Since it’s a slow day, I thought I’d do a little thinkpiecing. Sorry-not-sorry about the length. If you’re curious and don’t think my head is too far up my own ass, by all means indulge me and read on.
Why IMVU buying #Furaffinity makes perfect sense (a post nobody asked for)
”They drove a dumptruck full of money up to my house! I’m not made of stone!”
Since news broke last week that IMVU purchased Furaffinity from Dragoneer, there’s been one question that everyone’s been asking: “What does this mean for the site?”
I’m not here to answer that question today. The other question has been: “what the hell is IMVU?”
It’s a private, profitable VC-backed company with 120 full-time employees based out of Mountain View, California. Silicon Valley, through-and-through. But that’s not the question I was looking to address, either.
That question is: “why the hell would IMVU, or anybody, buy FA?”
And from where I’m standing, there are four good reasons.
1. The obvious reason
IMVU says they have over 130 million registered accounts, and there’s no reason to doubt that. FA, meanwhile, has (per Twitter) only 750,000 registered accounts. Those numbers mean absolutely nothing. Anyone can register an account, an account exists for ever, and users can have multiple accounts. A better number to look at would be active users.
Thoroughly unscientific methods (viewing the “active users now” for both sites) show IMVU hovering around 50-75,000 active users, with FA at 10-15,000 at the same time. In other words, FA’s active user base is 20% of IMVU’s. That’s smaller, of course, but not insignificantly smaller. In fact, that’s rather significant.
Who are furries? We can’t pin down the entire fandom, but these days it’s not ridiculous to categorize it three ways: young, affluent, and conservative (as in resistant to change, not politically). That is an incredibly desirable market to have access to.
So what if I told you that you could grow your userbase by 20%, that this growth would be almost exclusively from an ultra-desirable demographic, and that you could buy it for a pittance? Either I’m a liar, or you’d be stupid to pass my offer up.
IMVU isn’t expecting every FA user to jump ship, and it doesn’t need to. It can reach the user base through advertising- and other profit sources, which I’ll get to- and when it pulls a few “whales” into its own ecosystem, all the better.
2. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em
Dragoneer said that the presence of stolen artwork on the IMVU marketplace was proof that there’s demand for furry art. The phrasing was as ham-fisted and tone-deaf as you’d expect from ‘Neer, but it’s not incorrect. In the absence of a legitimate market, grey and black marketeers will move in, and that’s exactly what those sellers are.
IMVU’s profit model revolves selling virtual goods to its users through its stores, but it doesn’t create the content itself. Other users do, and they profit while IMVU takes a slice for itself. It’s hedging its bets that FA, an artist-driven community, will show interest in developing content for them. Not out of any genuine interest on the artists’ part, but because the artists will decide that if someone’s going to profit from their work on IMVU, it might as well be themselves.
Since IMVU uses its own credit system rather than real world money, this hopefully large influx of new content will increase the allure and stickiness of their site. Vendors, making funbux profits, will stick around, and users who’ve invested into IMVU will too.
3. FA is a pile of untaken opportunities
Who is FA’s biggest competitor? “DeviantArt” is a good answer, but here’s another: StoreEnvy. DesignByHumans. Society6. CafePress.
As I said, FA is an artist-driven community, and artists need to eat. Patreon and commissions work, but might not be enough. Artists running the convention circuit sell prints and other merchandise, but not every artist has the time and resources to put into traveling to cons, or designing and creating their own merchandise. Why not offer those services itself, and take a cut?
It’s not fair to pin FA’s inability to partner with its artists entirely on Dragoneer, because building a trustworthy storefront and finding and dealing with quality subcontractors to use (or doing the work in-house, which costs even more!) is not easy work. But it remains an untaken opportunity. Artists have more ways to profit from their work, FA has a new revenue stream, and the site as a whole becomes more attractive.
True, describing art in terms of profits can feel inhumane, but IMVU is a for-profit company and this post is entirely about why buying FA makes good business sense. IMVU has more resources available, and could throw some towards this potential option. Why let artists run to other sites when you could do the work yourself? That work can be turned back onto IMVU as well: if you’re going to sell for FA’s content creators, why not IMVU’s?
4. That four-letter word: synergy
Quick question: what do a 3D dress-up Bratz doll and a thirty-foot-long dog wang have in common?
That’s my 3D dress-up Bratz doll, and that’s my thirty-foot-long dog wang.
