Craig Chapple talks to Bigpoint CEO Khaled Helioui on the development of its long-awaited Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms, and why it’s staffing up its Berlin studio to finish the job
German development house Bigpoint is known for a raft of online games, from DarkOrbit Reloaded to Drakensang Online.
And now the company has nabbed the rights to the Game of Thrones licence – the global hit book and TV series. The studio is no stranger to licensing properties, having already developed a Battlestar Galactica MMO. But the expectation that comes with a series now engrained in pop culture represents a big challenge for the developer.
To face the task at hand, Bigpoint has put its Berlin studio on the job. Dependent on the production cycle, Game of Thrones will have anywhere from 50 to 100 employees working on it, and its still looking to recruit more talent. It’s a significant project for the company, and one it has been working on since 2012 under the name of Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms.
The game will allows players to explore locations across Game of Thrones’ world. But not just your typical MMO fair – Bigpoint CEO Khaled Helioui promises to deliver the emotional and psychological upheaval the series is famous for, with the game running on the book’s intrinsic themes of betrayal, violence and a touch of fantasy.
It’s a daunting challenge, but its one Helioui says Bigpoint can handle.
“Game of Thrones is one of the biggest and most popular TV shows in the world right now – from a business standpoint the rationale is pretty obvious,” he explains.
“But more importantly, what drove us towards this IP was the depth of the universe created by George R.R. Martin and the potential it could lend to a game universe. The universe is enormous and offers so much room for exploration. There are so many iconic landmarks and variation in locations.”
Despite the confidence, Helioui admits developing a game under such a huge licence presents a tough challenge for the studio. Many fans gripped by the series’ character and plot points will be acutely aware of all the finer details surrounding the story’s mythology.
“One of the challenges is making sure, to a minute detail, that all elements are completely consistent and in-line with what fans would expect when entering the Game of Thrones universe,” says Helioui. “There is also the general feeling that players will expect from a game based on this licence. It is imperative to us that fans will experience an authentic representation of the world when they enter our game.”
While working on a new intellectual property can be risky, creating a new world from scratch means developers’ boundless creativity can be given free reign – within reason of course. Studios working on big licences, however, are forced to live within the constraints of the existing universe, which could prove constricting.
Helioui says the team is working closely with HBO to ensure there is enough content in its online game for users to keep them playing for the long-term, whilst not breaking any existing storylines or rules of the fantasy world.
“Thankfully the universe and lore on which it is based is so huge that there really is a massive amount of content for us to be able to play with,” he says.
To meet its vision for the game, Bigpoint has developed its own in-house game engine. Whereas it was previously announced that Seven Kingdoms would harness the popular Unity engine, Bigpoint is now building a new proprietary tech called Nebula.
Helioui says this allows the developer to form huge territories for players to explore and potentially conquer, and make the world feel as real, spectacular and as expansive as Westeros and Essos are in the books and
“It is lightweight, which also allows us to reach both core players and a wider audience, which is in-line with one of our guiding values of accessibility,” says Helioui. “We want our games to be playable by everybody.”
Helioui says development on the game is shaping up nicely as progress continues, and work is coming on in “leaps and bounds” with each build. There’s still a lot of work to do however, he states, to achieve the vision it has for the game.
To satisfy its own ambitions and the high expectations of fans, Bigpoint is currently hiring a number of staff for its Berlin studio to work on the title. Positions include senior live producer, senior game designer, senior technical artist and lead 3D artist. For further details on these jobs and other open vacancies, you can visit the Develop Jobs board for more details.