A few weeks ago we got the chance to sit down with Maple.FM’s owner and head programmer, Alexandria, and talk about the newest site on the fan site scene. Maple.FM popped into the MapleStory web around the turn of the new year and has since garnered much criticism and acclaim from members of the MapleStory community.
For those of you who aren’t already aware of the site, Maple.FM is an online, real time, interactive database for browsing the free market throughout MapleGlobal. Users are able to browse each server’s listings by searching for shops, items, and IGN’s. The site also contains a searchable database (similar to Hidden Street, though not as organized) which displays item stats and any current listings. In the last few weeks they have also implemented real-time population statistics (courtesy of MWLR) that updates every minute and a forum community.
The legitimacy of Maple.FM with regard to intellectual property laws as well as Nexon America’s Terms of Service has been brought up by numerous members of the MapleStory community. Both sides, those for and against the site, have engaged in vehement discussions questioning the fate of the site. It is no secret that Maple.FM allows users to search the free market free of charge which essentially makes the Cash Shop item, The Owl of Minerva, obsolete. Originally costing 700 NX (then discounted to 400 NX), the Owl of Minerva allows users to search for one item in the free market on their current channel. Nexon has yet to take action against the site – or sanction it – but given the extremely litigious nature of Nexon America and its parent company, Nexon Korea, against private servers and hacking sites that threaten to negatively affect profits, it is not an exaggeration to say Maple.FM is sailing in some treacherous waters.
Alexandria was kind enough to candidly speak with us about her own history in the MapleStory community, the modest beginnings of Maple.FM, and the future of the site. Check out our full interview below.
Maple Monthly: Maple.FM debuted last month and since then has garnered quite a userbase. Did you expect such immediate success and what do you attribute it to?
Alexandria, Maple.FM Administrator: I was fairly surprised with how quickly Maple.FM has gained popularity. Nowadays, we get on average about 5,500 unique visitors and 35,000 ~ 45,000 page views a day. I believe this is due for two primary reasons. A quick look at Google Analytics shows that over half of our userbase has come from maplestorystatus.com. Other than that, we attribute our increasing popularity to word of mouth.
MM: What inspired you to start the site?
A: A good friend of mine who goes by the moniker MSStatus on maplestorystatus.com and maple.fm put the idea in my head and coaxed me into making the site. However, what eventually pushed me over the edge and made me decide that, yes, we were going to make Maple.fm, was another site by the name of maplefm.com. I’d used the site in the past to look up items on the Free Market, and I liked the idea. I had an issue with how the site owner handled business, though. I disagreed with having ads block the content, and I severely disagreed with forcing users to pay in order to get up-to-date information. I believe information should be free, and that’s one of the main principles of Maple.fm.
MM: There have been sites in the past that have attempted an interactive Free Market database like Maple.FM, but failed. What did your team do differently?
A: The only site I know of that has attempted this before is maplefm.com. Our team went about this problem with a different ideology and skill-set. Like I mentioned in a previous answer, we believe information should be free and readily accessible by anyone. We also believe that profit is secondary to functionality and ease of use. What this means is that we’re not afraid to sacrifice profit if it makes the end user happy at the end of the day. Furthermore, we try our best to keep the website itself clean, simple, and easy to use. Advanced features are nice, but they shouldn’t make navigation for new users any more difficult.
MM: Maple.FM has taken fire from various community leaders because of its use of bots in the Free Market and practices that allegedly violate the MapleStory Terms of Service. Can you explain what Maple.FM does to gather item information and how that relates to the ToS?
A: MSStatus would be able to answer this question better than I can. He’s in charge of gathering the Free Market information. On my end of things, all I do is provide a simple and private API that he can upload information to. How he gets this information isn’t that much of a concern to me.
MM: Is the use of bots necessary to the function of your site? Those in the MapleStory community argue there is a less intrusive way of obtaining shop information.
A: I’m not sure. We’re always open to new ideas and suggestions, so we would love to hear what the MapleStory community has to say on this matter. If the community can provide a better solution to what we’re using, we’re all for trying it out.
MM: Maple.FM has effectively eliminated the need for the Owl of Minerva. Was this intentional and do you foresee any issues given Nexon’s history of taking a strong stance against services, such as private servers, that they believe take away potential revenue?
A: This was an unfortunate side-effect of our site. We’re trying to get in contact with Nexon about this issue so that we can see what they have to say on the matter. We want to work with Nexon, and we leave any decisions about the future of the site in their hands.
MM: Is Maple.FM actively pursuing official MapleStory fan site status?
A: Yes, we are, in fact, pursuing active MapleStory fan site status. Tyler has been instrumental in this regard.
MM: How did you initially get into MapleStory and coding?
