• 5 February 2013 17:19:57

    Blog piece: Ads, Supporters, Endorsements and Bandwidth Throttling

    posted by Dark0ne Site News
    I want to use this article to talk about the ads on the Nexus network, the introduction of a new ad format and the choices we’re going to offer you in regards to these ads. We’re making Supporter membership an ad-free experience for the one-off cost of £1 and I’ll also be delving into how we’re planning to incentivise the endorsement system a little to try and increase the download-to-endorsement ratio for mod authors. First let me explain our bandwidth throttling system, which is going to be used to incentivise aspects of the the site explained later on in the article.

    Last October when we upgraded the download system we improved our bandwidth throttling capabilities and upped the bandwidth limit on the site for normal members from 500kb/sec to 1MB/sec. The increase is obviously good, because you should be getting faster downloads, though it’s confused some people as the bandwidth limit is across all your files you’re downloading. So if you’re downloading 1 file, the maximum speed you can get is 1MB/sec. If you’re download 4 files the maximum speed you can get across all your files is 1MB/sec, or 250kb/sec per file if it averages out. So the more files you concurrently download, the slower speeds you’ll get across all of them. I wanted this more manageable bandwidth throttling in place so that we could provide incentives for members of this community who help the site, or who are particularly productive and active.

    Something I touched on in my last blog post was the financial side of the Nexus; what I do in regards to money, why I do it and how the sites cope. We’re planning on completely overhauling the server infrastructure of the network this year to massively improve reliability and sustainability into the foreseeable future. The obvious obstacle in such an endeavour is the huge cost, and it’s my job to find ways to not only afford our current overheads but also to save up for this new infrastructure on top of all the current overheads.

    As a network we have huge overheads to pay for; 18 super powerful servers, an average bandwidth consumption of 2.8Gbit/second (which is over 800TB of bandwidth a month), 4 dedicated, full-time programmers for the sites and NMM, software expenses, accounting and so on and so forth. As you can imagine, the costs are extremely high, but we do get by.

    We get by for two reasons; ads, and Premium Members. They’re both ridiculously important to the survival of these sites, and if either source were to dry up then the Nexus would no longer exist. That’s not scaremongering, that’s just a fact. We can’t run these sites completely ad free like, for instance, Steam Workshop can because, unlike Valve, we can’t subsidise our mod distribution service with the ridiculous profits we’re taking from sales of games on Steam. Mods are our primary dedication, not a secondary service we provide as a means to bolster our primary sales business.

    There’s two inherent problems with ads. The first is my lack of focus on direct ad sales, that I touched on in my last blog post, which means that we scrape the barrel in terms of ad revenue. Because we’re not directly selling our inventory to premium advertisers we’re not making mega-bucks off of them like the big gaming powerhouses with their huge ad sales teams. The second is the prevalence of ad blockers on the internet. Software and plugins like AdBlock and NoScript are extremely simple to install programs that eradicate almost all the adverts on the internet. And that’s great for you, because no one likes seeing ads. But it’s not great for webmasters out there who rely on advertising to afford the upkeep on the sites.

    There’s various different reasons why people use adblockers. We all hate ads, and if you have a choice then you’d obviously choose to not see ads over seeing ads. Some people worry about security, some people just don’t care about the sites they’re visiting and just want an ad free experience, and others seem to understand that websites need to make money to afford the upkeep but think that their adblocking doesn’t affect revenue as they never look at/click on the ads when browsing anyway. And that’s where you’d be wrong. To clarify the point, I’ll quickly explain the three main advertising revenue models; CPA, CPC and CPM:

    • The Cost Per Action model pays out money for a specific action a user might perform after clicking an ad. Say it’s an ad to sign up for a second hand car newsletter. If you click the ad and add your email address to the newsletter, there’ll be a payout for the displayer of the ad.
    • The Cost Per Click model pays out money when a user actually clicks on an advert on a site. Pretty self explanatory.
    • The Cost Per Mille models pays out money per one thousand (mille) impressions shown. You don’t need to interact with the advert to be paid, you don’t even need to click on it. If that ad gets shown to the user, you’ll get paid. And that’s what we use.

    So as we use the CPM model of advertising, you can see that even if you never look at an ad and certainly never click on one, just by that ad being shown you’re helping to support the site through ads. The same cannot be said if you use an adblocker because the ad never gets shown.

    In this day and age I have a lot of respect for those people who could install an adblocker but don’t, or for those people who have an adblocker installed but choose to disable it on the sites they like and want to support. Even if you can’t afford a Premium Membership, If you do this, you’re supporting the Nexus financially and helping to pay for the upkeep of the sites. Without you, we couldn’t afford to keep these sites running. And I respect that.

    It’s at this point you hit this sort of moral dilemma. You’re a webmaster running a site that absolutely depends on the advertising revenue from the sites in order to keep them up and going. There are people out there either not using adblockers or who are using adblockers but have them disabled when browsing the site. These people get a lesser browsing experience with ads, but they’re helping to support the upkeep of these sites. And then there are people out there who are blocking the ads on this site, and getting a better browsing experience for it, and who contribute nothing to the upkeep of these sites. Is it fair? If you’re an advocate of adblockers you’d probably say yes, it’s fair. As a webmaster who relies on advertising revenue, I’d say no. It’s not fair.

