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GDC: Bigpoint Announces Battlestar MMO, Unity Partnership, San Francisco Office

German browser games portal Bigpoint talks to Gamasutra on its new U.S. presence, head-to-head PC versus iPhone games using Unity, and its new MMO based on NBC Universal's Battlestar Galactica property.
As GDC begins, German browser games portal Bigpoint has announced -- alongside the opening of a U.S. office -- that it is planning to debut games that allow head-to-head PC versus iPhone play using Unity, and is developing an MMO based on NBC Universal's Battlestar Galactica property. The company currently employs 340 people in Hamburg, Germany and has 110 million registered users for its gaming services -- for which is U.S. is its number three market. "It's not the top market, and we want to make it our top market," Nils-Holger Henning, the company's CCO, tells Gamasutra. The company currently runs 30 free-to-play games which have been developed in-house, with another 20 externally-developed titles, in over 30 languages. The company's mission, says Henning, is "all games must be browser-based without download installation, games you can play from any device you want." The company's U.S. office, announced last month, will be based in San Francisco. In 2008, NBC Universal acquired 35 percent of the company -- which both opened the door to its San Francisco move, and explains the emergence of the just-announced Battlestar Galactica MMO, which is due in the back half of this year and is based on the popular Syfy TV show. Citing a desire to "decentralize" the company, Henning says the SF move is "linked to our partnership with NBCU." Henning notes that the company's founder and CEO, Heiko Hubertz, is making the move to the Bay Area, an area Bigpoint finds attractive because "we love the spirit of San Francisco. You have a lot of talent, and you're at the foundation of everything... It came out of the Bay Area." Henning cites the fact that "all of the internet players", such as Facebook, are in the Bay Area, and so are "excellent schools like Stanford. That's, for us, the place to be." In a statement released by Bigpoint, Hubertz describes the U.S. as "one of the most strategically important markets for us," adding, "I am going to personally oversee the successful development of the U.S. market in the coming months." Despite the partnership with NBCU, which Henning says will "come more and more... in the future yes, [Bigpoint will] be more IP-driven," the company feels the pull of the Bay Area "due to our history -- we are purely web." Adds Henning, "It's good to work on Hollywood IP, but work on it over here." "We believe in the value of IP, and the second thing that we believe in is cross-platform," says Henning. During our meeting, Henning demonstrated a prototype of a cross-platform, 3D kart game which will launch this summer -- developed for both browsers and the iPhone, and which allows internet-based multiplayer across the two different platforms. This tech will be deployed across multiple titles, says Henning. Though the company currently operates many RPG-style browser games, says Henning, "there will not be any more, from our point of view, the very static managing game[s]. We believe the right game, especially for the U.S., are more action-driven and cross-platform." For example, the tech behind its game Poisonville -- a GTA-esque multiplayer crime game -- is Java. Henning describes it as "the first browser game where we invested a couple of million in the production." However, the company is exploring Unity for future multiplayer titles. The cross-platform game technology is built on the Unity platform; that technology already supports Wii development, with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 support either extant or recently announced. Will Bigpoint approach consoles? "In the medium term we don't exclude it," says Henning, but "we're still facing extreme growth in what we're doing... But as we're working closer and closer with Unity, there are new opportunities." Though the company has a lot of experience with Java and Flash, it is moving towards Unity -- "we see what's possible in unity in a much faster time, even cross-platform." Says Henning, "If you have a look at the company, we are very successful in what we're doing right now. But we know, and this is something we want to take care of... In Europe we're the market leader... But we believe that every market has different needs. As it was said, normally when you have an analysis about games, the U.S. is a typical console market whereas Europe is a bit more PC. We want to be really successful in the U.S., and to do it we think we must come up with more 3D action games. We really want to take care about the needs in every market."


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