We've recently finished our latest hardware upgrade -- this one affecting every bit of hardware we've got running over at RackSpace's data centers in Texas. New database server (monster thing), web, and firewall upgrades are done and the migration of code and data took a total of about 6 hours. The DNS stuff took a bit longer for those living in parts of the net where updating of name servers takes longer than others, but overall it was a smooth move to the new boxes and data center.
We can't express how grateful we are to the members of GuildPortal who are spreading the word in their games, directly leading to more people signing their guilds up for hosting here. This is especially important to us in the new games that come out, when they pull in people who have played no previous MMOG and hence, have not heard of us. World of Warcraft is a prime example of this.
That said, though the traffic is increasing, it's not necessarily leading to a proportionate increase in the subscribers compared to the sites being used. In essence, our costs rose dramatically with the upgrades (check out RackSpace's prices for an idea -- they're one of the best, but their pricing reflects it), but our ability to cover the costs hasn't necessarily risen in proportion.
That's OK! As long as the service pays for itself (and for food, etc.), it's all good!
But now a shadow looms on the horizon. Our old friend Sharbel at GuildWizard needed more time to focus on other business, and sold GuildWizard to IGE. Well, actually, he sold it to OGaming, which is owned by IGE (info: 1, 2, 3).
Typically, when you have a new product (it's not new, but its ownership is), you have a couple options when you want to generate some traffic in an already-saturated marketplace. 1) You make it SO good that nothing else compares or 2) You offer it for free for a limited period of time. With IGE/GuildWizard, it looks like they've gone the route of #2. It's clearly a market share grab, and while it might sound a bit repugnant to some, it's standard fare and commonly practiced.
Now, what's scary? The best product doesn't always necessarily win. If you have a major financial backer (like IGE), you can hire a huge staff of programmers and throw them at it. The product itself doesn't have to be good enough, initially, to pay for its own development, because your other product lines (selling in-game items, currency, and accounts in IGE's case) can cover the costs for as long as necessary. Offer it for free, and you're a double threat.
Add to that the other heavily-trafficked sites owned, such as OGaming. Leverage the traffic there (by means of ad banners directing people to the GuildWizard service), and now you're getting people who've never heard of your competitor (GuildPortal). If they're not the comparison shopper types, they may never hear of or visit any other product. Grab a big enough market share, and you may never actually need to improve the product at all. One day, turn off the free offering, start collecting the data that guild owners are entering (like quest or item information, including drop locations and frequency), and you've got a guild hosting product that will not only stand on its own as a revenue generator, but it could also act as a data source for your game information/news sites (OGaming), and as a pretty decent reference when your staff of item/currency farmers (IGE staff) are looking for good spots in the games to monopolize spawns in order to sell items for real cash.
It all sounds a bit like conspiracy theory, and maybe it us. But it also sounds like good business, if "good" means "revenue generating" and nothing else.
Why is it scary to GuildPortal? Well, if they've got unlimited resources to throw at grabbing market share, then we may have something to worry about. As I said before, the new upgrades to the service are extremely costly, and we don't have other marketing channels that can fund GP -- it's been self-funding since the day it went live. It had to pay its own bills, and it had to do so by being a good product. MMOG players are some of the most technical, skilled, and demanding customers I could ever imagine. They've led us to creating a product that meets their needs, and we're grateful beyond words for that. Hopefully -- in this case and in spite of a plethora of examples to the contrary in every market -- the best product will win.
Anyway, this isn't a press release or official statement from GuildPortal.com or Axiom Shift, LLC. It's just my blog.