Earlier this month saw CipSoft’s mobile MMORPG TibiaME celebrate its 20th anniversary with a new update. From its inception as a PC title, the game has gone on to be a massive success, with a presence on nearly every mobile platform developed during its life cycle.
What does it take for a game to thrive on so many platforms, despite regular innovations and regulatory changes? What can game developers learn from CipSoft, and what does the company do differently? We spoke to the company’s lead product manager Manuel Roth to find out more.
Tell us about your role at CipSoft
I have been working in product management at CipSoft for more than 10 years. Nowadays, I oversee the development and operation of TibiaME.
TibiaME is the oldest mobile MMORPG still in active development - to what do you attribute this success?
We've paid attention to our community, observed the mobile market, and have consistently advanced the game over the past 20 years. During this time, the world of TibiaME has grown from two islands to over 20 and has been filled with an incredible amount of content. Every island, every quest, every puzzle, and every boss fight has been implemented by a designer with a lot of passion - and you can see that in every corner of the game. In 2012, we successfully transitioned TibiaME from a subscription model to free-to-play. In 2019, we merged some of our game worlds, which encouraged many players to return. In short, we keep bringing fresh wind into the game.
What makes TibiaME different from other mobile MMORPG’s? What’s its ‘secret ingredient’?
At its core, TibiaME is a very simple game that one can quickly understand. However, as you progress, the gameplay becomes increasingly deep. So, TibiaME is "easy to learn, hard to master". You can also play at any time: just log in, hunt a few monsters, chat a little, or check the current offers in the auction house.
Most long-running online games have a central success factor - a strong community. This is the same with TibiaME (the oldest still active character in the game was created on May 15, 2003, making it almost as old as the game itself), but it’s also a genuine retro game with all its quirks and features. There's the possibility to level up without a limit, but there's also a lot to lose if a mistake is made. If a character in TibiaME dies, they lose 10 percent of their total experience points. This can equate to several days of gameplay. In recent years, the mobile market has significantly deviated from these concepts, so we now occupy a niche. But it's not like you always have to play TibiaME with complete focus. Experienced players know exactly where they can gather a few experience points without taking a risk. With our latest update, we even introduced an idle mechanic called offline hunting. Whether you want to game casually without stress or face a real challenge, both are possible in TibiaME and the decision lies solely with the player.
What barriers did you face bringing TibiaME onto the many mobile platforms through the years?
Porting the clients to new mobile platforms was always relatively straightforward thanks to our own codebase. All clients and services around TibiaME are developed in-house and are also operated by us. The processing of payments, community management, customer support - we do everything on-site in Regensburg, Germany and there is always a direct line of communication with the development team. What's challenging is maintaining the numerous clients and services. We have the responsibility to comply with the store guidelines and to keep our clients up-to-date. That's not always easy.
TibiaME has been around for twenty years, long before the availability of touch screen phones - how have you managed to adapt the game to new technology?
An early challenge for TibiaME was to develop a uniform control concept and a consistent user interface for feature phones and smartphones. This challenge led to our server-based UI in the client. All menu structures in our client are delivered by our server services and can therefore be easily updated. This design approach allows us to supply all platforms with new features without players needing to carry out a client update. A downside to this is that our menus are not optimised for touch. We have accepted this in order to provide our community with access to the game on as many mobile devices as possible. This has paid off: Even in the era of iOS and Android, the classic Symbian and Java clients were still widely used for a long time.
What can other game developers learn from CipSoft?
Mobile gaming has changed significantly since the introduction of TibiaME. The sheer amount of new games is overwhelming and making your own game visible in the stores is enormously difficult. Therefore, it's important to place great value on customer retention and maintaining the existing community. Our games have managed to do this over many years - our PC MMORPG is even five years older than TibiaME. Every market can change and every market is crucial. Many of our new features address the needs of our various communities. Judging by player numbers, for example, almost every inhabitant in Brunei should be familiar with TibiaME, yet new players are constantly joining or old ones are returning. So, when it comes to keeping an online game interesting for decades, we certainly have a good tip or two to share. We also regularly exchange ideas with other developers and benefit from the active exchange of knowledge within the industry.
What can we expect next from TibiaME?
For the anniversary, we've just revamped the starting island of the game as well as the UI of our Android and iOS clients. So it's easier than ever to experience all the quests, bosses, and secrets of the past twenty years. Next up in June is a regular update with new game content for our long-term community, of which we release two each year. Apart from that, we'll continue to look for exciting ideas to keep TibiaME on track until its 25th anniversary.