Alongside Stephan Vogler, one of the co-founders of Tibia, Benjamin Zuckerer is the managing director at CipSoft. During his 13 years long journey, he acted as a product manager for TibiaME, head of the innovation team, and an assistant manager, all of the above making him an experienced professional with profound leadership skills. Such an impressive career couldn't go unnoticed thus Zuckerer quickly turned out to be a perfect candidate for the Tibia managing director position. In 2017, Ben replaced Ulrich Schlott in this role. Schlott decided to dedicate his entire time to the development of a new game back then. So, how is Ben finding himself in the job of a managing director? What can we expect from CipSoft in the coming months and years? Read along to find out!
Hello Benjamin! Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule to answer our questions! I'm happy to say that we worked with the Tibian community to collect the topics they are interested in, so they are looking forward to this interview.
TibiaQA: For the start can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
Ben: Sure! I'm 39 years old, was born in Regensburg and still love this great little medieval city. I have two wonderful boys (10 years and 8 months old). We live in a small townhouse with a garden - which is really great in times of Corona! I'm a gamer by heart. I have always loved games of any kind. Starting with playing outside with my siblings and neighbors, continuing with my first computer and a strong passion for Civilization, UFO: Enemy Unknown and later on the Ultima Series. Then came the LAN-era, with a lot of Duke Nukem, Warcraft 2, and Counter-Strike. So, as you can see I'm a PC Gamer! But I also love board and card games and have a very large collection at home and have spent endless hours and money on Magic the Gathering.
TibiaQA: How did your adventure with CipSoft start? What made it feel like a good next step on your career path back in 2007 when you joined the team?
Ben: I was working in IT before, managing servers and the offices of a company with a few locations across Europe. But I was also very much into gaming and a regular participant and host of LAN-parties. I knew Steve, Uli, and Stephan from my older brother, as they went to the same school in Regensburg. I used to meet up with Steve a few times a year and talk about the growth and state of Tibia and CipSoft. One day he asked me if I could imagine working for CipSoft as a Product Manager. At my job back then, I had accomplished a lot already, and it felt like a good time to start something new. And it was a one in a million chance to combine my passion for games with a job! So I didn't have to think about the offer for long!
TibiaQA: We know that your position at CipSoft is the managing director and that you are involved in decision making. How does your day look like? How would you summarize your responsibilities and what are the biggest challenges that you have to face on a daily basis?
Ben: Due to being in home office presently, my daily routine has changed a lot. My day currently starts with a Management Video Chat. Steve, Martin (aka Delany) and I meet up virtually and bring each other up to date on the development of the teams each of us supervises. In addition to my role as Managing Director, I'm also the head of our components team. This team works on backend services for all of our products and is also in charge of our data analysis and data mining systems. Mondays and Tuesdays I usually meet up with all the team leads and we talk about current problems and achievements. As we cannot meet up in person right now, most of the day consists of video and telephone calls. The biggest challenge on a daily basis is constantly switching between hundreds of topics and remaining focused on what is really important!
TibiaQA: After over 20 years Tibia is still a successful game with thousands of active players. Your recent German Developer Award for Tibia also seems to confirm this. Congratulations are definitely in order! What do you think are the main factors that contribute to this success?
Ben: Thank you! Did you know that this is actually the first prize Tibia has ever won? The entire team was humbled to receive the prize and we had a little party at the company! I think there are two main factors that contributed to the success. Everybody at the company working on Tibia is deeply dedicated to make the game better. Even when the players and CipSoft sometimes have different opinions on how the game should evolve in the future, I believe we are all united in the love for the game! But the main reason for the success is 100% the great community. Tibia is a great game, but it is the players who make it unique and worth playing!
TibiaQA: While Tibia remains the most popular CipSoft game, we know that you don't want to stop there. In 2012 you released Fiction Fighters, which unfortunately had to be shut down due to lack of interest. In 2018 the mobile MOBA game Panzer League was launched worldwide. Is it safe to assume that we will be seeing more games coming from CipSoft? If so, are you considering any new markets? Are you working on any new game currently?
