Hi sports fans.
A long while ago I did an interview with two guys from Bigpoint; you may recall the peice about Battlestar Galactica.
Well, there was more to the interview, about their take on the future shape of gaming. I held it back as it is intended for noaddedsugar.ie, but thought it best to get it published. Happy New Year everyone!
We now have browsers that fit in the palm of the hand. We have PC games accessible from any internet capable machine with no installation or download. We have social networking sites that allow you to play a variety of games with friends and strangers alike with minimal hardware. Is it possible that simplistic browser games such as Farmerama are actually a stepping stone towards the future shape of gaming?
At the London Games Conference on the 5th of November, Heiko Hubertz, the CEO of online gaming portal Bigpoint.com, spoke about his vision of the future of gaming. Heiko spoke of the advent of multi format gaming and the dangerous reliance of many social gaming companies on the F word (no, Facebook). I got in touch with two of Bigpoint’s key representatives- chief communications officer Nils Henning and chief gaming officer Philip Reisberger- to get to grips with how a company that specialises in online gaming envisioned the shape of things to come.
Bret: At the London Games Conference, Heiko Hubertz said that users don’t want their games trapped onto one format, and that the future of gaming would not be strictly tied to PC, console, browser and so on but rather online games that work across a range of technologies. How exactly does Bigpoint envision online gaming across several formats to work?
Bigpoint: Absolutely, it’s very important to us and we do think, in the future, in the long term as well as short term, that there will be a ubiquitous gaming experience; so, over all medias. Say if you have a game that you start in the morning before work, perhaps playing on your iPad, then on the bus you can continue playing on your iPhone. Then, later you can pick up again with the same account on the PC. We understand that a user does not want to be bound down to a computer. A long time ago we decided that we are not going retail, nor going with client download, nor going with upfront fees or subscriptions or so forth, but developing a threshold for people to come into the game in their own way.
Bret: He also mentioned users will want to play the same character in the same game but on different formats. Does this suggest a future where, for example, the Xbox and PC versions of a game will be compatible with each other?
Bigpoint: There will always be a console market, there will always be a retail and PC market, but I think that the future of the industry will not come from consoles; even though there will always be Black Ops or whatever- there is no question- but the main growth will come from a combination of web-based and free to play.
Bret: Heiko also outlined two reasons why online games are so successful at the moment. The first is that online games lend themselves to easily be distributed internationally through localised versions of the individual games; would you agree with him?
Bigpoint: Absolutely. Many of our games are out in twenty or thirsty plus different languages. If you have a look at Bigpoint we do have a big media partner network that can distribute games language-wise through the local media and have it out there in a matter of minutes. We had the launch of Farmerama in March which went to 16 million registrations in a matter of 6 months.
Bret: He also mentioned that the cost of developing online games is typically much lower than a traditional retail game. Is this the case?
Bigpoint: Definitely. If you look at a game like Black Ops, or AvP or whatever, they are talking about millions of development dollars. For us it is a fraction of that. The cost of development for online games is lower and the good part about that is there is constant development in there instead. With games like Battlestar Galactica in the future, everything in there- such as the mechanics- is not the same while releasing it compared to a few years later. There is more room for development later and there will be a bigger team working on it after release than before.
Bret: Another point mentioned was that the current trend for tying online games into Facebook, particularly in the case of some social games which rely solely on Facebook, is a risky business. Do you think that relying on one platform, however popular it might be at the moment, is mistake?
Bigpoint: Absolutely; let’s take Facebook and have a look at Lolapps for example. Because they did not comply with the rules of Facebook, they’ve just been (temporarily) shut down. Bigpoint has not wanted to be reliant on a single format and that’s why, as I mentioned, we have many media partners so that even Facebook is just one of many. For us if you were to compare the total users and combine the number of people who look at our games and are on the various media partners we have, it’s a far bigger number than all of the Facebook users combined.
Bret: So, online gaming is clearly a strong model for the future; easier to distribute, cheaper to make and with more potential to cross between formats that regular retail games. Do you think that it is possible for mainstream games as they stand now to make a transition to an online or free to play model?
Bigpoint: Games have shown an evolution over time, moving to online games such as Ultima online and World of Warcraft. So the next step is to move to things like the free to play market. I think the biggest thing for them is to embrace a new model of free to play that people have been wanting for years now and get rid of subscriptions. I think the online experience itself is a very important experience for the user, because he or she may not want single player. It will exist, never the question, but I think most of the games in the future will be free to play and online.
Bret: Is there any potential in the future for a hybrid between online gaming and mainstream single player experience and online model?
Bigpoint: Absolutely, I think all different forms of business model and style will be out there in the future, so I’m not saying that they will be just free to play, more of a combination of having part subscription, part free to play and part advertising money in there. So say it was a soccer game, you could play and see some advertisement on the side for maybe a drink. You could buy a better player, but in order to have the best boots which are getting old every 10 games, you might have a subscription that will automatically renew them. It could be combination or hybrid model of many types.
Bret: Do you think that portable browsing and gaming such as the iPhone and similar devices will help online games to grow?
Bigpoint: Absolutely. The iPhone and iPad, Android and other formats out there are possibilities we like very much. More and more people are being educated to use phone, or whatever they want for games. For us it’s very important to provide them with a gaming experience, however they want to get it. I do personally think that in the future people won’t just log onto computer at home but all over the world; that is something that we are actively pushing forward because that is the future. The future of gaming for us is the browser experience, not just the console as the limits of bandwidth and graphics are catching up to other games that are out there.
Big thanks to Nils and Philip who neatly expanded on Heiko’s points from the London Games Conference. Naturally an online browser game company will see the future in an online shape, but their thoughts make a lot of sense. Firstly, the cross format argument is mighty tempting- simple browser games will be the obvious first step for games capable of passing save data between PC, mobile and maybe console formats, because such games require the minimum of hardware to run. Secondly the distribution of browser games is a cinch in terms of localisation and delivery; this is mirrored somewhat in the mainstream by the success of Steam. If single player AAA titles can be distributed online, then the future could well see them being made uniform enough for them to cross formats and business models. Graphics may have to suffer unless technology rapidly improves, but looking at id Software’s new RAGE HD promo on the iPhone, the future looks promising.
Philip and Nils’ comments on a potential hybrid system between subscription and free to play open up many possibilities, not least of which being a potential reduction in cost to the consumer and the concept of concentrating finances on continuous development of a game years after release, not just before. Social networking is bound to play a role as far as browser games are concerned, but reliance on one is certainly a danger. I feel that for the future of gaming to adopt an online form, there needs to be a broad spread of potential distribution vehicles- not just the F word- and a sporting amount of cross compatibility between them. Bigpoint have seen a great amount of success recently, announcing 150 million registered users on October 25th, which backs up research from market analysts NPD Group who found that traditional boxed PC and console games are losing market share to digital games and content. According to them, physical copies of games now account for only 59% of total videogames sales as consumers increasingly opt for digital content.
Bigpoint clearly see the future of gaming online: utilising both social networks and local media, available across the globe in minimal time and graphically strong thanks to technological improvements. If the single player experience could translate, perhaps via platforms like Steam, to encompass some kind of free to play, open development model then it could certainly work. There’s only one problem with this possible future… getting any work done!
Further information about Bigpoint can be found at http://us.bigpoint.com/