Henrico firm unites gamersGuildLaunch.com lets team huddle for World of Warcraft, others
Sunday, Apr 29, 2007 - 12:06 AM Updated: 04:46 PM
Stephen Johnston's obsession became his profession.
His Henrico County company, GuildLaunch.com, has built a four-person operation around the popularity of enormous online games such as World of Warcraft.
He hopes to eke out a small profit by the end of the year.
GuildLaunch allows gamers to create their own team Web sites to communicate and plan attacks. They can share resources and knowledge.
Think of it as a MySpace.com social network for gaming geeks.
In World of Warcraft, players control a character and explore a large landscape similar to the locales you might see in a "Lord of the Rings" movie. Characters, called avatars, fight monsters and perform quests, along the way gathering money, objects and new skills.
To succeed in that game and other big Web-based titles requires teams known as guilds, large or small groups of gamers who play together to try to achieve a common goal -- winning.
"It's like an intramural team that gets together for a sport," said Joshua Davis, GuildLaunch.com's product development manager. "It's just that we're sporting online."
But there's nowhere inside of games to organize teams, so GuildLaunch and similar Internet services provide a place where the group can huddle before making their "raids" into dungeons or other puzzle-solving quests.
"The reason guilds exist and are important in games like World of Warcraft is that there is content in the game that you can only get if you defeat monsters that are far too powerful for you to beat on your own," said Greg Vederman, editor of PC Gamer magazine.
In other words, a player battling without a guild would look a lot like David vs. Goliath, though Goliath likely would win. Put a guild together and form a strategy, and Goliath will fall much more easily.
With more than 8.5 million players in World of Warcraft -- and that's just the most popular online game, not the only one -- Johnston believes he's found a large enough market to make a solid living.
As gamers leave Warcraft and move on, GuildLaunch is set up to support teams playing in titles such as EverQuest, City of Heroes, Dark Age of Camelot and the coming WarHammer Online.
Johnston has been playing World of Warcraft since it began a few years back, originally jumping online for about seven or eight hours a week. He's calmed down a bit as he gets the business on its legs.
Davis plays a bit more.
"We'd be considered casual gamers," he said. "The single guys, guys without girlfriends or even with girlfriends -- they're just insane. They play five hours a night, 20 to 30 hours a week sometimes."
Gamers get connected to their guilds.
"You form a camaraderie because games are programmed to where you can only get so far by yourself," said Chris Fancher, a Tampa, Fla., resident who plays World of Warcraft with Johnston's guild.
"People get hard-core about the details and statistics of what their guild is doing," Davis said.
GuildLaunch is host to more than 3,000 guilds and has more than 20,000 users.
Johnston is shooting for at least 20 percent of users to switch to a subscription, but he notes most will use the ad-supported service.
Larger guilds that want to store more information on guild Web pages will pay between $5.99 and $19.99 a month for the hosting service.
GuildLaunch began in July, went into testing in September and was live by December.
It is funded through private investors, Johnston said, but he declined to be more specific.
Many guild members never meet, though some do, Fancher said. Davis recalls members of his guild from the western United States getting married, then the guild held a mockup wedding inside of World of Warcraft.
"It's corny, but hey," he said. "It's really all we could do. We're not close enough to them for all of us to necessarily fly out there, but we can say 'Hurrah!' on our Web site."
Contact staff writer Jeffrey Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 649-6348.