Interview with Dan Dickinson, Founder of VJArmy and IIDXicon, Part Two

Continuing from where we left off…

When and why did you decide to start-up VJ Army?

When I started playing (February of 2003), I picked up all four of the CS releases in pretty rapid succession – , then , then , then . But I got frustrated by the inconsistencies in scorekeeping – only 6th had grades, for example. There were also duplicates across the styles that I wanted to see how I was scoring on.

About three months into playing, I wrote a pretty simplistic PHP application to display my scores. I did all the data entry through direct MySQL changes, and that was the seed of life for VJA. The “View User” screen in VJA3 was still using a good chunk of that code. Session mode came three months later as I needed a way to figure out what songs I needed to work on.

By that point, I had IIDX-playing friends begging me to let them use it. I tried packaging up the code but it was fairly horrible to install on their own. So about a year after I started playing, I took a week, hacked in some multi-user support, and opened the site up to friends as a “beta.” A week later, after realizing that about four times as many people as I had sent the site to signed up, I opened it to the public on January 26th, 2004.

Was it difficult to build a community around such an obscure (for the Western market) game?

In one sense, no – the community grew naturally. Word of mouth carried us at first. A bit too far actually, as we got troublemakers before I was really ready for them and had to shut down registration for a month or so. The only bit of advertising that occurred was the signature images; most people threw them into their forum sigs on or and interested people clicked through. It was a very self-selecting crowd.

That said, I don’t think VJA did much to expand the US IIDX community. People got into the game because they liked the game, not because there was this community. Although more than a few people have stated that the community did keep them playing.

A look at scorekeeping on Solid State Squad.

What do you think drew people to joining VJ Army?

At the time it went live – remember, this was during the two-year lull between 6th and – there was really no good way to get a handle on how you were doing at IIDX (without carrying a notebook around). The games didn’t have the level of stat tracking that the hardcore players were craving. I think that helped a lot.

The community was also really strong for a few years. People were helpful to people trying to learn the game. There was an excitement that new CS (console) games were coming again, and it just made for a good environment as DDR wound down for people to pour their energy into.

How did the IIDXicon come about?

is an odd little thing. The original point of it was to have an easy place to toss-up the documentation for the site. and the were an afterthought. But I did realize pretty quickly that there was an advantage in starting to flesh out a song/artist database. There wasn’t a general purpose Bemani wiki.

Ironically, it wasn’t until after I shut down VJA that the handful of people who really love RemyWiki picked it up and ran with it with more song info, more cross-linking and the like. I constantly find it useful. And so does most of the world, if my traffic is any indication. RemyWiki traffic outpaces by a 9:1 ratio.

What do you think distinguished VJ Army from other online gaming communities?

The site exposed that, despite everything I had learned from my time moderating DDRFreak, there were some really awesome people in the US Bemani community. And I think getting all those people into one spot, without a lot of regional distinction or elitism, made it a unique place for a short while.

I also stood by (and continue to stand by) my driving force for building websites. If you’re doing it for money or fame or whatever, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. I ran VJ Army without a profit motivation, without asking for donations, without trying to build it to be something huge, and that helped it thrive. Or at least, not fall apart when things got tough.

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  1. [...] Continuing from part two, enjoy the last few questions as the interview winds down. [...]

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