Germany's BigPoint Using Hollywood Brands to Infiltrate U.S. Market

The casual game giant has partnered with Electronic Arts to bring its Play4Free games like "Lord of Ultima" to a global audience beginning this month.

SAN FRANCISCO – Casual gaming remained a key draw for the 19,000 game industry professionals who gathered for the 2011 Game Developers Conference. While most people are familiar with Zynga and its Facebook hits like Farmville and Cityville, another major player is taking on the lucrative U.S. casual game market. Bigpoint, which has partnered with Electronic Arts to bring its Play4Free games like Lord of Ultima to a global audience beginning this month, is one of the largest browser-based online game portals in the world.

The game company, which has its U.S. headquarters in San Francisco, has over 175 million registered users and receives approximately 250,000 new registrations per day. In addition to leveraging a network of over 1000 media partners, Bigpoint is localized in 25 languages and conducts business in over 180 countries. Heiko Hubertz, CEO and founder of Bigpoint, is utilizing Hollywood IP like Battlestar Galactica and The Mummy to grow its base in North America. Hubertz talks about this strategy in this exclusive interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

How does Bigpoint work with NBC Universal? 
As both a shareholder and the IP license holder for a number of our games, we work with NBC Universal very closely on a near daily basis from the board level down to day-to-day game development level.

Can you talk about what role you see Hollywood IP playing in the free-to-play online gaming space today?
We believe well-known and well-respected IP can play an important role in free-to-play, online games. For starters, it's a powerful way to attract gamers to a title. A gamer is allowed to not only enjoy and play a game without any upfront investment but they are able to interact with an IP that they already have an in-depth knowledge or emotional resonance with. Leveraging these world class IPs is useful in establishing and building an ongoing connection to our that we hope draws them in and encourages them to continue playing. IP also gives your games a stronger position in terms of protection; because the games are based on existing, well-understood brands, cloning of gameplay becomes much less worthwhile for competitors who rely on a "copycat" style of game development.

Who's your target demographic with your games and how does that tap into the movie-going or TV viewing audience?
Our game portfolio includes casual, core, and hardcore titles, so our target demographic includes a wide-range of gamers. On the casual side, for example, games like Farmeramaand Ponyramaappeal to females in their mid-to-late 30s. Our core games, which are enjoyed by tens of millions of gamers around the world, attract the more traditional gamer demographic, men aged 18-35. Finally, our hardcore games – Battlestar Galactica Online and – are designed for console gamers who demand ultra-high quality and depth of gameplay.

What type of early numbers have you seen with players on Battlestar Galactica Online so far?
After only a few weeks, Battlestar Galactica Online has proven to be the best launch in our company's history. In the first ten days, 500,000 people registered for the game – and that number continues to surge. It's our first title that is doing better in the US than any other part of the world (we do business in over 180 countries).

Can you talk about the Hollywood talent involved in that game and what that has added to the experience?
Battlestar is primarily an MMO that pits humans against Cylons; you can play as either side. Characters from the television series are in the game; such as Adama and Six. They provide players with status updates, situation overviews, and missions. In addition to the characters, everything in the game is authentic to the series.

How will you continue to market and cross-promote BG with SyFy moving forward?
SyFy is likely to continue promoting the game through their global online properties. Players who register through gain access to uniquely designed ships. Going forward, however, promotion of the game rests on our shoulders. We've already begun to distribute the game through media partners in Europe, and will begin US distribution soon. We've also begun various worldwide marketing campaigns to bring new users into the game.

Can you talk about The Mummy franchise and what that gameplay experience will be like?
We're excited to build The Mummy Online from scratch here in San Francisco. It will be a third-person isometric action-adventure MMOG where players can experience fun, cooperative, and fast-paced gameplay. Following the events portrayed in The Mummy Returns, Mummies and Monsters have been released into the lands, Raiders are on the hunt for riches and treasure, Cultists are seeking mastery over dark powers, and the Medjai fight to the bitter end to protect the world from evil.

When will that title launch and how will you work with Universal on cross-promoting that game?
Our goal is to launch later this year, but only if we're happy with its overall quality. We will absolutely work with Universal on cross-promotion, it's one of their highest-grossing film franchises of all time, though exact plans have yet to be finalized.

Can you share any numbers with how big this free to play space is today and how you see it growing over the coming years?
Paying $50 for a boxed game or $15 per month in subscriptions is the old model. We've been doing free-to-play since 2002, long before companies like Zynga came around, and have been quite successful, doubling our revenue every year since I founded the company. Typically, we see average revenue per user above $50. It's a business model we absolutely support and believe will become the predominant standard within the next three to five years.

What role will the new smartphones and tablets coming out play in opening up more avenues to access Bigpoint games?
For Bigpoint, 2011 is definitely the year that mobile gaming becomes very interesting. We see tremendous opportunity across a range of platforms and devices. In fact, we'll have much more to share on this front in the coming weeks.

How many games do you have out now and what number will be launched by the end of this year?
We have about 60 online right now, and will likely add 6 to 10 by the end of the year. These games will span our three areas of focus: casual, core, and hardcore. Our goal is to make sure we have a game for every type of gamer.