October 21, '98 
Interview with Thomas Hertzler, President and CEO of Blue Byte Software
linie450.gif (492 Byte)

It's a great honor for me to finally be able to interview the head of Blue Byte. I appreciate your taking the time. That goes for all the Settlers fans, too.

Thomas: I count myself among the fans. I play a lot myself, maybe too much. ;-) Talking about SETTLERS III is almost as much fun as playing it, therefore, I am pleased to give this interview.

As the producer of the series, you have probably played more Settlers games than anyone else. What is your impression of SETTLERS III?

Thomas: SETTLERS III has a lot new to offer. The graphics have been done with a love for detail that you otherwise rarely see, and the animation has a touch of genius to it. The most exciting element for me though, is the multiplayer aspect. I see an incredible amount of development and gameplay potential there.

Where do you spend most of your time – in the US or in Germany?

Thomas: I have to spend time in both countries, but I spend most of the time in our branch offices in Austin, Texas.

How would you describe the typical workday of the head of Blue Byte?

Thomas: That depends on what phase of the production cycle we're in. Right now and until release, I spend a lot of time testing our games and making suggestions for improvements. At other times, I try to keep up with what's happening in the industry and keeping an eye out for new products and new talent. An ongoing part of my activities has to do with combining the two worlds of sales and marketing with a successful development model. At one time or another over the last ten years, I've had my hand in each of the different departments; even some bookkeeping and production. Right at the very beginning, even before I began Blue Byte, I developed games myself. Therefore, I am well-equipped in dealing with things in most areas (even if it sometimes means more stress because you’re involved in every aspect.)

How did Blue Byte get started? How many people worked at Blue Byte at the beginning and what was your first game?

Thomas: My ex-partner Lothar Schmitt and I began 10 years ago. Actually we had planned on developing games and letting others do the sales. There were just the two of us in the beginning. Our very first idea for a game went down the tubes very quickly. Out first ever finished product was Great Courts, a tennis simulation; that hit store shelves back in 1989.

Blue Byte enjoys a high degree of brand awareness in Germany. Is that also true for the US?

Thomas: We are much better known in Europe than in the US. But since we opened up shop in Chicago three years ago, we have registered a strong upward trend. Before that, our products were promoted by well-known American publishers, but the Blue Byte name often got the short end of the stick. With the release of SETTLERS III, we are hoping to climb the recognition ladder, especially in the online arena.

What game is Blue Byte USA working on currently?

Thomas: Actually, Blue Byte USA doesn't have its own development department. Murder of Crows, a company in the Blue Byte group, is currently working on Shadow Pact - an online global strategy game using next generation technology and gameplay. I don't want to reveal any more details about it at this stage, though.

Are you going to have any time to play SETTLERS III yourself after it is released?

Thomas: You bet! You'll definitely meet me in the SETTLERS III lobby often. Whether I play or not will depend on how I fare against the expert players out there. I don’t like loosing. Maybe Volker will provide me some cheat codes ;-)

How many people work for Blue Byte altogether, and in how many countries?

Thomas: Right now, there are about 60 people working at Blue Byte. In addition to this, we work with freelancers and teams like KaiNAi for example.

Besides Mülheim and Austin, we also have an office in Northampton, UK. Our people there take care of not only Great Britain but also a large part of our export business. We have a large audience in all of the Scandinavian countries, Italy, Australia, and the Far East.

What game, apart from SETTLERS III of course, currently impresses you most?

Thomas: Do I really have to answer that? My PR department will strangle me. Okay, but at your risk. From the most recent demos, I play SiN, Half-Life, Shogo, Grand Prix Legends and Janes WW II Fighters.

You head a very successful company. What do you want to accomplish with Blue Byte, and how long do you think you'll be able to do this job?

Thomas: In the long run, I want to convert Blue Byte into a pure content provider. We call it BlueByte.Net. BB.Net will be it’s own entertainment value, by offering a lobby with chat, fan club, world ranking lists and tournaments. Instead of launching our games from the Windows Start menu, you’ll visit the BB.Net home page. Before you jump into the action of "The Settlers X" you have a quick chat with your friends. In the world ranking list you check out if your game play needs improvement.

How do you manage to keep a feel for the market with all your other activities?

Thomas: Blue Byte has a lot of competent people in upper management. Barbara West (GE), Steve Spence (UK) and Mark Hall (US) help me with managing and representing the company so that enough time remains that I don't lose contact to the market.

What does Thomas Hertzler do in his free time?

Thomas: I used to ride motorcycles. Right now, there isn't much time for private pastimes, but after SETTLERS III comes out, I'd like to finish my pilot's license.

Do game developers propel the hardware or hardware developers the games?

Thomas: Software and especially games drive the consumer computer industry.

What are the chances for a Settlers IV?

Thomas: Hmm, let's see... Are you serious?

What is the next project that Blue Byte will be undertaking after SETTLERS III?

Thomas: On the basis of a new 3D engine being developed by KAiNAi in Germany, there will be at least two products. We will be developing one of these internally with Erik Simon in charge and KAiNAi will develop the other. For the next nine months we will also be working on SETTLERS III improvements and add-ons.

What are your views on the computer game market in general? Do you think the average age of gamers will go up?

Thomas: I assume so. We're all getting older and as long as manufacturers adapt the content of their games, there will also be a market.

What else is in the works for SETTLERS III – will there be a mission CD?

Thomas: That and a lot more, but that's going to remain secret for a while yet.

Thank-you very much for your time.

Thomas: It was my pleasure.

 

Thomas Hertzler is an enthusiastic The Settlers III player and member of the Blue Byte Clan [BB T1].

 

© Blue Byte Software, Inc.