October 21, '98
Interview with Thomas Hertzler,
President and CEO of Blue Byte Software
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
youre 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
dont 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
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 its 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, youll 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
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
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].