IMVU buys Fur Affinity; furry fans respond
3D chat service IMVU has bought furry art community Fur Affinity for an undisclosed sum. According to the announcement, "FA will continue to operate independently", and former owner Dragoneer says he remains "in charge of the site, direction and improvements".
IMVU, which bills itself as "the world's largest 3D Chat and Dress-Up community", has marketed its service to furry fans since at least 2009. The company proposes to monetize their January 2015 purchase through "added advertising" presented via "an improved experience", rather than "taking FA content, redistributing it, reposting it, using it in-game".
IMVU is a venture-funded company which makes its money selling virtual goods and user eyeballs (which until recently included encouraging desktop users to install 'Search Protection' software). They had a table at Further Confusion 2015, even posting a promo video [Patch Packrat]. In an announcement on IMVU's forums, IMVU staffer Varsha explains the rationale for the purchase of Fur Affinity, which she presents as "a community centered around sketching and animations":
This started with IMVU advertising its services to the FA community, which led to further discussions about the obvious overlap among our members. Both IMVU and FA community members love to socialize and connect anonymously with people from around the world with diverse backgrounds. Both communities express their artistic and creative skills in a variety of ways - via their anthromorphic and furry art, photographs, outfits, and scenes and more. So our partnership was the natural and reasonable conclusion to bring these similar and often already connected communities together officially.
[…] the only input we have in FA is ensuring the site administrator has appropriate resources to make improvements to the site that he has been wanting to make. We are not implementing any subscription services for FA or generally making any changes to the way that community operates. As to what we gain is what we included in our announcement - bringing together communities that share common interests and advertising on the FA site.
Update (21 March): The advertising that we are talking about is not ads for the IMVU service on FA site. We will be monetizing the FA site traffic by selling ad space to third parties - ads will be unobtrusive and targeted to the community interests.
Dragoneer (who is now listed as 'Community Lead' at IMVU on LinkedIn) gave his own perspective in a personal journal:
I've always wanted to be able to work on FA full time, improve the site, and really invest into the community. Towards the end of last year, my free time plummeted drastically. I worked for Amazon AWS, keeping the cloud fluffy and sites like Netflix and Reddit happy with all the kibbles and bits they could offer. I was also working upwards of 80 hours a week, denied vacation, denied days off, even threatened by management over wanting to take a day off for Thanksgiving.
Things got bad.
Through December, I received many offers to sell FA. Some wanted the site just to turn it into a store front, but in doing so wanted to dismantle the site. Others wanted to buy it LITERALLY just to shut it down. I didn't want any of that. Money was good, and some really high figures were thrown out, but I legitimately care about the community. I haven't done this for 10 years out of my own time and energy just to see someone come in and rip it apart.
IMVU offered to help the site with funding and support the site as is. They're the only group who didn't want to tear it down, but help build it up. That group: IMVU. They wanted to help fund the site and support it in order to help grow their large furry community base. That was it. Their goal was solely to grow the community. They get more users, we get more users. Everything works out.
IMVU has been hands-off on the site, and have been doing nothing but supporting us and helping us make the improvements we need.
IMVU is to pay for future "coding and technical support". FA is also getting "a new app server with 16-cores, full SSD and a storage server with 48TB of space"; it's unclear if this was bought by IMVU. When the October donation drive was raised, Dragoneer said "The donation drive money went into purchasing new gear for the site, investing in DDOS protection, procuring goods and was used for the site." [editor's links]
One example of the other offers mentioned by Dragoneer was provided by Trapa, who proposed to value Fur Affinity at $50,000 and find investors to buy 54% of it, distributed six ways, with voting rights to be held by a board of directors including Chase and Dragoneer.
— ?Kewne? (@BlueKewne) March 19, 2015
While IMVU's target audience clearly includes furry fandom, their coining of the hashtag #furrific and claims to have a furry community led to derision, and promotion of Luskwood by Second Life (which was in turn called hypocritical by a Luskwood founder).
