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“I underestimated the impact Facebook would have on gaming”: Interview with gaming startup Bigpoint’s founder Heiko Hubertz

For our 4th interview at EU-Startups, we just had the chance to talk to Heiko Hubertz, the founder and CEO of Bigpoint, which is one of the biggest internet successes coming out of Germany.

Heiko Hubertz’s company develops and operates browser games. As well as being a publisher, content provider and developer, Bigpoint is setting new standards with each new game in terms of technology, gameplay and entertainment fun. Founded in 2002, Bigpoint is located in Hamburg, Berlin, San Francisco, Malta and Sao Paulo and has currently more than 600 employees. In 2008, Heiko Hubertz sold roughly 2/3 of the company to NBC Universal and GMT for about €70 million.

When did you have the idea for Bigpoint and what made you sure it was the right one?

Bigpoint was established in 2002 as m.wire GmbH, and we took the name Bigpoint 2007. In 2002-2003, I developed the first title, IceFighter, mostly for friends to play. Soon after, I was surprised to learn that not only did they enjoy playing it, but they were also interested in purchasing special items. So, I added micro-transactions to the game, and it started making money. Very quickly, the game grew, so we built another, and another. Today we have more than 60 in the portfolio, localized in 30 languages, and we generate revenue in more than 180 countries. Bigpoint has been a huge success, one that has greatly surpassed my early expectations.

How did you finance the startup phase of Bigpoint?

Initially, I funded Bigpoint myself through other business ventures. Just three years ago we had 10 million registered users. Today we have over 160 million, and add 250,000 every day. Through micro-transactions we are able to generate massive growth in sales year-over-year. In 2008, I sold roughly 2/3 of the company to NBC Universal (Peacock Equity Fund) and GMT, an investment bank in the UK. This resulted in our ability to expand into North America and begin building a new class of online browser games.

What were the main stumbling blocks of your first year as an entrepreneur?

I underestimated the impact Facebook would have on gaming. While we’ve managed to build a successful network of games through partner sites off Facebook, not having social titles on Facebook was definitely a decision I would like to take back. Fortunately, our suite of casual games are performing and we’re looking at ways to continue to expand in this area.

Looking back, what would you do differently in the startup stage?

For the first two years, I kept the company small, with only five employees. Looking back, we should have ramped up much more quickly to take advantage of the demand for high-quality browser games. Today, we have over 600 employees in five offices (Hamburg, Berlin, Malta, San Francisco, and Sao Paulo), and will continue to grow aggressively through 2011.

What makes Bigpoint unique, or better than other services out there?

Unlike like most companies in our industry, we are not dependent upon a single game portal or social network to attract users to our games. Our titles are distributed across 1000+ partner sites worldwide. On the creative side, we have always striven to bring the highest-quality product to market. Games like Battlestar Galactica Online and Ruined Online, which are built atop the Unity engine, mean that we can now deliver console-quality games through an internet browser. This is an example of the kind of innovation that’s ingrained in our spirit.

Where would you like to see your business in 3 years?

We would like to be considered one of the top online gaming companies in the world.

What would you do for a living, if you had not started a business?

I would most likely be a software engineer. I used to enjoy programming very much, but don’t really have the time for it anymore.

What was your worst business idea yet?

Entering the Asian market without fully understanding the complexities and business culture there was not a good idea for us. Our time in Asia was short-lived as a result. In the future however, I expect we’ll return to that market with the support of local expertise.

What are your thoughts on the startup scene within the European Union – do you think it will ever become competitive in relation to the US-scene?

Silicon Valley is very unique in that there is a diverse range of technology and entertainment companies in close proximity to one another. By virtue of being distributed across the EU, I believe it’s difficult to create an equivalent atmosphere. The spirit of Silicon Valley, however, is shared by entrepreneurs throughout Europe. In the video game industry, the marketplace is truly global. Compared to North American market, which typically focuses on the US, Europeans have an advantage because we are used to operating in many countries with many languages and cultures.

By the way: You can read other interesting interviews with top founders in our archive.

Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr is the "Editor in Chief" of EU-Startups.com and started the blog in October 2010. He is excited about Europe's future, passionate about new business ideas and lives in Barcelona (Spain).


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