How Raider.IO became an essential tool for the World of Warcraft community

How Raider.IO became an essential tool for the World of Warcraft community

When it comes to World of Warcraft, nothing is more important than the guild you're in and the guildmates you fight alongside. So it stands to reason that, for recruitment purposes, there should be an easy way to see the full overview of a player's career - like a game resume of sorts.

That's exactly what provides. Since its launch in January 2017, it's become the most popular add-on tool in the WoW community, even scoring a partnership with Blizzard to provide open registration for WoW competitions in 2024. Over the years, continued to grow and evolve in order to accommodate the changing state of the game and its players' needs.

The website's founder, Jah Raphael, is also the CTO and Co-Founder of independent game developer ForwardXP. With 20 years of software development under his belt, he created as a testament to his love for the game. We spoke to him about his journey in the games industry, as well as's place in the WoW community.

We spoke to Jah about his journey in the games industry, his experience as a Black man in tech and gaming, and his advice to people coming up in the industry today. Raider.IO has been central to the World of Warcraft and gaming community for almost a decade now and it is only right to hear from the brains behind it.

Q: You’ve been a programmer for over two decades. Can you tell us how you started and what inspired you to go down this path?

A: I come from a family of artists, primarily. My [family members] were painters, poets, musicians, but I always had a pull towards programming. I think what really intrigued me about it was the fact that you could type something into the computer and make something interactive on the screen. That just really engaged my brain at a young age. I felt like back in the day, the amount of things you could choose to do was a lot more limited. And programming was a very natural area to spend time on and to learn about.

Q: As the CTO and co-founder of ForwardXP, you and the team have worked on quite a number of projects before and even after Raider.IO. What’s the most important thing for you when looking to start a project?

A: I started both of them right around the same time, but Raider.IO was always just a fun passion project for me, something that I would work on on nights and weekends. ForwardXP was my main focus.

As far as the projects go, we've really spent a lot of time at Forward XP [developing] and helping other studios with their projects and needs. We always look towards finding partners that we want to be able to work with long term, and projects that have the desired growth potential, meaning that the team will be learning new things as they work to solve whatever challenges.

We definitely think learning is an important part of life and if you're in the tech industry, it moves so fast, so you have to always be learning. This has led us to work with a lot of great studios. We worked with Insomniac Games for a long time, Wizards of the Coast, Skydance Media, and so on.

Q: There are not many Black founders in the virtual and augmented reality space. How has the experience been for you and would you say you’ve seen more representation in the last few years?

A: I definitely think there has been more representation over the years. It's still a pretty young industry, the modern incarnation of VR and AR. But I think in tech, generally, there has continued to be more and more representation. I certainly can remember the early days, where I would be the only person of color in a studio.

Q: You mentioned earlier that Raider.IO was a fun passion project that you work on at night. And now it has become a very popular and useful addon for many World of Warcraft players. Can you tell us more about the story of why you decided to create Raider.IO and how it came to be?

A: At the core, it comes from the fact that I've played World of Warcraft since it launched, and I found that there were certain tools or features that I would want as a player that I wasn’t seeing other people providing.

Raider.IO is sort of the spiritual successor to another site that I created about 15 years ago.  It was a site called WowJutsu, and it was the first of its kind for automatically tracking your progress in World of Warcraft. I ran that for a couple of years, but needed to stop due to some issues. I still played World of Warcraft and was running a World of Warcraft guild, so I kind of had the idea over the years. And then finally, back in 2016, I decided that I wanted to take the plunge again and started to build the foundation of what Raider.IO ended up becoming.

WowJutsu, Raider.IO’s predecessor

Q: Raider.IO has become a very important site for World of Warcraft players. It's a very popular add-on used by a lot of players. Having that impact on the community, how does that make you feel?

A: The impact of Raider.IO on World of Warcraft was really pretty unexpected. I remember being very pleased with WowJutsu, the original site, which got popular and stood out a lot.  

But Raider.IO definitely blew past that and I was not expecting that. Given that I still play World of Warcraft and care about the game, I have a guild that I run and I've spent countless hours working on all aspects of the site, I do find it pretty humbling to see how it's grown to such a scale for something that was just a glimmer in my eye at the start.

