The deal is part of an ambitious expansion by Bigpoint into the U.S. market. The company has 340 employees making online games in Hamburg, Germany, but it has opened a San Francisco office and plans to hire 30 people here. Bigpoint has made its name making free-to-play hardcore online games that are monetized through virtual goods transactions. That business model took off overseas but is now growing fast here, said Nils-Holger Henning, chief creative officer of Bigpoint, in an interview.
With a worldwide reach, Bigpoint has 110 million registered users and 20 million monthly active users for its 50 games in 30 languages. But its brand name is hardly recognizable in the U.S., and that’s why the company is doing the Battlestar Galactica game as well as other branded games coming down the road.
In June, 2008, NBC Universal and General Electric’s Peacock Equity Fund acquired a 70 percent share of Bigpoint. Because of that deal, Bigpoint provides online games for various NBC portals, including the SyFy Channel and USA Network web sites. But this is the first branded effort.
“It’s a big step in the market,” Henning said. “Until now, we didn’t work close together.”
Bigpoint will also make games based on the movie properties of Universal Studios. Those games should help the company expand its share in the U.S., which is already a big market for Bigpoint alongside Europe and Asia. The company is expanding here because, Henning said, “We realize that it doesn’t work with us sitting in Hamburg. That’s why our CEO [Heiko Hubertz] is moving here for nine months.”
The Battlestar Galactica game will be a free-to-play online game where you can engage in spaceship battles and do other things. The game closely follows the storyline and can be played in a web browser since it will use the Unity Technologies browser-based 3-D graphics engine. Full told, the Battlestar Galactica will be in development for a year before it debuts, though its budget is not as big as a typical console game. So far, NBC Universal isn’t saying which Battlestar Galactica assets — such as Tricia Helfer’s likeness — will be used.
These types of games have been good for Bigpoint’s financial growth. The company says about 10 percent of its users pay for games and the average revenue per paying user is about $35 per month for the company’s top games. For broader interest games, that number is smaller. But it suggests that revenue for the company can be considerable. Annual revenue is in the three-digit millions.
The game will debut in the late summer and it will be distributed across a number of sites on the web. At the Game Developers Conference this week in San Francisco, Bigpoint is also showing prototypes of games where you can play the same game on an iPhone or the web, with players on different platforms interacting in the same game. Using technology from Unity Technologies, Bigpoint’s Project Uniter will combine iPhone and web gamers together in the same racing matches.
Bigpoint’s rivals include Germany’s Gameforge as well as others such as Artix Entertainment, Akama, Aeria, and K2 Network.