is set to beta at the end of the year, and will launch as a free to play title on Bigpoint's own browser portal, NBC Universal's Syfy.com, and also sites such as Kongregate, and MySpace; it will be free-to-play. "Our business model is to develop content and share that content with as many media partners," as the company can, says Hubertz. He also says that full access to the gameplay for all customers, paying and non-paying. This is "very important. Always in Bigpoint games, you can achieve everything for free. you can always get everything for free." This, in Hubertz's opinion, "real free-to-play." Though Unity allows for release on platforms such as the iPad and iPhone, Bigpoint currently only has browser rights to the Battlestar Galactica IP; Hubertz hopes to pursue the mobile rights as well. Of the game, which is set in the recent TV series' second season, he says, "The goal is to build an MMO, but the background story and quest system that you have to follow would not be a typical MMO that you expect, because there's a story behind it. Everybody will expect that it follows the story of Battlestar, and we want to do that." And though the company plans to beta the game this year, "if the results are not good by the end of this year, we will still optimize and tweak it. we don't have this release date to press a master CD, or whatever," he says.

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