Thank you to Hituro for doing this interview with me, This is just one of the Grophland related things to come within this next week.
1) Hi there Hituro, can you introduce yourself and your site to us?
Sure, I'm Hituro, otherwise known as David, and I'm the owner of Grophland.com, a Virtual Pet Site. I'm 38, married, live in Scotland, work as a programmer and run Grophland in my spare time. I've been voted "Grophland owner most likely to be stalked" 8 years in a row now ... sadly because I am the only owner.
2) When did you first get into the VP industry and at what time to you want to start creating your own site?
As a player I started out with Neopets, 12 years ago, but as an owner I didn't get into it until 2004. At that point I was freelancing, so I had more time on my hands than usual, and I was learning a new programming language, moving from ColdFusion to PHP. One day my wife was playing PonyIsland and I was watching over her shoulder. I saw how pets could have clothing, but you couldn't put it on them. I thought "I can do that". Then I looked at the rest of the site and thought "I can do that better", so off I went to play around with it. I had no business idea in mind, it was a long time before I even told anyone else it existed.
A fair number of Grophland's early design decisions come out that history. For example the simple shapes of Grophs ... I just doodled something as a prototype and it stuck. They have changed a fair bit since then, but the overall shape and dimensions is the same.
3) You seem to be an all rounder, you can code, draw, what can’t you do? Did you learn all of this by yourself or did you have help?
Yes, I write all the code and draw a lot (though not all) of the art. I've always done both. I went to art school for a while before I went to university (and came away with IT degrees), at school I did both, though computers were introduced just as I was leaving. I love to create things, and drawing and coding, to me, are just different types of creating.
What am I not good at? Well advertising, sadly, and also layout. I'm not the worst at layout (I see a lot worse in my day job all the time), but I am surely not the best either.
4) What does it feel like to achieve what you have achieved with Grophland?
It's amazing. From time to time someone will Grophmail me and tell me how much they love the game, how it gets them through the bad times in their lives, how they have grown up with it and coming on feels like coming home. We have people who started playing when they were little kids and now they are in University and still playing. I've had people choose a career in art because they got support our art forums, or writing because they posted on the fiction forums ... how good is that!
5) What is your staff team like? How many is there? Are they paid?
We have a small and close-knit staff team of around 8-10 depending on who is around at the time. A few people have had to cut down their hours due to the recession sadly. They aren't paid sadly (sadly because I would love to afford it), though of course they get their accounts and items for free. Many of them are people I knew from other web communities who have been part of Grophland since the very start. It wouldn't be the same without them!
6) Do you have anything spectacular in the works for Grophland?
I have a plan for a fundamental enhancement of the crafting / alchemy system. It's something that started out as a minor addon in Grophland and has become very popular. Looks like the front page may be changing too, and I'd expect a new theme for new users as well. I have a huge list of other things to add, but a lot of my new features come from user suggestions.
7) Did you get any inspiration from other pet sites or people for Grophland?
Oh lots. Quite a bit of the foundation of the site was from Neopets, since I'd played that a lot. One of the things I was determined to have was a place where users could contribute art and have it turned into items. It was a feature of Neopets early on and I loved it (though none of my art was ever used), but they took it away as they became more corporate. I wanted that for my site.
Other stuff has come from playing computer games of all sorts. The combat draws on Pokemon, the crafting system on Dragon Quest, the quests on Warcraft and so on, some of the characters are based on Echo Bazzar. Too many influences to mention truth be told!
8) If you had 1 Million $/£ what would you spend it on
If I had unlimited money I'd make the game properly free to play, and pay back all the people who have paid for accounts and made donations over the years. Then I'd give the staff some proper wages. After that ... more advertising.
9) Where do you see Grophland in the next 6 months? Year? 3 Years?
I have no idea! The future is an exciting undiscovered country. Hopefully we'll continue to innovate while keeping the place familiar to people who have been users for years. I'd love to grow the average number of people online during my day ... a lot of the users are US based so they are on while I am asleep!
10) What is your favourite part of Grophland and why?
Oh gosh ... there are so many! I have to pick?
Hmmm ... it might be the mountain meadow. That's just a little page where you get a description of the view that changes constantly with the weather and time of year. It doesn't have any other purpose, it's just beautiful little descriptions, a bit of poetry hidden away in the site. There are loads of secret areas like that though, and I love all of them. Sure they aren't surprises to me, because I put them there, but I love that other people stumble on them.
11) Do you have any advice for any budding pet site creators? Artists and coders?
Don't do it if you don't love the process of creation. You have to have endless energy to devote to new ideas, new items, new features. If making those things is a chore then this isn't the style of game for you to write. If I didn't have so much fun making those sorts of things I'd have given up long ago. A virtual pet game is a virtual world that you never stop building. You are telling it's story to your users, and they are telling it back to you. If that sounds like something you'd love you probably made the right choice.
12) Is there a back-story behind the name Grophland?
Honestly, not that I can remember! I think I just wanted to pick some random name from the creatures. Later we stuck land on the end of it, because 'pets' didn't make any sense.