Ben: We are game developers by heart. There is always a new idea, an urge to create something new, and a big passion for games. We have a small team dedicated to working on prototypes for new game ideas. Also, we are currently working on LiteBringer, a completely decentral game running at the LiteCoin blockchain. We usually try to find something that makes the game unique and are not driven by market figures or what trend is currently hyped.
TibiaQA: CipSoft has gone a long way fighting cheaters. Initially, voluntary gamemasters were chasing botters. This has proven to be ineffective and was replaced with your tool that was capable of identifying players that cheat their way in-game. Even with that tool in place, the community felt that not all of the botters were punished or that they were not punished fast enough. This led us to BattlEye - a service that protects the game from being launched if any cheating software is detected on player's computers. Where do you feel you stand in your fight with cheaters? Is BattlEye the ultimate solution? Are there any areas that you feel still need to be made more cheat-proof?
Ben: You are absolutely right with your summary - it has been a long way in the battle against botters and cheaters. BattlEye was definitely a big step forward and has shown great results so far. Sadly, botters are quite resourceful and it is a constant fight to stay on top in the game. We invest a lot of time and have dedicated resources to develop new solutions and will keep up this investment! There are still some areas in the game where we are not happy with the current solutions, but we are hopeful that we will be able to make further progress over time.
TibiaQA: The first experiment with a game world hosted in Brazil was conducted in 2004. For technical reasons, Tenebra had to be permanently moved to the U.S. data center. In 2016 the first Brazilian servers were finally launched, expanding the server location choice to three (next to North America and Europe). Currently, Brazilian servers make up about 30% of all Tibian game worlds. Are there any plans to open Tibia servers in new locations, such as Asia or Australia?
Ben: I'm sorry to have to disappoint some of our players, but currently there aren't any plans for new server locations. Sadly it is not all done with simply setting up a few servers in a certain region. Tibia has been the target of many DDoS attacks over the years. It is essential that our DDoS protection services fully work at the location. In addition, the local network infrastructure needs to fulfill some minimum specs. These technical requirements lead to high fix costs for each new location, which requires a large amount of players in the region to reach break-even. We are keeping an eye on the situation though. New server locations are re-evaluated on a regular basis.
TibiaQA: The Tibia community is quite interested in the marketing of the game. While there's a large base of players that are dedicated to the game and even come back after a few years of break, there doesn't seem to be that many completely new players. Have you ever been considering any bigger marketing activities? What do you currently do to encourage new players to give Tibia a try?
Ben: A few years ago, we created the Tibia Flash client, as you might remember. Even though it was discontinued eventually, it was one of our bigger efforts to broaden our player base and to make the game more accessible and easy to use for new players since it could be played in a browser and offered a new tutorial and cool features (many of them were later also implemented in our new Tibia 11 client, by the way). At the time we also ran some larger marketing campaigns, sadly with mixed results. At the moment, we are fully focused on developing new features that will benefit the existing Tibia community and we also think a lot about what we can do to regain the trust from retired players. So our focus in that regard has shifted.
TibiaQA: The tendency on many of the game worlds is for a large number of players to try and take over the server to "own" it. Such groups of players start to make their own rules and force other players to play by them. In the past, CipSoft used to treat such actions as destructive behavior and punish the players engaging in such attempts. Since then that rule was abolished and "owning" servers is considered a part of the game. What is your take on that? Is the freedom the sandbox game like Tibia currently gives optimal, or do you feel some more measures would be useful to limit such behavior?
Ben: Difficult topic. It is part of the DNA of Tibia and is one of the reasons why the community loves and at the same time sometimes hates the game. We are aware of that. We do hear the feedback from players who are not satisfied with the situation. So we most certainly don't consider this situation to be optimal. We do not want to punish players, however, for behavior that is actually supported by the setting of the game and its rules. So we have tried to meet this situation with a couple of adjustments here and there that appeared to be helping to ease the situation. We do not want to change the characteristics of Tibia, however.