IMVU user and furry creator Akena notes that "the Furry Community has all but fizzled out here these days compared to even a few years ago", while LilbButterX3 warns that "IMVU is a money hungry program who tries to squeeze every penny out of there users if they can. […] ALWAYS spamming peoples inbox's with daily promotions to buy credits for their site every day and there is no way to turn this off."
Imvu does not care about their customers. They don't even care about their content creators - the very people who, without them, imvu would be absolutely nothing. They never listen to what their users ask for - or if they do, they add the requested feature under the vip package which is a monthly paid subscription. Not to mention that they love to take previously available features that you could have forever and tack it into the vip subscription to make it monthly too.
A lack of integration may be for the best, as according to Fur Affinity user XSlowLotusx, furries are not well-liked on IMVU, and their "furkinis" are seen by some as an excuse for nudity in general-rated areas. [IMVU does not permit depiction of sex; nudity requires a paid access pass.]
Several compared the purchase to Yahoo's acquisition of Tumblr, saying it resulted in the closure of pornograpic blogs. More positively, Nimbus Wolf suggested that IMVU's development team (engineering blog) "might actually be able to fix the site", though one IMVU user had doubts. Others expressed fears that FA-hosted artwork would be adapted by IMVU for in-game or promotional use, leading to official posts on the topic.
On a lighter note, furry artist SOLIDASP gave their impression of FA's mascot Fender would look like in IMVU, while fantasy adult toy maker Bad Dragon announced their intent to create a furry community site - tying in with the first comments to FA's posts on the topic.
"Fur friendly" art site Weasyl experienced a traffic spike on the night of the announcement, while Inkbunny saw ~15% more users than normal; responses similar to those seen in past instances of 'drama' or downtime involving Fur Affinity.
A new trend?
Changes in furry site ownership are common, as personal interests and priorities change; Fur Affinity itself was bought by Dragoneer from Alkora in 2007 (though Arcturus just claimed that he owns "50%" of Fur Affinity [tip: Higgs Raccoon], apparently based on being an early host); Inkbunny, Flayrah and the Yerf archive were transferred to GreenReaper in recent years; and Weasyl moved from Kihari to Inaki last November. However, these have all been fan-to-fan transfers; like furry conventions, furry communities tend not to be run for the owners' personal profit.
There have been instances of corporate sponsorship at conventions (e.g. Monster Energy drinks and Furry Weekend Atlanta), and Second Life and LiveJournal have recognized the impact of furries in the past, but external investments and acquisitions of furry businesses are uncommon. Whether this one will pay off for IMVU and its investors remains to be seen, but the result is likely to be noted by similar companies.
We are proud to announce Fur Affinity has joined the IMVU family. Fur Affinity (formerly a part of Ferrox Art LLC) was acquired by IMVU earlier this year in January 2015. We are looking forward to the partnership allowing both FA and IMVU to grow and foster the furry community and to celebrate its unique talents, creativity and self-expression.
As you know, IMVU has previously advertised their services to our community, which led to further discussions about the obvious overlap among our members. Both IMVU and FA community members love to socialize and connect anonymously with people from around the world with diverse backgrounds, talents, and creative histories. They both express their artistic and creative skills in a variety of ways - via artwork, storytelling, fursuiting, crafts and more! Our partnership was the natural and reasonable conclusion to bring these similar and often already connected communities together officially.
Going forward, FA will continue to operate independently but with IMVU’s support and resources to upgrade our services. We can now work on improving our infrastructure, adding more storage, making performance improvements and improved coding support to reach our full potential. As a community member, the only difference you will notice is a better, smoother experience and increased functionality of the site as time goes on.
FA started with a dream and a roll of duct tape, but grew and thrived thanks to the support of our community. We became one of the top 5,000 sites globally, 1,500 sites within the United States. The future remains bright, and together we can aim to reach even higher.
We look forward to having you continue to participate in our community, be creative, be proud, and, above all else, have fun. You are unlikely to notice any changes apart from an improved experience on the site and some added advertising.