My guest today is Thomas Hertzler who was the Founder and CEO of Blue Byte. Together we talk about the history of Blue Byte, the creation of The Settlers and the acquisition by Ubisoft.
Blue Byte was a video game studio in Germany founded by Thomas Hertzler and Lothar Schmitt in 1988. After developing the tennis game Great Courts (1989) and Battle Isle (1991) they released their flagship title Die Siedler/The Settlers (1993). The Settlers was an enormous financial success for the studio and put it on the map as a video games company in Germany. However it took the studio 3 years to release the follow up title The Settlers 2 since no one in the studio was interested in a continuation.
"We need to do a sequel! Nahhh, we're not interested. I wanna do this. I wanna do something else. I had to put my foot down and say: 'Guys, we need to do this!'"
In the following years Blue Byte released the sequels The Settlers 2 (1996), The Settlers 3 (1998) and was about to release The Settlers 4 (2001) when the studio fell into financial troubles. One of the main reasons was a failed attempt to go public which threw the studio into a financial crisis.
Ubisoft acquired Thomas shares in 2001 and transformed the studio into Ubisoft Blue Byte. In 2020 the name "Blue Byte" was removed of which the company officially stopped to exist.
The Settlers' Wuselfaktor
The Settlers 1 is a city-builder released in 1993 created by Volker Wertich at Blue Byte. Volker submitted his project to Blue Byte in hopes to find a publisher for his game. Thomas and the others at the studio saw the potential and helped Volker with the graphics, music and release of the game.
The Settlers 1 unique aspect came from the way it visualized economic data. While most other games were glorified Excel spreadsheets, this one allowed us to see every piece of wood, iron and stone that are collected, placed at flags, carried around and stored.
There are clear visual similarities to the game Populous from 1989 (see image). While Populous focuses more on the "god simulator" aspect of total power and destruction. The Settlers focuses more on the economic aspect, with a screensaver busyness and dominance against other factions.
The sequels mostly carried the tradition until The Settlers 5 which broke up with the formula and went into a more real-time strategy game similar to Age of Empires 3.
The Settlers 1 and especially 2 were an important part of my own gaming experience in the 2000s. Those games changed how "boring" economics can be visualized and made exciting video games. The German games industry was always an important player but until The Settlers and Anno mostly on the consumer field.
Though Blue Byte isn't among us anymore, their legacy and what Thomas and all the others at Blue Byte have created over the years will stay with us into the future. Get The Settlers History Collection to play The Settlers 1 - 7.
Thanks for reading,
I'm Alexander, an Award-Winning Technical Director & Coach in Visual Effects, Animation and Games. My skills are solving technical problems, simplifying workflows and mentoring career goals.