TibiaQA: Of course, the hard work of all of the departments make Tibia what it is today, but what do you think you should especially focus on in the coming years to keep the game growing?
Ben: As I said earlier, Tibia really lives due to the great community. So on the one hand, we are extending our data mining capabilities. This allows us to take a deeper look into what is happening in the game, which is crucial for balancing or decisions in the content area. But the more important channel for future development is indeed player feedback. Last few years we tried to pick up many ideas from the community and also tried to get feedback on planned features. The plan is to continue on this path and to improve in the areas that need improvements.
TibiaQA: Proposals board - one of the most active Tibia forums where players can submit their ideas and game proposals was once actively maintained by the Community Management department. Players were informed which proposals were considered a high potential and what was their outcome. Nowadays, players still submit a lot of ideas, but the board is no longer actively moderated (last update 2015). Does CipSoft still consider those ideas while planning for new releases or do you mainly use other sources as inspiration?
Ben: We look very closely at player feedback, suggestions, and ideas. That includes the proposal board. While it is not actively maintained anymore, the proposal board is still read, ideas are collected, and evaluated. The community management department is involved in each update planning. Due to internal planning processes, however, an active moderation of the proposal board has not proven to be very effective. Sometimes planned features need to be canceled on short notice, or other changes occur, and we would not want to raise false hopes or make promises that we cannot keep.
TibiaQA: The first Optional PvP game world (called non-PvP back then) was started in 2002 to give players a choice of playing more peacefully. Two years later fans of intense combat and PvP received their game world type too. A few years ago variations of retro game worlds were created as well, and just a couple of months ago the tournament servers were launched. Do you think we can expect even more game world types that modify the game/combat rules to spice things up?
Ben: Yes, that is definitely something that we are looking into. Currently, there is no specific new server type in the works, though.
TibiaQA: Another topic that many tibians are interested in is vocation balancing. A lot of effort was put in the past to introduce new spells, equipment, and more, all of which should ultimately cause that each vocation remains unique but is not overpowered by any other of the vocations. Where do you feel Tibia currently stands in vocation balancing? Is there anything that remains to be done? If so, are there any short-term plans to introduce changes to vocations?
Ben: Vocation balancing is obviously a very difficult and complex topic. It is nearly impossible to make a change that everybody can agree to. At the same time, it is vital to make some corrections here and there, when things run out of balance too strongly. We are currently concentrating on items and other game mechanic changes, which also play a role in the overall balancing.
TibiaQA: Mid-march CipSoft published an announcement informing us that all employees will work remotely due to the spread of the infamous Coronavirus. How is the company doing in the full-remote mode? Are there any challenges you had to overcome?
Ben: Great question! First of all, we are all healthy and the switch to remote went very smoothly. There are many new challenges in development and communication. Also, we needed to build up our own Chat and Video-Chat solution and get our build systems running again. Some teams are developing on specific hardware, like mobile phones. This is a real challenge, as development requires frequent testing on different devices, and not everybody has these at home. Many of our devs also miss the vibe and energy that arises when you work on creative issues together. One of the biggest challenges is the social distancing and the stress many families are going through with homeschooling and work at the same time. CipSoft is trying to support the employees in many different ways. Altogether things are working out quite well and we don't expect any major delays on our projects.
TibiaQA: To wrap it up, do you find the time to play Tibia yourself once in a while? What is your favorite part of the game?
Ben: Being a dad of two and working fulltime, sadly my time left over for gaming is very limited. I do log into Tibia from time to time and play it casually. My favorite part of the game is the freedom of exploring the game world at my pace, taking risks, and having the freedom to make grave mistakes. And even after all this time, I love the graphics! The pixel art is simply great and adds so much to the Tibia feeling.
TibiaQA: Thank you once again for taking the time to answer our questions! Is there anything you would like to tell the TibiaQA and tibian community?
Ben: We couldn't do this without you guys. Even when we sometimes have different opinions on the game's direction, we truly try to listen to your concerns and ideas. The Tibian community is the real star of the game and we are humbled to work together with you and form the next coming decades of Tibia!