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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Boubouille proves an MMO Champion

What does it take to bring WoW fanatics the freshest World of Warcraft news on the planet? Imagine, if you will, a guy who sleeps literally no more than three or four hours at a stretch so he won't miss any World of Warcraft news. Imagine a guy who spends hour upon hour digging through game database files searching for anything that appears remotely different. Imagine a guy who no longer raids because he's so weary from 10-hour stretches on the PTR (public test realm).

Meet Boubouille, the force behind MMO-Champion. The hard-working Boubouille is also one of the friendliest, most genuine voices in the WoWosphere. Ever notice how often WoW Insider links developments, new items and spells and breaking news back to MMO-Champion? While Boubouille's first on the money, he's also quick on the tips and first to share a really interesting scoop – that's just the way he rolls. We poked our heads into his insane, non-stop schedule to find out what keeps him ticking along and where MMO-Champion is headed as WoW evolves over time.

Main character Boubouille, level 79 Hunter -- no kidding; also, a level 80 DK that I don't really play
Server Elune-EU

15 Minutes of Fame: How did you get started at MMO-Champion, Boubouille? What gave you the idea to create such a massive project, and what was your original goal?
Boubouille: The site launched in March 2007. I started writing guides for World of Warcraft a few months earlier and tried to sell them a few times but didn't really like the idea of making people pay just for some game info. After a few weeks, I decided to send my guides to a magazine, and they asked if I would be interested in writing for them. I declined because the project was way too big and I didn't have enough time to do it at that time. I decided to start a small guide/news site instead to see how it goes.

The original goal was to build some experience and eventually find a job in the gaming industry. I even applied as a game master for Blizzard, before launching the site.

How many visitors does MMO-Champion get today in a typical month?
I can't really give you exact numbers. Let's just say that we're talking about millions.

Do you have any assistants or staff?
There are about 15 moderators on the forums who try to keep things nice and clean there. I'll probably recruit a lot more very soon. I have a few developers who occasionally work for me for secondary features like the blue post tracker, and there are also two developers working on game file parsing to help with the patch datamining. I'm the only full-time employee of the site, and I'm the only one posting and updating news on front page. (This might change in the near future, as well. )

How have things evolved over time?
MMO-Champion hasn't changed that much. I'd say that the biggest change is the amount of information I post every time a new patch is released and how I get it. Data mining isn't as automated as most people would think, but it's really much faster and reliable than it was a year ago.

In the end, I'd say that the most important evolution is from Blizzard's community managers and developers, who communicate a lot more on upcoming changes and internal testing.

We know you live in France. Are you French yourself? How old are you? Is MMO-Champion your primary occupation?
Yup, 100% French. I'm 21, and MMO-Champion became my primary occupation a few months after its creation. I'm now a full-time employee for Major League Gaming (the company that now owns MMO-Champion).

Describe a typical workday at MMO-Champion.
Hmm ... I don't think I can explain that without looking crazy. When a patch is on test realms, there are a few things I have to keep in mind. Patches can be released as early as 6:00 p.m. (CET) and as late as 7:00 a.m. The European CMs can post patch note update between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and people can first-kill bosses or discover very important stuff in all time zones.

I never sleep for more than three or four hours in a row -- it's not that bad when you're used to it -- and just try to be here when something happens. But it's not always that bad. When nothing important happens, I can just sleep for 10 hours, wake up, spend an hour or two checking the blue posts and writing a news, post it, and do whatever I want for the rest of the day. But that didn't happen a lot in 2008 or 2009, and I usually use this free time to work on new features for the site.

So you work seven days a week?
Yes, especially now that Blizzard posters are also active during the weekend. First kills can happen seven days a week. Even on Sunday, I still have to work on news for the day after. It usually takes slightly more time than during the week, because it's harder to fill a home page when there isn't any official post to report.

You work hard to be first with breaking news. How do you do it?
Lack of sleep, caffeine and I sleep next to my laptop. There are a few tricks to be first on news posts, but in the end it's all about luck. Having a huge site also helps with that, because people will sometimes mail me or PM me on the forums if they spot something important.

Being first doesn't really matter, anyway. Most of the news sites post the important announcements within the same hour now.

You're well know for digging through game files and databases to learn about new items and information. How does that work?
It depends on what you want to discover. Spells, reagents and achievement changes are discovered by parsing the files included with the patch. That doesn't take more than an hour or two once you're used to it.

Items are a bigger problem, because they aren't activated on servers until someone actually drops them. You have to scan for countless hours to try to see if something new has appeared since the last time you checked.

Parsing the patch files doesn't require any tool, just a little knowledge of how the game works and a few coding skills. Checking for new items is just done by querying item IDs and checking if the items are active or not. A lot of public addons can do that, and you don't really need any private tool.

