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Hubert Thieblot is not unlike a lot of gaming webmasters, a player who cobbled together a website dedicated to his favorite games. Unlike other webmasters, though, Hubert turned his casual enterprise into a go-to site for the growing MMOG population, securing millions of dollars of investment in the process. Curse.com, formerly Curse-Gaming.com, is not quite where competitors such as Thottbot, Allakhazam and Wowhead are yet, but Hubert has his eye on reaching and exceeding those, and recently launched a complete site redesign aimed at turning Curse into a social and encyclopedic portal for all things MMOG.

Thieblot sat down briefly with The Escapistt to talk about these latest updates and his plans for the future of Curse.com.

The Escapist: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Can you tell us a bit about Curse.com and yourself?

Hubert Thieblot: Thank you! I started Curse as an MMOG guild in the early 2001. We played some smaller Korean MMOGs, as well as Dark Age of Camelot, where we achieved some notoriety. But it was World of Warcraft that really encouraged the creation of Curse as a service. Early in that game, I realized that finding and downloading add-ons was an extremely difficult and disorganized undertaking – so Curse-Gaming was born, and we quickly became one of the most visited third-party World of Warcraft site thanks to our add-on downloads database.

Today, Curse is a massive resource for MMOG players. We have terrific social networking features, Wiki content (such as wowwiki), in-game databases for Vanguard and WoW, and more – not to mention our extensive add-on downloads database.

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TE: You’ve recently launched what you’re calling the V4 update and changed your domain name to Curse.com. The change is pretty dramatic. How long has this been in the works?

HT: Yes, it was quite a change and took quite a lot of work. We’re very happy with what the team has accomplished, though much remains to be done. The ongoing development of a portal like Curse means that changes are constantly in the works, as well as many initiatives we believe bring great value to our growing communities across many MMOGs. We planted many of the seeds for the V4 changes in V3 – so, in a sense, V4 has been in the works for a long time. With V4, the ideas have grown, and the result is a more accessible, friendlier site that is easier to use for everyone.

TE: There’s a lot more attention to social networking and community building, along with providing downloads, wikis, forums and other elements, in V4. Overall, it seems like the scope on which Curse is trying to operate is much larger. At the risk of being blunt, are you concerned about biting off more than you can chew?

HT: As I mentioned, V4 has been in development for a fairly long time. We’ve been steadily developing the new features that comprise V4 and future updates, and hiring the necessary technical and moderation staff to handle the changes. Our scope has grown in a marked way with V4, and we intend to expand on that growth by improving our existing features and building new ones. You’re right – we have presented ourselves with a great challenge, but at the same time, that challenge translates into many opportunities ahead. We received our recent Series-A funding to ensure that we are able to support every aspect of the business and to adhere to Curse’s vision of innovating on behalf of our community.

TE: You launched Curse in 2005. Tell us about the past two years and how the website, staff, support and traffic compares to when you started and the kind of goals you envisioned at launch.

HT: Curse is fairly young, and so am I, which is why we’ve actively surrounded the founding team with successful professionals who have experience in the videogame industry. Yet, we’re one of the most mature players in the MMOG field. And we have grown dramatically since we started out. As you’re probably aware, being a Curse user yourself, we’ve had a few redesigns leading up to V4. Our staff has quadrupled and our traffic has grown rapidly, with over 3.5 million monthly unique visitors. When I first imagined Curse-Gaming as an add-on resource, I never expected it to be this wildly successful. I did it largely for myself and my fellow guild members to make it easier to acquire WoW add-ons. That said, I’m very lucky to have the opportunity to turn my passion into a business, and I’m glad I have the ability to bring great change and value to our community and industry.

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TE: Curse has been steadily gaining ground against your biggest competitors, like Allakhazam and Thottbot. You describe yourself in the press release as the premier MMOG portal, so do you have your sights targeted on these guys to overtake them, and what will set your apart in the long-run to hit that goal?

HT: Services like Wowhead (which, along with Thottbot and Allakhazam, is now owned by IGE spin-off The Zam Network) have done great work creating WoW item/quest databases, but I don’t really consider them to be portals. Curse is also building databases, but our aim is to provide a whole lot more than that. Our goal isn’t to be like Thottbot or any of our competitors who only address one aspect of an MMOG gamer’s needs. Doing so doesn’t bring value to the community or to the MMOG developers. Our goal is to provide a single, centralized location for MMOG gamers to turn to, regardless of what they need. Be it add-ons, blogs, forums, databases, wikis or nearly anything else, they should turn to Curse.

TE: World of Warcraft drives a lot your traffic. Does it require a game like WoW to make a site like Curse successful? Where would you be without WoW?

HT: I don’t think anyone can deny the fact that the entire MMOG industry has benefited from the success of World of Warcraft. Blizzard has kicked off innovation among users and publishers alike.

What’s more important is the question of where we go from here, and how we do it. The expansion of content and applications in V4 reflects our desire to maintain our leadership position as a portal for WoW, while making significant strides for all MMOGs. We’re doing so in various ways, including actively fostering relationships with developers, in order to expand our support for existing and upcoming titles. We’re also preparing to expand our scope into free-to-play and item-based games. We believe the Asian market to be a source of tremendous opportunities that will make their way into the U.S. this coming year. If and when (and we believe it’s a matter of when) a mainstream console MMOG becomes massively popular, it will benefit the entire industry in a similar way. And Curse will be there for that, as well.

TE: So, is this the grand vision of Curse come to life, or has V4 served to open the door on new goals, features or directions for the site? Do you already have a V5 beginning to brew in your head?

HT: While V4 is the culmination of some significant development, it is truly just a first step, considering some of the things we have in store. It was, to be sure, a very important first step. We are excited by the fact that the MMOG market is on the rise, and we are working hard to set the pace in our slice of the market. I don’t know if we’ll call the next big change V5, but we’re hard at work developing new features with our users in mind.

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TE: How much does reader reaction play a part in fine-tuning the new Curse.com, and what has the overall reaction been to the changes? Are people taking advantage of the new features like MyCurse and the Curse Client?

HT: V4 feedback has been extremely positive, and they seem to be particularly satisfied with the improvements we’ve made over V3. We pay great attention to our users’ feedback, and they are very active in sharing it – both positive and negative. For instance, when V4 was initially released, we had several users who weren’t fans of the light color scheme, which stands in stark contrast to previous versions of Curse. So, within a day, we cranked out a great-looking dark color scheme, which many of our users have adopted. That’s a minor design change in the grand scheme of things, but it just serves as an example of our commitment to improving our users’ experience.

Being users and gamers ourselves, we aim to provide valuable services that drive our community’s interaction with their MMOG of choice, as well as with guildmates and other members of the community. Both My Curse and the Curse Client are doing very well, and we are actively improving these services. We have very high expectations for those initiatives.

TE: With this much on your plate, do you still find much time to play?

HT: I have to admit, I simply don’t have the time to play as much. Curse and our community have kept me really busy! I used to play 14-hour days, but now I’m addicted to running and growing Curse, which requires just as much time. But I still sneak in various games with the team, and we’re constantly evaluating upcoming releases to identify how we can best serve these communities. I love this industry, and our understanding of its characteristics has a very important impact on how we innovate. So, I and many of Curse’s team members actively play, and will continue to.

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Sean Sands is a freelance writer, co-founder of Gamerswithjobs.com, and owns a small graphic design company near Minneapolis. He does not miss his stint in retail even a little.

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