Dan Olthen, Bigpoint: “Like the distribution shifts from boxed games to digital, the business models also evolve”

When it comes to such a popular franchise as Game of Thrones, developers of a videogame based on this fantasy universe are reluctant to give any specific details regarding its production. But the experience of building such a product is something that cannot be missed.

So we sat with Dan Olthen, Producer at Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms at Bigpoint GmbH, as he he spoke on the Game Development track at this year’s How to Web Conference.

Dan is a games producer living in Berlin. His beginnings in the industry started in Bucharest in 2007 and had him work for companies such as Gameloft, Electronic Arts, Spellbound, GameDuell and Bigpoint.

The game he recently worked on, Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms is a fantasy massively multiplayer online game, currently under development by video game developer Bigpoint, in collaboration with HBO.

How to Web: You started as a game developer in Bucharest. How did you end up at Bigpoint in Berlin?

Dan Olthen: When I first set foot in this industry in Bucharest I started at Gameloft in a direction which at that time felt like the future of gaming – mobile phones. It was a constant evolution from the 2 inch screens of the Sony Ericsson K800 to the 5+ inch screens of today’s smartphones.

So was my journey from Gameloft over Electronic Arts and Spellbound, to Gameduell and Bigpoint. With every project I learned new things, met incredibly talented people and was able to take on bigger responsibilities, which led me to where I am right now and I look forward to see where it will lead me in the future.

Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms is not the first and it probably won’t be the last game based on the popular franchise. What sets it apart from the other titles?

Due to the nature of my contract between HBO and myself I am unfortunately not allowed to talk about details of the game yet.

Web browser based games have been gaining traction lately, but isn’t this technology posing a limitation on how far can you develop a game such as a MMO?

What a console or a gaming PC offer in terms of stunning visuals and mind blowing audio do browsers in terms of accessibility and reach of community. These borders started to blur in the past years, with increasing bandwidth and computing power. This led to browser games becoming more complex at a higher quality.

If we look at what a MMO-type game needs from a technical point of view, we usually look at the backend or the visual depiction of a massive amount of player characters represent the bottleneck.

In terms of visual representation there are a multitude of solutions to make it a good game experience (be it from a game design angle or technology wise). Regarding the backend part, there are very elegant solutions developed at companies with MMO experience such as Bigpoint, which recreate an AAA experience within the browser.

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Will the game be Free to Play (F2P)? Why (not)? Do you believe this model will become dominant for PC gaming?

The game is planned to be, like all other Bigpoint games, free to play. The reason behind this is, to keep the continuity of following a successful business model, which focuses on being fun, accessible and fair for the player.

Like the distribution shifts from boxed games to digital distribution, the business models also evolve and will adapt to the market’s needs and habits.

In my opinion, F2P solidified its position as a great alternative for players who do not want to financially commit to a game, but rather enjoy it in digestible portions. If done right, this model has the potential to dominate the PC and console gaming market.

How do Bigpoint developers integrate with the HBO design team? How can developers from one company seamlessly work with designers from another?

Project specific details underly the NDA. But I will outline a few general points regarding the collaboration with an external IP holder.

Communication, as often and transparent as possible is the key to a successful collaboration. As long as all sides are fully aware of what’s happening, things are fine. Basic review processes are established in order to keep order in the communication and a commonly accessible platform for sharing the documentation is chosen (this ranges from Google Docs over Basecamp, to Confluence and other internal systems).

A huge IP content and an extremely successful franchise title does not guarantee a successful game. What makes a great (web based) MMORPG?

I’d like to wrap this up in a few words: accessibility and usability, a compelling universe with a meaningful purpose and as much of immersion (story, visuals, audio) as possible.

In terms of any game, I consider it great if I as a player can dive into the universe I love, as the character I identify myself with, to perform actions I dream of.

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