Known as "@izcool", and the former owner of GiroPets.net, Mike has decided to take the time out and answer a few questions that we had for him.
Hello Mike, can you please tell us about yourself? What are some of your favorite things to do?
Hi. Well first off, I'm Mike lol. I used to be the owner of GiroPets.net. That much you already know. Stuff you don't know about me... I like working on computers, it's my current hobby. (Fixing them). I still know how to do websites, but nearly as much as I used to many years ago. I liked helping a friend of mine a couple of years ago with his DJ business that we were running together, it was a lot of fun.
Could you tell us some information about GiroPets? How did you get the idea to develop GiroPets? What made you come up with the name?
Some important information about GiroPets, hmm. Well, it wasn't actually me that started the site in the first place. It was founded by a few other people, the guy who was in charge of it all was named Nick.
We oddly enough met on the forums on NeoPets, with a topic that was about helping make a website similar to NeoPets, I was interested. A small team of people was already formed, the designed and named some of the things already (GiroPets was chosen by them, I'm not sure how they chose that name, but I liked it; a few of the pets, like Ailai, Hyptomos, Veliun, and a few others were made by them).
There was a rumor that went around all of the people who were involved, and everyone decided to not take interest in making a website anymore. However, I did. So, I took all of the stuff that they had already developed, started making a website, and the rest is history.
The website was really small at first, but after I listed the website on Top Web Games (I think this was before Virtual Pet List even existed, in like 2002 or 2003), the website took wave really quick, and there wasn't much to do as I hadn't programmed many of the features yet.
Could you tell us what pet sites you have played in the past?
I've played many. The first one was NeoPets. At first, when my sister told me about the website, I didn't like the idea. But after playing it for awhile, I thought it was really cool and I was curious about making my own version of it.
That's how I locked onto that one thread on the NeoPets forums about making a website similar to it. My sister heard about NeoPets from a Harry Potter fan website, as that was back in the day when Harry Potter was the craze. Since I was running GiroPets back in the day, I was on pretty much every virtual pet site where was, just to see how others were doing. MatrixPets, SchooglePets, NutrinoPets, ZetaPets, Venetopia (after SchooglePets closed), etc.
What were your initial plans for GiroPets as whole?
Making a unique virtual pet game with my own tastes, and hoping that the members would like what they saw too. I did take in a lot of suggestions (hearing from the members is always great) that formed the website too. I believe in a few of the news entries (archived) I've noted a couple of suggestions from some members, and even announced who it was so they would get credit for the idea.
What type of growing pains did GiroPets face while you were the owner?
I really didn't know very much about web design and programming back in the day. This is embarassing to admit, but I've used pre-made scripts on the very first "automated" GiroPets, with member registration, the forums, and a couple of other things.
They registration system I used was very poorly written (looking back at it) as it was separated into two database tables when only one was necessary. So, for 20,000 members, there were 40,000 records. The website (in it's current condition) is still like that to this day. Since it was the first website where I was learning a lot of programming techniques on, the code is very poorly written.
The website saw a lot of things being re-programmed many times, as I was learning new techniques along the way. We were also using a lot of bandwidth (about 100GB a month back then, and it was nearly impossible to find web hosting that offered as much as that, now I don't think it's a big deal).
I remember one web host we were on...they said that they could support the website (I talked to them about how it was a web game that used a lot of traffic and bandwidth) but it hindered their server to be very slow, and we had to move elsewhere for web hosting. A couple of those reasons (poorly written code and high bandwidth) was part of the reason for me selling the website.
In 2004, you decided to sell GiroPets to Neon, what sparked this move? And what exact date was it?
As I mentioned above, those couple of reasons were part of the reason on why I decided to sell the website. The website had poorly written code, and it was using a lot of bandwidth.
It was the website's co-owner (DjHorza) who was considering about bringing what he called a huge "overhaul" to the website, with re-writing the website from scratch, with much improved coding, instead of the poorly written stuff we were using currently. I wasn't up to the challenge, and I thought my programming was great, but I didn't realize it until later after selling the website.
I also felt that I was being anti-social being home all the time working on the website, not spending time socializing with friends. After selling the website, my social life didn't really improve that much, I thought it was going to be drastic, but it wasn't. I don't know the exact date of the website sale, but my last backup of the website on CD is dated from July 24th, 2004. I had it for sale on a popular forum called SitePoint. I regret selling it now.
When you sold GiroPets to Neon, what did you expect to happen? On May 25 2005, you dediced to came back to GiroPets and start updating again, why?
One of the conditions I had in selling the website to whoever was going to be buying it was for them to keep consistent updates to the website, so that the game would still go, only just under new management and ownership. Like new features, all that, etc.
He didn't honor that at all. It was such a huge disappointment to me to see that the website hadn't changed one bit (update wise) since me selling it, and I had some motivation to want to work on it again (I realized it was a mistake me selling it), so that's why I returned for that short time. He paid me for the updates I did, even though I wasn't expecting anything in return. I just wanted to keep the members happy, whoever was still around on the site.
Could you tell us how much you sold GiroPets for?
I wanted to sell it quickly, and I pretty much took the first offer I had. I sold it for less than $1,000.00 (I don't remember the exact dollar amount but I believe the money was sent through PayPal) and I split it in half with the co-owner of the website, DjHorza. I took all of the money that I made from GiroPets and started myself into a new hobby - computers. I built my first custom computer with the money I made from selling GiroPets. I guess my life does domino out with those kind of events, as my current hobby is building and fixing computers, and it all had to do with selling GiroPets. But I still regret selling GiroPets.