A: My very first interest with programming started when I was between the ages of 10-12. It was a disaster. I tried learning with C++ and an extremely heavy usage of goto statements. My second attempt was with Dark Basic in high school. It wasn’t until college, though, that I really got into the swing of things.
After a few semesters of programming courses, a friend wanted me to play MapleStory with him. I decided to make an Aran, and so started by adventures in Scania. After a while, there was something known as the “golden egg” event going on. Some people were able to spam the messages for this event, and I thought it rather strange.
Eventually, I decided to figure out what was going on. I quickly stumbled upon a YouTube video advertising a “bad site.” Over the next month or so, I dabbled around on the site before getting swept up in WoW once more.
Not many people know this, but I actually hosted a WoW private server for myself and a few close friends. It wasn’t publicly accessible, but I did create some fun stuff on there. Anyways, this culminated in me creating my first program that could be used to “hack” a game. It wasn’t intentional, actually. The program was designed so I could move the world around on my private server and swap the tiles so I could play sort of a pseudo-Cataclysm before Cataclysm was released.
While this tool I developed wasn’t that involved, it gave me the motivation I needed to continue and improve upon my skills. At this point, I unfortunately got involved in some not-so-good projects which I now regret because it was related to a “bad site.” I can’t take back the decisions I made in the past, although I feel these same skills can help create positive changes and provide some great features to our community.
MM: Will Maple.FM change with the addition of the Auciton House to MapleStory? If so, how?
A: This depends in part on Nexon. I would love to have a better Auction House interface on Maple.fm, but we probably won’t include it if Nexon doesn’t have free searches by default for the Auction House.
MM: What are your plans for the future of Maple.FM?
A: Depending on how things go with Nexon, we would love to expand Maple.fm to include SEA, EMS, KMS, JMS, TMS, and so on. We also want to offer a “better hidden-street” experience. Our goal is something akin to WoWHead, except for MapleStory.
MM: Why did you decide to bring Tyler on board?
A: I decided to bring Tyler on board, because he really fit with what my goals are for Maple.fm. When making decisions like this, there are a few things I look for: experience, motivation, honesty, and willingness to learn. Tyler has proven his experience with Twitter Bootstrap as well as PHP, and it’s hard to doubt his motivation and willingness to learn. There have been times where I’ve shown him an alternative way to do things, and he picked up on it very quickly. He’s taught me a few things as well. In fact, he’s the reason we’re using a proper one-click deploy system with Beanstalk now.
MM: You recently removed ads from the site. Can you tell us why?
A: Our decision to remove ads was actually spurred on by Tyler. We had been receiving a lot of flak from various players within the MapleStory community regarding ads. In response to this, we decided it was in our best interest to remove ads for the time being.
MM: The big question on the mind of many maplers, do you believe Nexon will allow you to remain online?
A: I believe Maple.fm has a chance of remaining online as it appears Nexon America has made recent strides to improve their outreach to the communiy, fansites, and players in general. With these new changes, we’re hoping for the best.
MM: Will an automatic page refresh be implemented in the near future?
A: An automatic page refresh could be technologically challenging to implement, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibilities.
MM: How is the average price for the % section determined?
A: The % is, for now, the average mean price of sold items over the last 30 days. We try to only include “clean” items in our calculation, but this was a rather recent change and won’t be fully reflected in the % for at least a few more weeks. Once we get around to writing our maintenance tool for the backend, we’ll be able to modify our algorithm for determining the %. At that time, it will be a weighted mean average based on recency, where more recent transactions will be weighted more heavily. We’ll try to get around to including exactly how the algorithm works later on in our FAQ at http://maple.fm/faq.
MM: Are you planning to add more personalized options such as notifications for cheap sales or updates from shops you frequent?
A: Yes, we are! Eventually we plan on allowing users to register so that they can put items on a “wish list” of sorts. We’ll be able to give out notifications to people when we detect cheap items and so on. For example, let’s say the user Bob wants a Wooden Sword with at least 40% boss damage on it, and he’s willing to pay 42,000,000 mesos. If we see a Wooden Sword that matches or exceeds his expectations, we’ll be able to notify him either through e-mail or a “PM” on the site. This will hopefully be added soon(TM).
Side note: This is actually half way correct. I was never involved with private servers for MapleStory. The only kind of private server I’ve been involved in was my own extremely private WoW server, which was only played on by my brother, two of my close friends, and myself.
About two years ago, yes, I was involved in a lawsuit with Nexon. I am still doing my best to abide by the terms of that lawsuit.
It’s kind of funny, actually. Even to this day I still get people asking me if I’ll make them a packet editor or something for a game owned by Nexon. My answer is always the same: absolutely not.