What are your favorite WoW web sites?
WoW Insider, of course! ^^ Actually, I like how you guys manage to post tons of articles each day. As a non-English native, I'm always impressed by people who can write big walls of text about pretty much everything, because that's definitely something I can't do.

I also read Elitist Jerks and a few other sites occasionally -- but to be honest, I don't really check other web sites very often. It doesn't mean I don't keep an eye on competition or that I pretend that they don't exist. My job isn't that hard to do when you get everything figured out, and anyone can kick my ass at any moment. But don't worry: I have a good relationship with most of the news sites managers.

What about Boubouille as a WoW player?
I leveled a Warrior during the U.S. open beta and started playing on live servers in February 2005, when the game was released in Europe. I was very pessimistic about the game before playing it, but it didn't take long to realize that it was much better than all the other MMO games available at the moment.

Do you play anything besides World of Warcraft?
I think I started playing online with Action Quake 2 and jumped from FPS to FPS for a few years (early beta versions of Counter-Strike, Team Fortress Classic, Quake 3 Fortress, etc.) I started playing MMORPGs with The 4th Coming and moved to Dark Age of Camelot and EVE Online for a few years.

(Right now, I'm playing) Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress 2, Unreal Tournament 3, and I wish I had the time to try more MMO games. Oh, and just like everyone on Earth, I bought a Wii and Guitar Hero 3 but stopped playing it after a few hours when I realized how much I sucked at it.

So when do you still have time to play?
I don't really play WoW anymore. Every time I tried to play again, I ended up slacking on web site updates because I was spending way too much time in game. I used to raid five hours a day before TBC, but it's definitely not something I can do anymore.

I'm pretty sure I would end up going crazy if I spent most of my free time playing WoW. When you have spent the last 10 hours working on test realms, running clients on multiple computers, and going through the same changes again and again, you really need to do something else if you don't want to get bored with your job after a few weeks.

So yeah, basically, the guy behind one of the biggest WoW news sites doesn't play the game anymore. I know that a lot of people working on gaming sites are in the same situation but don't really want to talk about it, because they're scared of losing their credibility. I don't think it's really important, as long you don't say anything stupid. I actually linked my Armory profile a few times on the front page.

Spoilers are also a problem, I think. When a new patch or dungeon is released, I usually spend hundreds of hours going through the zones, boss spells, boss models, new items, etc. ... I'm not really excited about it anymore when it hits the live servers. I didn't even level my Hunter to level 80 on the live servers, because I had already seen everything I wanted to see on beta servers. (To give you a rough idea, my screenshot folder for the Patch 3.1 PTRs has 3,344 screenshots, and the directory I use to archive all the images I post on the site has 2,310 files.)

We heard you sold MMO-Champion. Is that true? If so, how did that change the site and/or what you do?
100% true. That was almost two years ago now. MMO-Champion's popularity was unexpected, and the site reached a point where I couldn't manage it anymore. It was my first site, and I didn't have the knowledge or the financial resources to support such a big project. That's why I decided to sell.

I sold to Major League Gaming, and I'm now working for them as the manager of the web site. I'm very happy with this decision, because it made my life considerably easier. Nothing really changed on the site. Every now and then, you will see me going crazy about a MLG tournament or something like that, but basically, I'm free to do whatever I want on the site as long as it's not totally stupid.

Where is MMO-Champion headed today? Will the site remain focused on World of Warcraft, or will it grow to include other MMOs?
The original plan was to include other MMOs, but I didn't expect the WoW part of the site to be so popular. It takes all my time now, and I don't think you will see any other MMO covered on MMO-Champion.

I really want to talk about a few other games like EVE Online or Diablo 3 -- but it won't be on MMO-Champion, and I won't do it until I have the time to do something nice with each site. I don't really want to use MMO-Champion's popularity to launch tons of new sites and just report official posts for every MMOs out there without any further research.

There are still a lot of things I want to do with MMO-Champ. You might see some of them in the next few weeks or months, but I can't really give any details on that yet. Let's just say that I'm definitely not done with WoW for the moment.

There are also a few things on the work at Major League Gaming. We launched a new Ventrilo hosting service called MLGVoice, and the WoW tournaments of the PC Circuit 2009 will start in June.

And what about you? Are you working day by day on MMO-Champion, or are you looking forward to new projects and plans?
The site totally killed my social life over the last two years. Most of the people I know tell me to "get a real job," because video games and internet are definitely not serious businesses. I live during the night most of the year, and I still love this job. ^^

I will probably try to change a few things and start recruiting people to let me do a few things I can't do right now, like attending major events and spending more time creating other projects. I don't think WoW will die anytime soon -- and hopefully I'll be here for a very long time, too.


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