    The inherent problem is thus; if everyone visiting these sites blocked the ads then this site would no longer exist. Once again, that’s not scare or guilt mongering, that’s a fact. I don’t think it’s fair that people who choose to see the ads should get a worse experience browsing these sites than those people who choose not to see the ads but who don’t help to support the sites.

    So what am I going to do? Two things.

    First of all we have two different types of financial incentives on this site, that can be purchased through your account on the forums. Supporters and Premium Membership. Premium Membership provides all sorts of bells and whistles to your Nexus experience like uncapped downloads, multi-threaded downloads, Premium only file servers, full download history and so on. It ranges in cost from £2.49 a month (around $4) to £39.99 for a lifetime membership (around $64). If you buy a timed Premium Membership, let it expire and then don’t renew the payment we move you automatically into the Supporter membergroup. You have supported these sites financially, and you deserve to be recognised even after your payment has expired.

    A Supporter membership on the network costs £1 (around $1.60). It’s a one-off payment that makes your account a Supporter account for life and it works on all Nexus sites, current and future. You get a couple of very minor bonuses like access to the Supporter-only Image Share section and an increase in your Private Message capacity from 100 to 500. We’re now going to make it so that Supporter memberships also provide an ad-free experience on the sites.

    Why make Supporter membership ad-free? It’s very simple really; if everyone who used this site for more than a couple of downloads donated a one-off £1 payment to the upkeep of these sites then not only could we get rid of all the advertisements completely, but we would have around 15 programmers, a server network that would only go down if Skynet attacked, no download speed limits and an all round better experience. So it makes sense that, for the princely sum of £1, you have more than paid your dues to the Nexus and you should be rewarded with a completely ad free experience.

    When I look at the reasons people give for why they use adblockers I often see “ad free membership is too expensive”. I don’t think that argument could be used here now.

    That’s the first thing we’re going to do, and we’ll implement that within the next month. The second thing we’re going to do is drop the download speed limit on the Nexus to 750kb/sec, a 25% drop on the current 1MB/sec download speeds. What we’re then going to do is run some code that will tell us if you’re seeing our ads or not. If you’re seeing our ads, we’re going to provide you with a bonus download speed of 250kb/sec, to take you back up to the original 1MB/sec. You’re helping to financially support these sites, and I honestly believe you deserve a service above those people who do not.

    I want to be careful here and ensure that we don’t cripple the crap out of the service we provide to people using adblockers. If you want to use an adblocker and block the ads on this site then that’s completely your prerogative, and I don’t want to do something silly like say “you can’t download unless you turn it off”. That’s dumb and it causes unnecessary friction between you and the site, and that is not my intention. My intention is to recognise those people who do not block the ads on this site and incentivise the support their showing by having the ads turned on. You use an adblocker out of choice, and now you can decide whether not seeing ads on this site is worth a slower download speed or not. I’m sure most of you will still prefer to not see ads for whatever reasons you might have to use the adblocker in the first place. That’s absolutely fine, that’s completely your choice, and for you, your use of these sites will basically be exactly the same apart from some slightly slower download speeds.

    Once again, that’s something we’ll implement in to the sites over the coming month.

    Before I move on from talking about adblockers, I just want to add a quick note. Some people even go the extra mile and ask me if clicking the ads every once in awhile would help us more. While I thank you very much for even considering the idea my answer is always the same; please only click on an ad if you’re actually interested in what the ad is about. It serves no purpose for you or us if you just click an ad for the sake of clicking it. It artificially inflates our numbers and doesn’t help the advertisers who want to see a return on their investment. So once again, thanks a lot for even thinking about it, but honestly, don’t bother unless you actually like what you see.

    Lastly, on the ad front itself, I want to announce my intention of adding a new ad format to the sites on top of the current ad formats. Site skin ads. You’ve probably seen them around on other sites if you run at resolutions above 1152 pixel widths; they’re ads that make use of the blank spaces either side of the central content area. It is my intention to start selling this space to gaming-related only advertisers in the not too distant future. Now, before you grab your torch and pitchfork I’m going to put your fears to rest. I know site skins can be really annoying. I know, because they annoy me when I visit other sites. So this is going to be optional, and you’re going to be able to turn them off in your preferences. And why would you not want to turn them off? Well, aside from the fact they’re going to help to pay for all the new servers we’re buying, we’re going to incentivise it with the bandwidth throttling again. If you choose to leave the site skins on, we’ll give you a further 250kb/sec bump on your bandwidth, for a total of 1.25MB/sec speeds. Ooooo, aaaaaah. And we won’t penalise you if you turn them off. So if you use an adblocker and block all the ads, you’ll get download speeds of 750kb/sec irrespective of any settings. If you have ads on but block the site skins in your preferences you’ll get 1MB/sec. If you have everything on you’ll get 1.25MB/sec. It’s not exactly much, I know, but the thought of providing (even slightly) better service to those people who grin and bare the pain of ads at least makes me feel better, while helping to support the upkeep of the sites.