There's even been these funny crossovers where I would have business meetings at ForwardXP, with a game studio, then they would learn that I created Raider.IO, and there'd be this moment of nerding out over World of Warcraft. So it's been fun and great.

Q: Raider.IO has a diverse user base with players with different experience levels. How do you ensure that your platform remains inclusive for all?

A: It's an area we do think a lot about. We try to help new players coming into the system as well as returning players coming back to the game. For returning players, we showcase data from their history, even inside the game. So you could come back in a later season, and we would still include some data about your character, saying that you've had experience up to these key levels or raids that will show up in your tooltip. The intent there is to help reduce that friction as a user coming back to the game.

Now, for a brand new user, where you don't have experience in Mythic Plus, or you don't have any raids under your belt, you have to start doing keys. Just start running some things out there, and you'll start to build up that score. Also, with raids, start pugging at little levels and you'll be able to build it up.

I think the biggest challenge is with players who are really good players, but played a really long time ago, so they don't have any recent history. That is still an area of challenge because people will opt for somebody who has recent experience. But that's where leaning into the social side of WoW helps you the best.

Q: A lot of people don’t really know how it is to run a site like Raider.IO, can you give us a rundown and the challenges you and the team encounter?

A: A lot of the biggest challenges just come from the fact that [Raider.IO] is a live service. We have people hitting it every moment of the day, and people will know if it's not available. Things always come up, there'll be random outages, surges of traffic that then cause something to slow down. On top of that, we're always trying to improve the service, find new features to add, and improve existing features. And then, of course, the game is changing. So we always have to stay [up to date] with how the game is evolving and how we can keep the site relevant to its current evolution.

Q: You’ve been in the industry for a long time now but before building Forward XP and Raider. IO. What challenges did you face as a person of color in the tech industry?

A: I’ve certainly heard of and read about a lot of challenges other people of color have faced, but I don't really feel I've encountered too much of it throughout my career. I think I probably get some insulation from being an engineer, where the work can be a lot more of objective evaluation. But then, I also didn't work in a lot of different places. So I was in software for 13 years, and from there I co-founded another studio, then moved over to the acquiring studio, and then eventually co-founded ForwardXP.

However, the one experience where there was some challenge with being a person of color is my name. My name is an unusual one, and I recall people with more standard American names around me, engineers, they would get a lot more outreach from recruiters. I had just as much experience as them, but I wouldn't get it. And so it felt a little bit like that could have been a form of bias, just due to my name.

Q: In addition to Raider, you run a studio and have some unreleased projects you are working on. How do you balance all of this?

A: An important thing is just having great teams on both sides, who can continue to move things forward. Also, the reality is, I just work a lot. I probably work as hard now and as much now as I did even when I was much younger, [but] I've kind of shifted the hours that I work. I don't think I have a great answer on how to balance — there's just a lot to do and I work a lot.

Q: As gaming and esports continue to evolve, what innovations or trends do you believe will shape the future of platforms like Raider.IO and the overall gaming landscape?

A: It seems everything really needs to be implicitly social. There needs to implicitly be some way for people to build their own kind of sub-community within their platform and it seems like something that is only going to continue to grow. As far as things that are going to shape the platforms even further, I'm really curious how generative AI might come into play. I think it has a lot of potential in the space, and it's technology that is under heavy development and growth. We're starting some research and development in that space, but nothing of note yet.

Q: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring developers who want to create tools or platforms for esports communities, based on your experiences with Raider.IO, especially now that the industry is going through a rough patch generally?

A: The most important thing is working on something that you're passionate about. For me, it was World of Warcraft, as it was a game I really enjoyed. It was something I understood well, and it had an ecosystem, where there was enough data for me as an engineer to build something from it.

The other thing is not to underestimate the power of compound work. Just making one improvement to whatever product you're building per week adds up to a lot of improvement over the course of a year. And you know, the more you can keep [going] at one step, making small improvements, it really does add up. And that was really a lot of our mantra at Raider.IO for the first several years. If you look back at how the site started, it was very simple but we just kept at it, and kept making improvements, and we’re constantly still doing that. Eventually, It all adds up, but only if you keep at the little things.

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