With a fantasy land she designed, one student makes very real money

“the idea of Internet popularity. The richer you are, the more popular you are,” Aywas.com creator Julie Kossler said.

By Sonia Hinson

On this Web site, users age 16 and up collect Japanese-style cartoon pets including dogs, birds, cats, and insects by exploring different regions of a mythical land. No, it’s not Neopets; it’s Aywas.com, and it’s run by a U of C student.

Julie Kossler, a fourth-year public policy major, is the administrator and owner of the Web site, which she said has been extremely profitable since it started at the beginning of October.

Kossler said her hobby is online programming. Aywas was not her first Web site, but the many others she’s had in the past all eventually failed.

“I had an idea, but I was not familiar with the mechanics of programming,” she said.

But with the success of Aywas, she is thinking about making it a career, creating a limited liability company and developing more games under that umbrella. Awyas raked in $15,000 in its first month, funded by its 1,670 users. In spite of the success of her site, Kossler said she didn’t know of any U of C users.

“The first month always makes the most money, but there is no guarantee it is going to make the same amount of revenue in the following months,” Kossler said. “The second month we will probably make $10,000. December is also a high revenue month, but then in January everyone has spent all their money so it drops down again.”

Once Aywas users are registered and approved by an admin, they can play games, chat with users in the forums, and earn “Blue Paws,” the game’s online currency. But you don’t have to win a lot to become a powerful player on Aywas; for one “real-world” dollar, players can buy one “Gold Paw” (GP), and discounts are given for bulk purchases.

Kossler’s job includes writing posts on the Web site detailing news and pet descriptions, working with artists to design the new pets and items for the pets, and deciding when to release them on the Web site. She earns money through the purchase of GP.

“It’s all about instant gratification; you can find throughout the game,” she said. Users who buy GP can immediately receive virtual items that Kossler said can “enhance their gaming experience” by advancing them to the next level instead of leaving users in search of free items in the Aywas world. Items include pet housing, the ability to customize one’s pet, and access to special edition pets.

Kossler said increasing a person’s pet collection motivates many users to play Aywas and spend money on the game. “There are six types of pets, and people might want all of a certain type of pet, or they are constantly moving to get all 300 pets,” she said.

So far, there are 14 species to choose from and 44,020 pets. There have been 76,595 visits since October 1, averaging 2,470 visits a day, with users staying on the site an average 31 minutes and 39 seconds.

Sara Williams, an Aywas user and student at Northwest Arkansas Community College, was in Chicago recently to meet Kossler. She said that she hasn’t bought GP yet because her budget didn’t allow it. The fact that she has never bought GP does not discourage her from playing.

“I collect pets that best match my character and personality. I have never been really into collecting all of them,” Williams said.

Kossler said another reason people have more pets and money is “the idea of Internet popularity. The richer you are, the more popular you are. You’re seen as a higher quality user.”

Kossler shared a piece of advice for students who are interested in starting up their own Web site: “A Web site can be cheap, good, or fast, but it can only be two of them.”

An updated beta version of Aywas.com will be released in December, according to the Web site.