In his GDC Online track keynote on Friday, Bigpoint's Heiko Hubertz discussed the sometimes under-appreciated European market for online games -- in the context of his market-leading European browser game company.
Hubertz' 2002-founded firm now has 140 million users, with 50 active games in 30 different languages, and 250,000 new users daily -- impressive numbers for a company that was relatively under the radar for many until recent months.
The executive showcased some amusing stereotypes of U.S. and European gamers, noting that the European market actually has 803 million people (including Russia and Turkey), compared to 344 million people in the U.S. and Canada.
But of course, there are complex and diverse cultures in Europe, with 30-40 major languages, many different currencies, and Hubertz suggested that "you have to invest a lot more money" to succeed.
Thre have been some surprising trends in recent years - Hubertz pointed out that Zynga, a U.S. firm, is already bigger than a lot of the major European companies such as Playfish, Bigpoint, and Gameforge combined.
But he commented of the big Facebook-led social game companies like Zynga and Playdom that the "have maybe reached their peak [and] they don't grow so fast any more."
So they're looking to heavily internationalize - and Europe is squarely in their sights. But there are very large cultural differences, and this may lead to the necessity to create games that are more culturally appropriate, even between Western markets such as the U.S. and Europe.
In fact, Bigpoint showed an undersea strategy game, Deepolis
, that has done well for them in Europe, in which there's much more sedate strategy-based gameplay, but has not performed so well in North America. Then they trailed Ruined Online
, the first U.S.-developed game from the company, announced this week
at GDC Online.
The browser-based, arena-style 3D combat game is releasing with an open beta this winter. The trailer amusingly tagged "face melting graphics" as a tagline, showing that Bigpoint is trying a very different approach to hook the North American market, since Bigpoint's existing titles are "just not that successful in the U.S. market."
In his final tips, Hubertz showed how much trouble you do need to go to, in order to succeed in Europe, something the firm is starting to address with its DevLounge publishing service. You'll need to localize to 20-30 languages and even use more than 150 payment solutions - which do actually make a difference, since you get incremental revenue for each one added - in order to succeed.
You'll also need to use a wide range of local partners - from ISPs to social networks - in order to find new users consistently, and be very careful around youth protection rules. You may even need to develop local content which fits better with the strategy-oriented European market.
The stakes are high but the rewards excellent if you can get it right and provide sticky, complex free to play games, Hubertz concluded. As in many free-to-play games worldwide, most revenue is generated by those users who spend more than $100 a month, and 10% of users generate 80% of revenues for Bigpoint in Europe -- and the company is looking to continue its worldwide expansion along similar lines.