Well, not mine personally, but the issue comes down to ownership. This is where IMVU and FA share a very, very important common ground: personas. IMVU users spend money to create idealized versions of themselves, grounded in reality or not. Furries can spend thousands of dollars bringing their characters to life through art, suits, and other media. One of Weasyl’s unsung features is a section on its user page dedicated exclusively to characters that user has.
Both IMVU and FA are in the same business. They might not look alike, but their goals are aligned: let users be who they want to be. IMVU doesn’t have to change anything to incorporate FA into itself, and this is important. Dilbert may have demonized the word, but “synergy” is the best way to describe it.
IMVU purchasing FA gives it access to a worthwhile user base that’s a significant boost to its own numbers, a fount of content creators that can drive its store sales further, potential new revenue streams, and all while staying in line with its corporate goal. And while we’ll never (barring leaks) know what they paid for it, it’s safe to say it was a pittance for what they’ll get in return.
So yeah, IMVU buying Furaffinity makes perfect sense.
But what does it mean???
The heart of my article is done, from here on out is total speculation on my part. If you don’t have an industrial-sized salt shaker, I suggest you get one before reading further.
1. Nothing will change in the short-term.
IMVU has zero interest in killing its investment off. That means there will be no sudden changes in policy. We might see stronger enforcement of existing, since now FA is owned by a company with real income, leadership, and lawyers, but wide-spread, terrifying change is off the menu for now.
2. Dragoneer’s myriad promises might come true.
No thanks to ‘Neer, who’s been making those promises since 2006, but thanks to the engineers and operators over at IMVU. To say that FA is an out-dated, poorly-run site that’s been leap-frogged by its competitors is to understate things. IMVU has a vested interest in changing that. The most obvious steps are relocating the servers to wherever IMVU is hosting theirs, to reduce overhead. Updating the site’s front-end will attract more users, while rebuilding and porting over the back-end will undoubtedly happen but require more time.
The goal will to make things faster, easier, and more scalable. This comes with the added benefit of reducing costs because IMVU will be running fewer servers with less processing overhead. Running Furaffinity isn’t cheap, but it can and should be cheaper.
3. So many ads it’s like Mad Men in here.
I mentioned in the main article that while IMVU won’t convert all of FA’s user base to the IMVU ecosystem, it can still reach them through advertising. I’m not particularly one for ads on sites, but FA’s internal, hyper-targeted advertising has never bothered me. We’ll probably see it expand, though. Will it remain furry? At least in part, but just because FA is a furry site doesn’t mean there aren’t other things furries are interested in. Expect “metrics” to be a thing.
As a side-point to this side-journal, I think there’s a great potential for artists already advertising on FA. If (big if) IMVU keeps the internal advertising, it might expand it to their site. Not every furry artist draws furry exclusively, and as I said before, IMVU is as much about people’s personal personas as FA is. The opportunity to advertise to a broader but likely just-as-engaged user base is nothing but a boon to those artists.
4. ??? …profit!
My crystal ball doesn’t let me know what IMVU’s long-term goals are here. I wouldn’t be surprised if they branch out into other, similar projects, ones that allow users to be who they want to be. Facerig seems like an obvious choice to me. The purpose would either to become the place to go to for idealized personas, or to leverage their way to a buyout. I’d say fifty-fifty.
Expanding IMVU to include furry (and other!) avatars also looks like an obvious choice that would happen sooner. It would reinforce a push to bring FA’s content creators and users over to the IMVU ecosystem, expand the marketplace, and offer users more options overall. Not bad.
5. Dragoneer will be gone when the contract’s up.
The last point! Dragoneer is an IMVU employee now, but that won’t last forever, and likely only happened in the first place because he managed to force it into the purchase terms. There is no reason to be angry at him for “selling out”: if I were in his shoes I probably would have done the same thing. And to be utterly, painfully fair, running a site of FA’s size is a commendable task.
It’s also utterly, painfully fair to say that ‘Neer’s usefulness as the face of FA ended the moment he stopped owning the site. He puts more foot in his mouth than the Donner party, recruits only the worst possible candidates to work on the site, and hasn’t really done anything to improve the FA experience in nearly a decade. The only reasons to keep him on are contractual obligations and inertia, and neither of those last forever.
Am I abandoning FA? I’ll still lurk there, grab commissions from artists there, and look at and favourite art there. But I already left the site in spirit well before the buy-out happened. Do I think other people should run? The site’s in more capable hands, but I’d keep watching over my shoulder anyway.
22 March 2015 at 10:40:14 MDT