Let's face it: you're not going to see World of Warcraft running on a mobile phone any time soon (although that doesn't stop us from cheekily asking Vivendi Games Mobile about it every few months).
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs) are big business on PC but here, in the west, they haven't made an impact on mobile yet. However, that doesn't mean they don't exist. Indeed, German firm CipSoft has been blazing a trail with its TibiaME game – a colourful and mysterious virtual world you explore with friends, fighting nasty creatures and solving ancient riddles while searching for treasure – which was first launched in 2003.
Initially available as a Symbian game only, last August CipSoft released a Java version, growing the game to the point where it now gets around 15,000 players logging in every day. And not to be outdone by the PC-based crowd, CipSoft also recently introduced episodic content, called TibiaME Tales, involving individual adventures lasting 30-60 minutes.
We cornered Ulrich Schlott, TibiaME's product manager, to find out more.
Pocket Gamer: Many gamers might assume that mobile phones are no good for MMORPGs. What's your view?
Ulrich Schlott: Mobile phones are all about communication and being in touch with friends – so are MMORPGs. The thrill about MMOs is playing and interacting with players from all around the world and why should you limit this experience to your desktop PC? You've got your mobile phone with you all the time, so you can meet your online friends wherever you are, in the bus, in a park, just everywhere where you have reception!
What have been the main challenges in the development of TibiaME?
Of course connectivity and especially latency were big challenges in the development of the game. The second problem was and still is the diversity of mobile phones and the many restrictions the manufacturers implement into them.
Another big challenge was the design of the user interface. It was difficult to decide which features will be fun on a mobile phone, and which ones just won't work. What came out is a game that is specifically designed for mobile usage. For instance, the backpack has nine slots, each can be accessed by pressing the corresponding number on the phone keypad ('1'-'9').
Tell us about the new episodic content and can you explain the thinking behind it?
The idea behind the episodic content is quite simple. We have two big updates every year. In these updates, we introduce new features and a lot of new content. Each season will have a unique storyline which leads up to the big (content) update, thus filling the gap in between.
This way the new episodic content helps to keep the game interesting and exciting during the whole year, by bringing new quests and game elements to the players. I guess that our game has got the biggest amount of content available on a mobile phone so far…
How do you see TibiaME evolving in the future, and what new technologies or features could benefit it?
The TibiaME community will continue to grow and will get together even closer. We are planning some nice community features for the future and want to strengthen the interaction between the players.
New technologies (MobileTV) and mobile features (GPS) will eventually bring data prices for mobile phones down a lot. Accessing the internet from your mobile phone will become a common task. The emerging flat rates will enable more and more people to be part of the great TibiaME community.
How much data will players use while playing TibiaME?
Playing TibiaME for one hour will use about 400kb of data. We know that this can be very expensive in some countries, but are quite sure that prices will go down in the near future.
Most of our players, though, are from countries with cheap data-plans or even flat-tariffs for mobile phones. Hopefully, many more countries will introduce affordable flat-tariffs soon, so that a larger amount of people can join the thrilling adventures in TibiaME more easily.
We also have a large amount of players that use the Wi-Fi connection of their phone to play TibiaME – so they use hot-spots or their home wireless network for playing cheaply.Our thanks to Ulrich for his time. You can find out more about TibiaME and download the client from the game's official website.