It’s not every MMORPG that can boast that it started back in the late ’90s and is still going strong even today. However, Tibia is one of a very elite club of long-running MMOs that not only continues to exist but it thrives as well.
This year, the formerly silent MMO is celebrating its 25th anniversary since its launch back in 1997, and CipSoft wants everyone to sit up and take notice of it. The studio’s founder, Stephan Vogler, sat down to talk about Tibia’s past, present, and future with us.
Massively OP: For someone who has never heard of Tibia before, can you explain what this MMO is all about? Why is it special?
Stephan Vogler: Tibia has been online since January 7th, 1997, and is therefore one of the very first MMORPGs. The online role-playing games of that time, the so-called Multi User Dungeons, were still purely text-based, so we wanted to do the thing with graphics. That is why the project name of the game was “GMUD” or “Graphical MUD.”
When I told the admin of a German MUD about our project, he laughed about it. Indeed, what we had in mind was very ambitious. We were inspired by the Ultima series, especially Ultima 6 and the possibility to interact with everything in the world of the game. Every item that was there could be taken and used – we wanted to combine that with the possibility to be on the move together with others in the game world.
By the way, we found out that the Ultima makers were working on Ultima Online at the same time as we were working on our project, because we came across job advertisements from Origin while we were researching Internet programming. Besides that, there was simply nothing else available about the topic. At that time we found just one book that dealt with internet programming under Unix. We bought it and it is still in our office today. Since then, Tibia has been constantly developed and our student hobby project has now grown into a company with almost 100 employees.
What’s helped Tibia to endure for so long? What’s the secret of its success?
In our view, there are several reasons for the ongoing success. For example, Tibia offers players much more freedom than other games. You have more opportunities to be creative, you can decide for yourself how you want to play and get involved in the community.
Another reason is certainly that Tibia was one of the first games of its kind using a freemium or free-to-play model and could be downloaded for free at a time, when most similar games had to be bought as an expensive box in the shop.
Another factor is that we as a company have always been cautious and financed ourselves only from current revenues. We still do that to this day, by the way. We have never taken out a loan, have no investor or publisher. We did everything on our own and never spent more than what we had. We will never risk Tibia’s long-term success in order to make short-term profits. Other studios have taken big risks and hired a lot of staff. Then, when the revenues don’t grow as hoped, the companies become insolvent and have to stop operating their games.
And then, of course, there is the community. In a game like Tibia, which is so much about interaction, complex relationships develop between the players over the years. This is also why many log in every day to meet their friends.
Can you give us any metrics for the current state of the game: population, active users, dev team numbers, etc.?
So far, approximately 32 million players have created an account and Tibia has generated a revenue of over 200 million euros. Last year, Tibia had over 650,000 active players. There have been over 60 major content updates so far, making the game world incredibly large. If you were to spend just one second on each accessible field in the game, you would need about 40 days to explore the entire world of Tibia. Almost 100 people now work at CipSoft, most of them on Tibia.
Do more players use Tibia on a computer or on a mobile device these days?
Until now, it is not possible to play the PC version of Tibia on mobile devices. With TibiaME, we published the first MMORPG for mobile devices in 2003, but due to the technology at that time, the gameplay is very different from Tibia.
In 2022, we will release a mobile app called Tibia Observer, which will allow players to find out about important things in the game and receive notifications when something interesting happens in Tibia. This is our first step in bringing the original Tibia to mobile. We don’t rule out that at some point in the future we will try to make the PC version of the game accessible on mobile devices in some way, but there are currently no concrete plans in this regard.
What are some of the significant developments in Tibia over the past few years?
We have made great progress in all fields. First and foremost in the fight against botting by integrating the anti-cheat system BattlEye, which runs in the background while playing Tibia. We have also introduced redundant connections, which improved the connection quality and thereby the whole gaming experience. DDOS attacks are no longer an issue in the game. We have really made some progress here that other developers envy us for, as we know from conversations. Nevertheless, we are still working on it and are not resting on our progress so far.
All together, a lot has been done technically. There are still lines of code in the game that were written by the founders, but the client, for example, was completely reimplemented in 2016, and the server was also improved several times.
One new feature in the past few years that could be highlighted is the introduction of the Char Bazaar, which allows players to buy and sell characters. Trading characters has always existed, although we have never supported it. But there is nothing you can do against it because it takes place outside the game – with all the related risks for buyers and sellers. So we wanted to create a reasonable and safe solution for the players, and indeed: The Char Bazaar is quite successful.
You launched retro servers back in 2019 — how are those doing? Have the team considered any other special ruleset servers since then?
I should point out here that our retro servers do not recreate the game EXACTLY as it was ten or twenty years ago. These are up-to-date servers with an adapted ruleset that more closely matches that of the past. In our opinion, there is no other way, because there were good reasons why the game was changed in the past. You can’t just turn back the clock. It doesn’t make sense to bring back the issues from the past only to have to make the same changes as 20 years ago. That’s why you have to compromise.
The retro servers are not the most popular servers we have, but they are a success, so we continue to set up new ones from time to time. In general, we are also considering other servers with different rules. We are also experimenting and have introduced tournament servers, for example, but they were less successful. If it comes out that the community would like something specific, then of course we think about whether we can make it happen.
How does the Tibia team feel about Ravendawn, a new MMO project that has much in common with your game?
I must confess that I don’t know the project at all, so I can’t comment on it.
What are your plans for Tibia in 2022 and beyond?
We constantly extend and optimize Tibia. We will continue to listen to the players and to work hard to give them more of what they enjoy. Even after 25 years, we still have many ideas for new features and exciting quests. Just now we have surprised the players, for example, with the announcement that Tibia will get in game sound this year. (Until now, the game has been completely without sound.) In the anniversary video, in which we thank the players for the last 25 years, you can even get a first impression of what it will sound like.