For those that have read my about page, I used to be involved in the MMO (massively multiplayer online) space. Since quitting and focusing on (what I see as) more lucrative markets (local and blogging), I’ve still kept a good relationship with pretty much all the large players – while I tired of it, keeping abreast of news is interesting.
So today, after tucking the missus to bed and getting on the computer to catch up on some email, I saw an interesting email in my inbox (from a trusted acquaintance). Wowhead, a popular World of Warcraft website, was purchased for over $1 million.
Some quick background (hold on, it can be a bit confusing):
Before WoW launched officially, a lot of EverQuest players were invited to beta test. One of them was Thott, leader of one of the largest EQ guilds (Afterlife). Being a resourceful programmer, and utilizing WoW’s LUA programing interface, he wrote Thottbot. The program basically stored information on all quests/items/creatures/characters/etc that the user came across, and then uploaded it into a centralized system (Thottbot). Users around the world could then load up information, find out how to do quests, where to go, etc. Distributed with the most popular WoW add-on (Cosmos), the site was an instant hit.
Before Thottbot, the pre-eminent database site for online games was Allakhazam. It had the largest subsites for the (then) most popular games – EverQuest, Final Fantasy XI, Dark Ages of Camelot, and Star Wars Galaxies. Allakhazam was a subscription site, making money from people willing to pay for features like advanced search (incidentally, all the content on Allakhazam was actually user-submitted).
I had the mental fortitude to snap up Thottbot (for IGE) right before WoW came out of beta. I can’t disclose the details, but it was in the $xxx,xxx range. For the amount of traffic the site got, it was an absolute steal.
With Thottbot on the scene, Allakhazam greatly suffered. Why would people pay for a subscription with everything for free on Thottbot?
Another quick aside: for those new to MMOs, companies like IGE sell virtual currency and goods for real-world dollars. For all the (unwarranted) hype of Second Life, IGE et all are far bigger – they push hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods every day. A lot of players don’t like them – they believe virtual good sellers corrupt the ‘pure’ nature of the game.
Allakhazam.com was operated by a guy who used the nickname ‘Allakhazam’. He was one of the fiercest anti-IGE players around. I had once offered him $1 million (before WoW even entered alpha) – he wasn’t interested. Anyway, the site took a hit, and after a few years of struggling to survive, he eventually broke down. He sold out to IGE for roughly $7-10 million. The justification was that he sold the site to ‘Affinity Media’, which owns (but isn’t) IGE. Anyone with half a brain knew that they were the one and same.
So – with Thottbot/Allakhazam owned by IGE, they pretty much owned the WoW fansite market (and thus a huge audience to push their wares to). At least, if it wasn’t for Wowhead. A late-comer, the site was an instant hit, with its clean UI and fast loading speed (think of Thottbot as Altavista, and Wowhead as Google). You can see on Alexa how Wowhead has grown while the others have stagnated.
And so ‘Affinity Media’ has struck again. Verified by three different sources, the price was confirmed at over $1,000,000. The lower limit was 1 million, while the upper was $1.5 million.
And people thought running a fansite wasn’t worth it
UPDATE: Some people have asked for proof – I can’t give you that. But – I did confirm with another source. As far as I am concerned, this is solid. So Digg it.
UPDATE2: IGE has been ‘supposedly’ sold off by Affinity Media. They used FUD when they purchased OGaming. They used FUD when they purchased Allakhazam. Just some more FUD – rest assured IGE/Affinity Media are still very connected.
UPDATE3: The FUD doesn’t end. Remember – I sold OGaming to IGE, while they claimed it was ‘RPG Holdings’ that purchased it. I’ve experienced it firsthand. I talked to another contact – it is a bit byzantine (how the site was ‘sold’), but as it stands, IGE US LLC’s parent company is Affinity Media. Certain properties may have been sold, but not the company itself.
UPDATE4: The sale is confirmed:
News travels fast! We were hoping to have the time to put together a proper announcement about this, but it appears word is already out, so we wanted to acknowledge it: now that IGE is out of the picture, Wowhead has decided to become a part of the ZAM Network.
I leaked the sale before it was officially announced, so that shows I did have someone on the inside (my past with Thottbot etc just confirms it). All the same contacts are saying the same thing – Affinity is still very much involved with IGE.
UPDATE5: At the recent VRGood Summit, it seems Brock Pierce (CEO of IGE) talked about getting out of the game, with no mention of IGE having been sold from Affinity. Consider this sale supposedly happened over two weeks ago, seems a convenient thing to forgot. Not to mention walking around with an ‘Affinity’ badge.
UPDATE6: I’ve written about why Allakhazam, then Thottbot, and now Wowhead became the top dogs. More developer/design-focused.