The Beta for the much anticipated browser-based game, Battlestar Galactica Online, is currently being played by a selection of hand-picked players. Kenny Lomas caught up with Philip Reisberger to find out what we can expect from one of Sci-Fi’s biggest licenses.
People love the graphics aspect, because what we did was, with this type of game we used Unity 3D. At Bigpoint our main goal is to have a user experience that is not diluted by up front investments or downloads or anything like that. So basically our model is free-to-play, we want games that can be played by everyone so you don’t have a big download you don’t have to purchase a retail product or anything like that.
So most of our games, for now are based on Flash because it’s in the browser and you don’t need a download. But for 3Dtechnology Flash is just too limited. So what we decided upon is for our 3D development to be done in Unity 3D because Unity 3D is, as the name mentions, a 3D engine. And there are EA, Ubisoft and others who are developing with this as well. Unity’s going to be the next to set the standard for 3D browser, web-based experiences.
Do you think Battlestar breaks new ground for browser-based games?
Absolutely, if you take the majority of browser games right now, they are 2, 2.5 D. If you take for example Dark Orbit, or Seafight, there are massively multiplayer action games that are real time. They’re interesting to see and that’s what we wanted to do with Battlestar, to have a 3D experience so when you approach a ship and you both really tackle it down, and fight it, that really makes a difference, whether you fly over it, or under it, so you have a real 3D experience.
Was the idea behind making Battlestar Galactica Online a browser based game purely financial?
Bigpoint started 7/8 years ago as a browser based company so it’s very important to have those two factors that are part of our company. So obviously to have a game that is free-to-play, with micro-transactions is very important to us because we think this is the most fair, the fairest business model you can have because people don’t have to pay and play. They can play the way up, which might just take a bit longer. We want mass appealing games and for us it’s very important because we don’t want to be stuck to retail or stuck to a certain network or anything so what we really wanted was to develop games that are mass-appealing. So for us, browser based games with no downloads, just a single click to download-that’s the Unity plug in- that’s just the way that we are going.
What restrictions does this bring?
If you were to compare to say Modern Warfare, and all those types of games, graphic wise, it is a great leap forward compared to the standard browser based games, since it has a limited bandwidth, and seen as it’s going to be played by people in Latin America, Brazil, Turkey, Europe, all over the world, and since it’s an online game it’s something different from the experience of a classic retail product. But what you might see in the future and everyone else, what we had on there, graphic wise, and emersion wise is something that is very, very great step forward.
What are the advantages of the free-to-play model?
Say you compare it to the subscription based models, with a subscription based model you have people that must be willing to invest a certain amount of money, say for example ten pounds on a monthly basis in order to play the game. With our game, we don’t want this hurdle, this threshold to make this as part of a decision to play the game or not. For us it’s important for everyone who might have the slightest interest in the topic, the genre whatever, to have a look at the game, enter it and play it. And then decide on their own whether they like it or not. And then if they like it, to make the decision whether they want to pay for it or not because what we’ve seen is there are two types of people who are playing.
There is one, let’s call them Column B, let’s say the typical student or somebody like that, who has a lot of time, but not a lot of money. And then there are the other part, who is like you and me, who really love playing, but who have a job and have other time commitments, so not so much time but compared to the student, a bigger wallet. So combining these two types of people, we think the free-to-play model combined with micro transactions model is the most fairest you can do as long as one of the key mechanics of our games is a user experience that is equally appealing to both of these groups. It’s very important to have a very good balancing and mechanics in the game that really capture that.
Where does the revenue come from?
The revenue comes from, let’s say you have a ship, you want to equip it with a better cannon. You can either play your way up with loot in order to buy this cannon, but if you don’t want to play for this longer period of time then you can pay to buy them. So there are people who can decide on their own if they want to play for a longer period or if they want to cut time short and just purchase these cannons, and there are quite a high number of people who actually do that. Of our players who are willing to cut time and say “Ok, I’ll buy the better cannon, and I’ll just pay for it.”
What gameplay features can fans look forward to?
Well first it was very important using the advantages of the 3D technology so what we really wanted was to provide the user with a gaming experience that, apart from big IP’s, the graphics and the emersion of the cast, the music and everything that’s in there and really have a multi-massive action experience. So for us it’s very important that people can go in, log in and say, “I really want to do some dog fighting, I really want to kill some humans.” And they can team up with their friends, their wings, and really start fighting, to do dog fighting and really exciting stuff like that. It was really important to have this action component in there, to really go out there and have some action, an adrenaline rush, and really do it.
Is there much of an emphasis on the RPG side of things?
If you was to compare to let’s say Star Trek. Star Trek for me is a lot of talk, and not so much action and since we are a game publisher, we really focus on multi-massive action games. There are role playing parts in there, but since everybody wants to be Starbuck or Cyron or whatever. It’s ok to have some elements, but that is not the focus of our game, our focus is action. Now, in the future since most of our games are in a constant further development, so if our fans have a strong demand for a stronger focus on the RPG side or the story side we might take that into consideration.
Do Bigpoint take fan-feedback into consideration a lot?
Absolutely, that’s very crucial to us, to have die-hard fans, hard-core fans in there as well, since we don’t have this retail part where someone is investing 50 bucks and not caring and us not caring whether he or she likes it because we’ve got their money. For us it’s very important for us to have a game that’s fun for the fans and for everybody to play so their feedback is essential for us.
