Nils-Holger Henning

Browser games are tapping into the Chinese market

Interview with Nils-Holger Henning, Bigpoint

By Nina Klein on April 4, 2012

Nils-Holger Henning joined Bigpoint GmbH as Chief Communications Officer (CCO) in 2005 to establish the finance department and build up the company’s vast network of media partners. He is also active as a company spokesperson and regularly gives keynote addresses at major international industry conferences, such as the Games Convention Asia in Singapore, the European Game Developer Summit in Mallorca, the MIPCOM in Cannes, the Casual Connect in Kiev and in Hamburg, and the Browser Game Forum in Frankfurt. Before joining Bigpoint, Henning worked for a number of well known companies, including AOL, Whirlpool and Sport Voswinkel, a sports goods company based in Germany. In his free time, Henning is a passionate art collector who travels internationally, not only for business reasons, but also to indulge his deep personal interest in foreign cultures. As an enthusiastic amateur scuba diver, he prefers to spend his free time exploring the depths of the oceans.

FAQ: Game of Thrones is based on the book, A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin. The related TV series became famous on HBO. What was it like working with HBO? Did you also have any contact with George R.R. Martin or his publisher?

Nils-Holger Henning: For us, the Game of Thrones online game is an exceptionally exciting project because we’ve seen the incredible potential of this intellectual property for a successful online game. We work very closely with HBO and George R. R. Martin, who are giving us tremendous support to make sure the game reflects the fantastic, multi-layered plot as accurately as possible. George R. R. Martin is enthusiastic about the project and is helping us a lot.

FAQ: What role do “stories” play in the games sector? Is there a growing trend in the sector for stories – for a depth of storytelling that’s similar to books?

The triumph of free-to-play (F2P) browser games poses new challenges for the developers, because the players now have the same high expectations of quality and story for online games as they do for the more traditional console or computer games. That’s why online games have to be entertaining and interesting from the very first moment. The online games sector will keep on getting closer and closer to Hollywood. It’s borrowing more and more themes and storytelling techniques from film and literature in order to create an effective and exciting world for the gamers.

FAQ: Bigpoint has entered into partnership with a whole range of media companies, such as NBC Universal, Viacom (MTV Europe), Pro7/SBS, Bertelsmann (RTL, M6), Orange, and Telefonica. What are you hoping to gain from these partnerships? Which of them do you find specially interesting? What is the role of book publishers in this context?

Bigpoint was one of the first to understand the significance and the potential of media partnerships. At the moment we’re concentrating above all on international expansion. Besides the USA and South America, Italy, Spain, France and the UK are particularly important for our business development. And book publishers are also becoming increasingly interesting to us. Internationally successful novels like Stephenie Meyer‘s Twilight and Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins show us where the trends are moving and what the next blockbuster movie is likely to be.

FAQ: Following on from Sao Paulo, San Francisco and Berlin, you recently opened offices in Paris and London. What is it that makes the games business so international? How do you respond to the different tastes of your customers in different countries?

All human beings have a basic need to play, regardless of their origins and cultural background. The best games hold players in a constant state of “flow”, where the level of difficulty isn’t too high, so the game doesn’t become frustrating to them. Games are entertainment and as such they’ve risen to become a mass phenomenon. You succeed by finding the highest common factor. Where the factors are smaller and less convenient, that’s what our localisation department and community management are for – the ones who adapt our games to the local markets.

FAQ: You will soon be taking part in the multimedia conference StoryDrive China, in Beijing. What interests you specifically about the Chinese market?

The Chinese market is one of the most important growth markets in the world. For us to exploit the potential offered by Asia more effectively, we have to push ahead with the formation of partnerships. But another reason we’ll be at StoryDrive Asia is because the book industry is going digital at an ever faster rate. Authors like Amanda Hocking, who released her work digitally on Amazon’s Kindle after failing to find a publisher, are sometimes earning well over 100,000 dollars a month. The trend toward digitisation is going to get even bigger, and it’ll give rise to new synergies.

FAQ: It’s often been said that science fiction is the most fitting literature for the internet. Is that also the case with games?

Of course, science fiction is a classic genre in the field of games. Especially with the online games, space themes have worked very well. That was mainly due to the generally male target group, but it was also because of the graphical and technical constraints on depicting people’s bodies in motion, compared with static objects. In the last few years, technological advances have done a lot to improve the quality of the graphics.

FAQ: Bigpoint is one of the world’s biggest makers of browser and online games. How do you earn your money? What, in your view, is the most successful business model for using online content?

Our business model, for which we are the pioneers in Europe, is called free-to-play. Our games don’t cost anything to use and you can play them in your browser, without any boring downloads or expensive purchases. That means the entry threshold for the players is extremely low and we reach a much broader audience. Once you’re playing, you can buy certain additional functions, to help save time, for example, and progress more quickly through the game. Around ten per cent of our players are willing to do that. I’m convinced the digital future will be played out online; it will be for free and accessible everywhere. Ultimately, for the customers, the only thing that counts is the convenience.

FAQ: What book would you like to see, read and play in a multimedia form?

I’d love to read Avatar as a series of novels – and to play it. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy would also be a good choice.