CipSoft: Bavarian games studio leads industry into future

By Nora Beyer

CipSoft studios create award-winning computer games, like here Tibia. / Photos: CipSoft GmbH

The Bavarian games company CipSoft was named Studio of the Year at the German Computer Game Awards in 2022. What is the secret of the Regensburg studio's success? A conversation with Managing Director Stephan Vogler.

The Bavarian city of Regensburg has a lot to offer in terms of culture - and this is by no means limited to its time-honored history and legendary pub culture. Regensburg is no longer an insider tip when it comes to games culture. Recently, the city can claim to be home to the games studio of the year.

At the German Computer Game Award 2022, the game forge CipSoft GmbH was awarded the title. Almost a hundred employees, annual sales in the double-digit millions and an online game that has been a long-running success for a quarter of a century. Since its founding in 2001, the Regensburg-based developer and publisher has been flying high. The four founders Stephan Vogler, Stephan Payer, Ulrich Schlott and Guido Lübke are still shareholders in the company today. A success story that began in the lecture halls and computer rooms of the Regensburg University campus.

»We had a vision to create a game that was not only graphically something, but could be played online around the world.«

Cipsoft-Founder Stephan Vogler

Stephan Vogler, one of the founders and managing directors, recalls: “Actually, our story begins even earlier - in our school days. Three of us four founders went to school together - here in Regensburg - and also played computers together. Later, we became interested in how games are created and started developing small games ourselves."

It was at university that they first came into contact with the Internet. And they quickly recognized its potential: "Back then, no one had the internet at home. It was only available at universities. In 1995, there were games on the Internet, but they were exclusively text-based, so-called multiuser dungeons. We thought to ourselves: actually, we can do this much better." No sooner said than done. "We had the vision to develop a game that not only looked good graphically, but could be played online all over the world," says Vogler.

While still in university, the friends began working on this vision. The title of the project: Tibia. A massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) in which players can experience adventures together online. The rest is history. "Tibia started in 1997 - on a chair computer!" By the end of their studies, there are so many players online that the four realize: "We could make more of this."

Stephan Vogler explains: "In 2000/2001, the New Economy was just big, the environment was correspondingly encouraging and we founded a company without further ado." The company got off to a flying start: "Shortly after that, the players were all over us. We were just busy hiring people and setting up more servers for Tibia." According to Vogler, CipSoft still exists today primarily because of Tibia's enormous success.


Tibia: A Bavarian-made long runner game

Tibia is one of the oldest and most successful MMORPGS worldwide. A long runner in games, made in Bavaria. What is the secret of the company's success? "I think it's most important that we never lost faith in the project and were always eager to develop it further and make it better," says Stephan Vogler.

Community involvement is especially important: "We quickly realized how important it is to listen to our players. We put a lot of effort into listening and implementing what is requested." That's reflected in the numbers. To be sure, the 2020 and 2021 pandemic years in particular are record years financially for CipSoft, as they are for many other game studios. "But even before Corona, we had player records that were related to solving problems and improving things that were important to the community," Vogler explains.

Social commitment is a top priority at the games studio

At CipSoft, the community is not only a top priority in-game. The company is also socially involved in many ways in day-to-day life. CipSoft is not only independent of external investors, but also pursues a corporate policy that emphasizes social responsibility both internally and externally and thus plays an outstanding role among employers in the video game industry. In 2020, CipSoft supported various regional and international organizations and institutions involved in the fight against the corona virus.

The game developer also has a strong regional commitment. When employees were sent to work from home in the wake of the Corona pandemic, weekly food donations were organized for Regensburg institutions in the health and care sector. For example, a local pastry chef baked cakes for Red Cross employees on behalf of CipSoft. During the pandemic, a total of 365,000 euros was donated to charitable organizations such as the WHO or Doctors Without Borders.

In 2022, CipSoft donated 50,000 euros, the amount they received as winners of the German Computer Game Award, to Ukrainian war refugees. For Vogler, it was an obvious choice: "We benefit from our environment and society. We want to give something back."

Game developers: "We have a responsibility to make the world a better place“

Employees also benefit from the social responsibility and modern orientation that CipSoft exemplifies to the industry. Flexible working hours, a ban on accumulating overtime, work-life balance, the option of remote work, a personal training budget and, since 2021, the opportunity to spend 20 percent of working hours on implementing their own game ideas.

CipSoft prioritizes people and provides employees with a direct stake in the company's success. Stephan Vogler explains: "Right after we were founded, we thought about how our employees should participate in the success of the company. We thought about distributing a quarter of the profits made in a year to the employees." That adds up to at least another two months' salary in any given year, Vogler said.

In Corona's record years of 2020 and 2021, profit sharing even equaled an entire additional year's salary in each case. For Vogler, this is a clear matter: "If we are successful as a company, then we also want our employees to share in this success. As an entrepreneur, you also have a responsibility to make the world a better place."

Games in Bavaria: A lot of start-up potential

The Regensburg-based game studio CipSoft is thus much more than just the developer of one of the oldest and most successful MMORPGs in the world. It is also a positive example of entrepreneurship in the video game industry. Vogler says, "We are more than just Tibia. We have made it our mission to develop lively online game worlds. We work tirelessly on that." Advice he gives to young game entrepreneurs? "I can only encourage everyone to start a business after graduation. You don't have much to lose. But you learn an incredible amount in the process."

The Bavarian video game landscape is becoming increasingly diverse, Stephan Vogler finds: "A lot has happened in recent years. Especially in the indie sector, a large scene has developed." The fact that Regensburg in particular has a lot of creative gaming potential is became apparent twice at 2022’s German Computer Game Award: the young talent award for the best prototype also went to a Regensburg company - the indie studio Donausaurus.

CipSoft has good reasons to stay in Regensburg: "Sure, in contrast to Munich, Hamburg or Berlin, we are a bit out of the way here. But that is also a strength. If someone in Eastern Bavaria is interested in game development and wants to turn his hobby into a profession, there is no way around us. And the environment is outstanding: the high quality of life in the city and the proximity to the university, from which many of our employees come."

Stephan Vogler's conclusion: "Studios are sprouting up all over Bavaria. There is a large and active network of game developers. And the Bavarian state supports the industry. There is always room for improvement, of course. But I would say Bavaria is coming on strong as far as game development is concerned." Good conditions, then, for up-and-coming games startups and digital creatives. But what matters most for success, according to Stephan Vogler: "It's important to find something you really believe in." At CipSoft, they seem to have found it.