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Bigpoint's Nils-Holger Henning

On adapting browser-based games for the US market, developing brands and the growth of DevLounge

With registered users of over 118 million, Bigpoint claims to be one of the top three online destinations for browser-based multiplayer videogames. The company is currently ramping up a US department as it looks to expand outside of Europe, and rumours are pointing to the company seeking a possible sale as the interest in social gaming portals hits a peak.

At last month's Nordic Game event in Sweden, GamesIndustry.biz sat down with Bigpoint's chief creative officer Nils-Holger Henning to hear how the company intends to tackle the North American market, why games based on established intellectual properties such as Battlestar Galactica are increasingly important, and the uptake of its self-publishing initiative DevLounge.

GamesIndustry.biz How is the Battlestar Galactica project going and what stage is that at now?
Nils-Holger Henning

In terms of game development we have a prototype and we're still planning to launch this year.

GamesIndustry.biz And how are you finding the Unity technology as a development platform?
Nils-Holger Henning

For us it's an excellent platform and engine because for the first time we really can develop one game and publish it on multiple devices. Especially mobile, which will be interesting for us in the future. When you have a look at Bigpoint's releases in the past, all the games are massively multiplayer and we have 118 million registered users. Of course in the past we would get requests from users who want to access their games on their mobile phones and therefore Unity is perfect way for us to distribute on mobile platforms.

GamesIndustry.biz Is this the first project that you're working on that will span multiple platforms and be accessible on those devices?
Nils-Holger Henning

We once made a client for the iPhone together with a third-party developer a game called GPS Mission for Dark Orbit but it wasn't really the game itself, it was more about adventuring around the game. So we had the idea that we don't take the game itself to mobile but we make special quests that required users to go to different locations via GPS, with users taking the camera on the mobile and seeing starships on the screen when they point it at the sky. But we've never made something where you can play the real game on different devices, and that's what we're doing now.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think that's important for the development of Bigpoint – to publish one game, the same game, across multiple platforms?
Nils-Holger Henning

Yes. We've shown prototypes for another game we're working on called Uniter – it's a racing game – and we did that on purpose because you can't tolerate delay in a racing game, it ruins the whole experience if there's a disadvantage between a mobile and the PC. For us it's the future because we can see what's possible with Unity. We've opened up a studio in San Francisco and we know that we need a different approach for different markets to really hit the cultural interests in each market. We know for example that the US market is much more action-driven in terms of games, so they are not interested in the typical browser based games that we offer all over Europe. They want to have real 3D games and that's only possible for us through Unity.

GamesIndustry.biz Was that a surprise for Bigpoint, to see such a significant change in US customers compared to Europe?
Nils-Holger Henning

The US is one of our top three markets but we believe, when we look at the competitive landscape, that the American consumers are very different. The big mistake we made in the past was to go international to some markets and not care so much about the localisation, to just assume it's a language difference. And we didn't use the right people, we didn't use the right payment systems. Also, how we approached the US in the beginning was wrong. We were sending one junior over, like American's do to Europe – they send one junior member of the team over to London and expect them to create a European business. It's the same, our approach was definitely wrong.

We know right now that the US is a different market. Ask an American when he buys a car if he's had a look in the manual before he gets in it. Ask a German if he would put the key inside the lock without reading the manual three times over. This is a big cultural gap and it's the same when it comes to gaming. And now we understand that we either do it in the right way or let's forget about it.

GamesIndustry.biz And that's why your founder went over there to establish the San Francisco office...
Nils-Holger Henning

Exactly, to really feel the atmosphere and and to hire locals over there to really create local teams creating suitable product.

GamesIndustry.biz How big do you intend that team to grow, what would be the target size?
Nils-Holger Henning

At the moment it's about 22 but by the end of the year we plan to have about 40 – 50.

GamesIndustry.biz That's a big team – do they understand the Big Point philosophy and the culture you're bringing from Europe?
Nils-Holger Henning

What's quite interesting for us is we've found a lot of very motivated talent in the US, especially around the Silicon Valley area. And one of the drivers behind it is because what we do in terms of games, it's a mixture between gaming and an internet company. We're not hiring the classic C++ developers that you see in development hubs, but those with good internet skills. On the other hand we see companies like Zynga making a buzz around the Valley, around gaming and online gaming with social networks. With the first job descriptions that we published within one week we had 5000 applications. We never expected anything like that, in Germany we were happy with 20 applications. For the US you find excellent talent and they're very open to accepting company structures and company climates but what we've heard, and fortunately we've not really experienced it yet, is that within a couple of years they tend to be like nomads, they move from one place to another. It's difficult to retain them but if they see another opportunity come up they move on.

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Matt Martin


Matt Martin joined GamesIndustry in 2006 and was made editor of the site in 2008. With over ten years experience in journalism, he has written for multiple trade, consumer, contract and business-to-business publications in the games, retail and technology sectors.