Bournemouth University has produced notable alumni over the years consisting of BBC news correspondents, Radio 1 producers, Oscar-winning animators, and now Pokemon webmasters.
30-year-old Joe Merrick started Serebii.net, a Pokemon fan website, while studying at secondary school. However, since then the website has gained huge support from the Pokemon fan community and it now receives a greater number of hits than any other Pokemon website in the world (including the official Pokemon website).
Joe spoke exclusively to Nerve Media about how he turned his love of Pokemon into a career, how he first developed Serebii.net, and what it’s like to be a public figure within the Pokemon community.
For those unaware, the title Serebii is the literal translation for the mythical Pokemon Celebi. When Joe first started Serebii.net, Celebi was a very secret Pokemon with the ability to time-travel, which immediately attracted the interest of Joe, a fan of time-travelling fiction. Serebii.net typically attracts 300,000 unique website hits per day and during the release of the latest 3ds Pokemon games, Pokemon Sun and Moon, it attracted over 2 million per day.
Although Serebii.net is now Joe’s life, it wasn’t his planned career choice. He explained:
“I actually always wanted to be an actor, that was what I was aiming for during my teenage years, but then I just started the site Serebii on one school day at lunch time and it just kind of snowballed and started getting popular when I was sixteen. Then I just continued it on and gradually it became more and more of a big thing and now it’s what I constantly do.”
Joe told Nerve that his friends were aware of the project whilst he was creating it during school, he said:
“Yeah, a few of them knew what I was doing. At school we just went to the IT rooms at lunch, and so I built it on a whim, learnt how to code from it, I reverse engineered from websites at the time, then I did it, my friends knew about it and they still do, they are quite shocked.”
Although Serebii’s popularity has rocketed since his school days, Joe didn’t start making a career from Serebii.net until he added two advertisement banners to the website during the release of the hit Gameboy Advance games Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. Joe did this to help pay for the charges for hosting your own website, however, since leaving University (graduating from a computer and internet technology course), the growing popularity of Serebii has meant that he has been able to live off the website’s profits.
Serebii has also provided Joe with some very exclusive opportunities and in 2004 he was approached to write a freelance article for Nintendo’s official magazine and produced an eight page feature for the Gameboy Advance game Pokemon Emerald.
I’ve always made the promise to myself that if Serebii ever started feeling like a chore to do, I’d stop doing it.
For those unaware of what Serebii.net does, the main objective of the website is to provide any information that a person could possibly want about the Pokemon games, the Pokemon anime, and the Pokemon cards. Also, If you want to know where an item is Serebii has got a database for it. It is for these reasons that Serebii.net has become popular among Pokemon fans. However, Joe had no idea he had become such a popular figure in the Pokemon community, and it was only after his girlfriend convinced him to go to Pokemon events that he realised this. He told us:
“My girlfriend told me people appreciate what I do and I need to go and meet the fans, and I said people aren’t fans of me, but apparently they are. When I go to events people ask me to sign things and for selfies it completely threw me when that happened! It’s mostly here, there’s national championships every year here, for trading card games and video games. Some people even bring along stuff in the hope that you would sign it, it’s very heart-warming. It really throws me, I’m not normally one who gets emotional but it’s like wow!”
Serebii’s other main objective is to report the latest Pokemon news from around the world. However, as most Pokemon news originates in Japan, Joe has to wake up in the middle of the night to break the news to a Western audience. He explained the extent to his unsociable hours:
“It really depends, a lot of the time there’s very little to do so 3-4 hours a week but the rest of the time it’s like every waking moment. But because games are becoming a service with instrumental updates every week, that’s starting to take much more time and causing me to wake at ridiculous hours, because they update at ridiculous hours, because they update in Japan first, so every Friday I have to be up at 4 am.”
Despite this, Joe is satisfied with his working patterns, which allow him to be free. He said:
“My friends know that I may have to cancel plans at a moment’s notice, and they’re happy with that, but I can do anything I want, if I want to go out I can go out if I want to go to the world championships I can, I don’t have to ask my boss.”
Last year Pokemon celebrated its 20th anniversary and is now in its seventh generation, Joe told us that he is positive Serebii.net will continue to receive fans along with the Pokemon franchise. He joked:
“At least I hope so because my skillsets have diminished a bit, but the thing is I’ve made contacts around so if the site goes down the pan, I can leverage contacts to get a job in the industry still. But I’m going to continue doing the site for as long as I can.
Upon finishing the interview with Nerve Media, Joe left us with some valuable advice which he hoped we would pass on to our AUB and BU readership. He said:
“Follow your passion, make sure you’re doing something because you’re enjoying it not because you feel you have to do it. That’s one thing that I’m really keen on. I’ve always made the promise to myself that if Serebii ever started feeling like a chore to do, I’d stop doing it, it should be a fun well-paying hobby. Also, don’t try emulating what other people are doing, because when I started there were a lot of Pokemon websites covering similar stuff, but no one was covering the Japanese side of things and that’s where I got in, so find your niche, find something unique, just be brilliant!”