If GiroPets was sold back to you today, what would you do?
I would do a lot. I would keep the website running in it's current condition until I get enough features completed on a totally re-programmed version of it.
I'm also the former owner of VirtuBots (if anyone ever heard of that, VirtuBots was my attempt in getting back into the virtual pet world, but I lost motivation in it as my life was busy offline), so that would be a good starting ground as I did program quite a few things like a few games, a banking system, registration, forums, shops, part of the PM feature, and many other things I'm sure. All of that I did with VirtuBots is really great programming, so there would be no need in the future to re-program features of the website with bad programming.
If you could go back in time, would you have kept GiroPets? If so, what do you think would have happened?
Yes. I would have kept it, knowing what I know now. Just like how writers get writer's block, they have a similar sort of thing called programmer's block for programmers. I guess part of it was because I was just tired of being constantly in charge of running a huge operation, and I needed a break.
I should have listened to what the co-owner (DjHorza) was saying about re-programming the website from scratch, and have stopped updates for awhile for me to recover from my lack of motivation and my programmer's block, until I get the motivation again.
Back when GiroPets first opened, how do you think "Virtual pet sites" as a whole were doing? Were they getting more popular, or were users still learning about the other ones besides NeoPets?
NeoPets was huge back then. The big kahuna. I only learned about the smaller ones after seeing the list on a site called Top Web Games (as I mentioned above). There weren't that many back in the day, but they did have some very good similarities to NeoPets around. I remember many websites - like MatrixPets, SchooglePets, NutrinoPets, ZetaPets, Venetopia (after SchooglePets closed), etc.
How do you think pet sites are different from years ago?
I'm not sure. I haven't really played much of the virtual pet sites lately to know what they're like. I just know that NeoPets seems to very commercialized with all of the advertising that they have, and I'm surprised to see that a few of the other "big players in the game" like NutrinoPets and ZetaPets are gone, as those were websites I thought would never fail.
What do you think of the future of virtual pet sites?
I'm not sure to be honest. I guess it just depends on people's interest in the web games like that. I think it may have used to have been more in the past than maybe what it is right now (I'm only making a guess on this, I don't really know what it's doing) as the whole virtual pet craze had to do with the Tamogotchi. Then it got brought online with NeoPets. The big websites online right now is social networking - Facebook, Twitter, Myspace - where we didn't have that back then. I haven't played any of the games on Facebook like Farmville, but I suppose some website traffic must have shifted to those kind of games.
If you could tell an upcoming pet site owner one thing, what would it be and why?
I would tell them several things. Not just one. I have a lot of advice to give:
1. Learn a lot about programming, and program things yourself. I made the mistake of using a pre-made registration script and I had to deal with it the entire time I owned GiroPets, and what the website is currently running on. Like I said above, the way that the pre-made registration script was made that I was using, for some reason, separated the members into 2 different databases, instead of only using just one. So, for 20,000 members, it had 40,000 records. That promoted a lot more database usage, confusion, etc.
2. Honor and appreciate your staff members. Especially those who have skills that you don't have. I'm not one for knowing too much about doing the artwork for the website, but I namely had two really great artists who I probably should have treated better than I did. They made fantastic artwork (DjHorza and myself did a little but not much) and they did it at no cost, all for volunteer.
3. Watch who it is that you trust with back-door access to your website. I hired Chris as a programmer for GiroPets. He stole a lot of the website scripts and used them to form KiroPets. (Ever notice how the name is similar?) And oddly enough, he used the EXACT SAME registration and members script that I was using to start KiroPets with, as it was stolen from GiroPets in the first place. Some of the designs of the website, like the layout of some tables (like the login screen) at the time were exact copies - only that his one was a different color than GiroPets'.
When I first started talking to the co-owner of the website, DjHorza, he also only gained my trust to steal the codes. He was running a website called SchoogleHelp when SchooglePets was around, and it was voted as #1 for a competiton that SchooglePets had for a fan website. He uploaded very early scripts of GiroPets to his website, and didn't tell me about it until a long time after he had done it. He turned nice, and even to this day he's still my friend on Facebook, and we talk every now and then on there.
Do you ever see NeoPets leaving the industry?
It could happen, you never know, but it looks like that they're here to stay, just because of how huge and popular the website is right now. I'm not sure what kind of numbers they have for how many members are playing at one time, but I'm sure it's incredible. It's profitable too with the ad money that they take in. They're more set up like a business with their offices, and how they sign deals with toy manufacturers and McDoanld's for promotions, and whatever else they advertise in games that they have on the website.
If NeoPets wasn't created, do you think pet sites wouldn't be as popular as they are today?
I don't think so. An idea needs someone to take it by storm and for it to be great. If NeoPets didn't exist, it could have happened with another site for all we know. It's like that with social networking. I don't think Twitter would have gotten popular if Myspace or Facebook didn't exist. (And for those, wasn't one of the first ones called Friendster? It's been so long ago for me to remember). I think that Facebook is the most popular of all those now, where Myspace used to have the lead. It could very well happen to some other virtual pet game, where they may surpass NeoPets with being popular. (Maybe that would be Farmville on Facebook? But I never played it).
Thank you for your time, it was an honor to be able to have answered your questions!