For someone leading a cutting edge web games firm, Bigpoint CEO Heiko Hubertz has a surprising love-hate relationship with Facebook.
As the biggest social network in the world, much of what he calls the “big hype” around online games is focused on Facebook’s successes – Zynga and FarmVille or EA’s Playfish.
But that’s blinded many to the fact Facebook is effectively a console in itself, with a format-holder that controls the balance of power. And walled gardens are of no interest to Hubertz.
“It’s really difficult if you only rely on Facebook – they can change the rules whenever they want when it comes to viral user effects and promotion of your game.
“The latest thing is Facebook Credits [the virtual currency already being sold through the likes of Tesco and GAME]. They can start forcing people to use these – but they will take a 30 per cent cut. And who has a 30 per cent margin and wants to give that to Facebook? That’s why we don’t rely on one distribution source, and use all sorts of portals and platforms.”
Bigpoint’s web game business doesn’t bank on just
social networks, but the firm’s own portals, third-parties and dedicated sites for each game. Facebook is just one distribution channel of many.
“We’re not like the companies that just rely on Facebook users – our customers are actually coming to visit our site,” he remarks. “Distribution away from Facebook makes you bigger than those Facebook games.”
Best example is Bigoint’s Farmarama, which Hubertz has no shame in likening to Facebook cash cow FarmVille. Launched just six months ago, Google Trends already says the game globally outranks FarmVille.
Of course, that doesn’t exactly fit with a growth plan that stretches beyond continental Europe when, “in the English speaking territory, a lot of the focus is on console and Facebook games”.
But Hubertz and Bigpoint refuse to place single bets on just one platform – although the firm welcomes the fact that Facebook has helped condition the world towards its style of thinking.
Says Hubertz: “The one thing that the growth of Facebook has helped with is that it introduced lots of people to microtransactions – it helped a lot of people to understand how to play and pay for our games.”