Do you view Battlestar Online as a long term project?
I’d like to give an example of some of our existing blockbusters, if you take Seafight or Dark Orbit. Dark Orbit is a Flash based space game and Seafight is a pirate game that’s based on Flash as well. We launched them late 2006 and they’re still going. They have like 30-40 million registrations and millions of users playing on a daily basis. So if you take a look before launch and after launch, we even are in the process of further staffing these titles. Additional people like artists, coders, etc. because of the success. For us it’s very important for us to regard these titles as a service, as an on-going experience for the user. Whenever he or she goes on there’s always something new on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. So it’s not just having a game out there and that’s it, for us it’s very important to really venture into new grounds while the game is online.
How did you manage to aqquire the Battlestar license?
In 2008 there was a big transaction between Bigpoint and NBC Universal, and since we are backed by NBC Universal, it’s fairly easy for Bigpoint to get hold of great IP’s. So that’s one of the reasons we chose Battlestar Galactica, because it’s a huge IP, it’s all English speaking, all over Europe, all over the US and all over Europe, so for us it’s very important to develop games that are IP based because we think it’s very important to provide the user with something he or she is already aware of and knows.
Do you think this title will really broaden your audience?
I think certainly it will help. This is not just a Battlestar Galactica thing this is an IP thing in general, apart from us building our own IP’s with very successful games. If you take another Flash based game, Farmerama, its achieved 16-17 million registrations in half a year. That is something we really know how to do, to build a name in the community games industry because that’s something we’ve been doing for the last seven years. Without a doubt having Battlestar Galactica and the next one to come, the Mummy which will be released early-ish next year as well will help to get our name out there without a question. Because people who are fans of the series, of the movies and everything might be aware of a game that’s been done by Bigpoint without a question but our intention foremost is to really have a good game out there. What we think is that having an IP out there might help it, but nevertheless you have to have a good game.
You’ve said in the past that you wanted Battlestar Online to appeal to a mainstream audience, how do you think you will achieve this?
Well Battlestar first started in 78 I believe, quite some time ago and it’s been a huge success for sci-fi, the actual one that’s out now and there are further and further prequels being planned and a film. I think the fan base side is huge, and then combining it with the free-to-play model and very easy, accessible software, to have 3D Unity. Then with the combination together with the media part, and that’s what Bigpoint have, we have thousands of media partners all over the world, I think that is a very, very good combination which is set up for success.
Do you think the hard-core fans will be satisfied?
There’s always those guys who for example go into Lord of the Rings and said “Sorry at minute seven 55 seconds, it is not 110% accurate.” There’s always a few of these guys, where you can never satisfy them. It’s very important to have an open dialogue with all of them, that’s why we have the die-hard fans in there, that’s why we work closely with Moore. It’s an MMO, which is not 100% RPG. It is more loosely based, but in the universe.
Is the gameplay purely ship based?
For the time being, the starting game will be perhaps 20% of what it may be in a year’s, two years’ time. So for now the focus is mainly on space fights and mining and trading and stuff like that but we’re completely open so if the community or other stakeholders are in favour of having some twists in gameplay as well. But for now its space fight, but we’re open to any innovation possible. Internally we have discussed a lot of options actually what you see right now is a focus on space fight.
Can we expect the open Beta to begin in December?
Theoretically yes, but practically it’s when we decide and we’re good with it. There are a lot of stakeholders involved. That’s one main part of it, but of course we have the IP holder in there and of course the feedback from the fans. So for us when we feel ready, we will have an open Beta which could happen before Christmas but for us it would be ok in order for us to have a very quality gaming experience for it to be after Christmas. For us the main, important aspect here is providing a quality gaming experience rather than releasing a rushed game.
What can we expect to see from Bigpoint in the coming months?
This is one of the first games we’ve done in 3D and this is one of the first browser based games ever to be out in 3D. Even though it’s one of the first it’s not the only one. We are already in production, quite far with the Mummy which is a huge IP as well and we other IP’s already in production which are un-announced. And there are other 3D games, like our other US operation based Ruined Online.com, which will be released next year. Bigpoint has a pipeline of around 15 plus games in the next 12 months so in total this is just one of many exciting releases this year.
Where do you see yourself heading as a company in the future?
We like all types of games but since our core is the free-to-play browser games and our definition of a user in the future, he will not be bound to a PC, Mac, whatever. He’ll be wanting to play wherever he or she is. So practically in the future we want a gaming experience you can play across several platforms. We’re starting this with games like Farmerama, which is a harvest game which is more of a lower tech Flash game.
We really want to have iPad, iPhone etc versions out there, off the same account. Practically you start in the morning on your iPad, then on the bus you can play on your iPhone then at work and you can play using that same account on your computer.
This is something we have showcased I think it was either E3 or Gamescom, is a racing game similar to Mario Kart community based game where you can play on your iPad vs a someone on a computer, participating in the same race. In the future, most of our games will be like that.
I don’t think gaming will be bound to a PC or a console. I think as people become more and more mobile with tablets and gaming devices, formerly called cell phones in the future. I think gaming will be everywhere and that’s how our portfolio will be shaped to have a gaming experience for everybody everywhere. Whether Battlestar is the right one to be on device X, Y and Z is something to be decided on case by case in the future.
With thanks to Philip Reisberger for taking the time to speak to WGE
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