    Right, I’m done talking about ads now. I’m already 2,200 words in and I’ve still got to talk about how we’re going to incentivise the endorsement system.

    So the endorsement system. The endorsement system is there to provide mod authors with a feel good factor; a feeling that what they’ve uploaded to the sites is actually being used, and liked, by others. It tells them that they’ve done well. So what’s the problem? The problem is the very low download to endorsement ratios currently on the site.

    If we take the most endorsed file on Skyrim Nexus as a case study, SkyUI, we see it has 32,501 endorsements and 1.01 million unique downloads. So of the 1.01 million individual people who have downloaded the mod, only 32,500 have endorse it. As a percentage that means only 3.2% of people who downloaded SkyUI actually bothered to endorse it. Now you could try to argue that perhaps on 3.2% of people actually still use SkyUI, or actually like it, but I think you’d be very, very wrong. Using SkyUI as an example is slightly biased as they’re at the high end of the percentage scale, most other files have much lower download to endorsement ratios, and these sorts of percentages can dishearten some mod authors.

    So what can we do to try and get more people using the endorsement system? Let me think, let me think...oh yes, our bandwidth throttling system! Here’s the plan:

    We’re going to provide increased download speeds to those users of the site who make use of the endorsement system extensively. If you have endorsed 75% or more of the mods you’ve downloaded over the past 30 days then we’ll give you a speed increase. Say, an extra 250kb/sec. But wait, there’s an obvious problem with this, isn’t there? If you say to people “endorse all your mods and you can download faster” what are they going to do? They’re going to endorse all the mods irrespective of whether they think the mod was worth endorsing or not. I can see lots of mod authors liking THAT idea, but I don’t. I want the endorsement system to at least have some sort of meaning to it, rather than as a means to an end for faster download speeds. Case-in-point, Valve added a badge to Steam that you could get only if you rated mods on the Steam Workshop. And you needed this badge in order to become a “Pillar of the Community”, whatever that is. Turns out people care about this stuff, so what happened? People (some of whom didn’t even use the Workshop) had to go to the Workshop and find a mod to rate before they could get the badge. So they went to the front page, rated any mod they could find and left. What’s the freaking point in that? The result was a load of mods that were already on the front page for being popular now being even more popular because people were rating the mods without even playing them. Facepalm moment.

    So what are we going to do about it?

    We’re going to change the endorsement system. You will now either be able to endorse a mod, or abstain from endorsing it. What’s abstaining from endorsing? Basically it’s a conscious choice you’ve made that means “I don’t think this mod deserves an endorsement, but I’ve still used the endorsement system”. It is NOT the same as a thumbs down, or a down vote, or anything of the sort. The total number of people who have abstained from endorsing a mod will not be displayed anywhere on the sites, and it’s only for our records. Why? Because if you download 100 mods over the course of 30 days and you only think 50 deserve an endorsement by your own standards, then it’s unfair that you shouldn’t get a speed boost just because you haven’t hit a 75% endorsement rate. So if you endorse 50 mods and abstain from endorsing 25-50 mods, you’ll get the speed boost. Make sense? I hope so, I’ve just written 2,700 words non-stop and even I’m struggling to understand what I’m writing.

    So now we’ve got all sorts of different download speeds you can achieve based on the choices you make on this site. And I like offering choice. So lets run-through the scenarios and the download speed limits that will be provided based on your choices:

    • You block all ads, you don’t use the endorsement system, 750kb/sec
    • You block all ads, you use the endorsement system, 1MB/sec
    • You do not block ads, you turn off the site skin ads, you don’t use the endorsement system, 1MB/sec
    • You do not block ads, you turn off the site skin ads, you use the endorsement system, 1.25MB/sec
    • You do not block ads, you turn on site skin ads, you don’t use the endorsement system, 1.25MB/sec
    • You do not block ads, you turn on site skin ads, you use the endorsement system, 1.5MB/sec

    We’ll try and add some bars/meters/notifications to the UI of the site in your member area and when you’re downloading that tells you what limit you’re currently hitting and for what reasons. It should also help to inform the myriad of people who don’t read these news articles what’s happening, and what they can do to increase their download speeds.

    I know that all this talk of incentivisation through bandwidth throttling has a few gaping holes in the plan. What if you’re on dial-up, or 1MB/sec download speeds are a dream to you? All this talk is pretty pointless huh? Yeah, it is. Sorry about that. What if you don’t care about download speeds? Well, yeah, pretty pointless too. But I wanted to look for ways that we could incentivise aspects of this site for you, and I’ll continue to look for ways to incentivise things in the future. This is the first step, I’m sure, of many.

    Talking about money, ads, adblockers, penalties and incentivisation can often leave a bitter taste in your mouth, but it’s one of these articles that I think can be quite informative. It’s often very hard to look at arguments from angles other than your own, and I hope that you can see my side of the argument, even if you completely disagree with it.

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