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The Blessing of Curse

Curse Inc CEO Hubert Thieblot on how the WoW add-on site became a multi-million dollar business

With the rise of World of Warcraft came an increase in the popularity of tools which enabled gamers to customise their own experiences - generally known as add-ons. Such modifications sprang up for all kinds of in-game activity, from combat to exploration, and such has been the popularity of some add-ons that Blizzard has incorporated solutions of its own into the default user interface.

One site to spot the trend early on and offer a platform for gamers to centralise their add-on requirements was Curse - originally a guild website which developed into a fan destination, before the company began to capitalise on its audience and expand its operations.

Since 2007 the company has raised USD 11 million in two rounds of funding, and branched out into other games and other sites. Here the CEO of Curse Inc, Hubert Thieblot, talks about the company's journey, how a passion can become a profitable business, and why he's looking forward to the rise of console MMOs. Curse is something that grew out of a passion for games - talk a bit about where the whole thing rose up from.
Hubert Thieblot

Well, I started myself playing MMOs when I was 15 with a game called The Fourth Coming - which was small GOA MMO, and the first one localised in French - about ten years ago. I then played Dark Age of Camelot, and a bunch of other games, before World of Warcraft came along and I got into a decent guild of pretty good players.

We had a guild website, and we decided that we wanted to build additional features to that site in order to attract more people - features for the game, but not ones that were necessarily related to our guild. We wanted to start a community and we needed to find a niche that would bring people in.

One of the things we had at the time was a private add-on database - at this point it was just an FTP with a bunch of add-ons we were using for raids during the beta of the game. One day we looked at it and decided to put it on the internet, and very quickly we had hundreds of thousands of people coming each month to the website to download add-ons, or talk to the authors.

We basically fulfilled a need that existed - prior to that you had to go through the forums, or lots of small sites belonging to add-on authors in order to download them. When you had your updates, it could take hours and hours to sort out.

So first we created the website as a focal point for all of the add-ons, and then we built a client to make it even easier for all the people that have a lot of add-ons. And where were you based at this point?
Hubert Thieblot

I was in Paris at this time. I played for about a year and a half, and we made some pretty cool stuff in the guild, even before we had the add-ons section. We made some gameplay videos, some of which were downloaded millions of times, and we had a pretty hardcore crew of people going for kills on endgame content as fast as possible.

We had a pretty good reputation in Europe, and when the site got much bigger - about 1.5 million uniques per month - the server bills started to get pretty big, so I put some advertisements on there in early 2006, and then I realised this could be a chance to turn the passion into something bigger.

So we hired two people in 2006 and moved to Germany for a year. Then we raised USD 5 million in series A funding in early 2007. Shortly after that we moved to the US, and we've been here ever since. A lot of people will be wondering quite how you made the leap, even from 1.5 million uniques to raising USD 5 million. How did you go about setting up that funding round?
Hubert Thieblot

Well, I was pretty fortunate in knowing the right people in Paris. Basically we made some very good connections with our ad-serving company, which was also the owner of a big portal dedicated to women - auFeminin. I got to meet the founders, they liked us - so we started with this network and then moved to the VC community in Paris, and I got to know what we needed to do to raise this amount of money.

So I've been fortunate with the contacts that I got very early in the company. And when you went into those meetings, what sort of things were people interested in discussing? Did they already know a lot about the MMO space and community gaming?
Hubert Thieblot

Well, it depends on the firm. When we raised most of the first round of funding with AGF Private Equity they had an idea of MMO gaming. They didn't want to invest in a one-product MMO company, and one of the things they liked about us was that we support the games - we don't take $50 million to risk in building a game...

So we were a good fit for them in terms of product, and they really believed in the MMO space getting much bigger in the next few years.

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