• 23 October 2012 16:16:06

    BLOG PIECE: Nexus development and expansion philosophy

    posted by Dark0ne Game News
    I’m enjoying a slow couple of days at the moment, catching up on watching Homeland (which I don’t think is that great, in case you care), playing through Borderlands 2 again and trying for the life of me to finish a campaign of Crusader Kings 2 while fighting the good fight for the Vanu in Planetside 2. All this is before I even think about playing through XCOM, and I’ve still got Torchlight 2 waiting in my Steam account, unplayed, with Faster Than Light installing on to my PC as we speak. Oh, and I still haven’t completed Skyrim. I don’t know about you but we’ve had an explosion of awesome games come out over the past 2 months and I’m really struggling to keep up with it all. It should definitely keep me going for the next 6 months. But while I wait for these games to install I thought I’d update you with a blog post about recent things happening at the Nexus. I assure you it’s not particularly exciting, but I know some of you take an interest in reading through my banal twittering and ramblings that go off on wild tangents, so this one’s for you folks.

    So let’s start with where we are right now. Since this time last year I’ve hired on two more full-time staff to take the compliment of staff working on the Nexus to three (or four, if you want to count me, which I don’t) along with all the great volunteer staff we have here in the form of moderators. We’ve also doubled our server count from 8 to 16 where we now have 6 boxes dedicated to displaying the sites, 8 boxes dedicated to file serving for all members and 2 boxes dedicated to Premium Members (although we have 3 servers for Premium Members, the UK Premium file server is actually direct from the web servers rather than file servers, hence why the UK Premium Server is always up-to-date without ever being out of sync). In sensationalist terms we’re packing 48ghz of CPU power and 226GB of RAM, passing over 1.5 Gbit of bandwidth every second with a capacity for around 3.2 Gbit of traffic. We’ve also more than doubled our offering of Nexus sites by launching 7 new Nexus sites for Skyrim, Mount & Blade, Neverwinter Nights, World of Tanks, Legend of Grimrock, Dark Souls and XCOM while also splitting TESNexus in to Oblivion Nexus and Morrowind Nexus respectively. And lastly we’ve released our Nexus Mod Manager which is now compatible with 8 of the 15 games the Nexus sites support.

    As you can see we’ve heavily reinvested back in to the sites with the money brought in from the ads you see on the site and Premium Memberships, which are integral to not only keeping the sites afloat but also ensuring we continue to develop the sites and network to expand our support of as many games as possible. Case-in-point we recently put a link to the premium sign-up page within NMM which has bolstered the amount of people supporting the site. I’m currently in the process of using those funds to purchase 2 new file servers for use by all members, and I’m close to saving up enough money to hire on another dedicated programmer for NMM. When it comes to hiring staff I always save up enough money to be able to pay their salary in full for a year. I don’t take any chances at all when it comes to the Nexus and its financial stability.

    I know I’ve spoken about this before, but I brought on programmers to the staff because I wanted these sites to be coded properly, in proper OOP, using all the best practises that would ensure these sites were future proof. I knew when I hired these people on that my role as a programmer on the sites would become largely obsolete. I know nothing compared to these guys so I’m mostly limited to simple tweaks to the CSS and graphic changes, while I leave Axel, Tiz and Dusk to the hardcore feature programming. This has freed up a lot of the time I usually dedicate to work on the Nexus for other areas of the community, and this is why you are seeing us roll out more Nexus sites than before. While we might have only launched one new Nexus site a year, we’ve released 7 over the past year alone and I’m more than willing to expand that range.

    Over the years I’ve visited various communities around the internet for games that we don’t currently support. Members in these communities will talk about modding and finding a location to host their mods, someone will bring up the Nexus, there’ll be a few of the stereotypical comments that people don’t want nude mods in their farm simulator and others will say “The Nexus only hosts mods for RPGs”, or “The Nexus only hosts mods for large games” or words along a similar vein. This isn’t true at all and I’d rather that stigma didn’t stick. How we’ve progressed and the games we’ve supported up to now have just been a natural progression along a simple path, rather than a wilful choice to only support Bethesda games, or RPGs in general. It was a conscious decision to never bite off more than I could chew and to focus on games that I was really interested in. And when I was sole programmer, server admin, accountant, community manager and developer of the Nexus I couldn’t bite off much. Now, with 3 dedicated staff who have taken on some of my previous responsibilities, I can start biting off more.

    I see some networks out there, past and present, that try and support every game imaginable from the get-go. They either over-extend themselves, unable to dedicate the necessary resources for the good of the community, or they dilute their offering so much that it becomes useless. When I release a Nexus site for a game I want it to be focused, I want it to provide a real benefit for that game’s community and I want it to be wanted by that community. I don’t want to step on people’s toes and I don’t want to be launching Nexus sites “for the heck of it”, or just “because I can”. It’s one thing to provide a place to host files, it’s another thing to be actively supporting and developing a modding community. I want to be doing the latter.

    No word of a lie, it takes me a maximum of 2 hours to make a new Nexus site. I setup the subdomain, upload the core files, import the database structure, edit 3 image files with the colour scheme and background skin I want (we use imagemaps that makes this process very simple), edit the CSS with 2 different colour codes and I’m done. It’s that simple. The longest process in that list is in finding a colour scheme that works that I haven’t already used. It’s bloody hard to do! When I coded the Nexus sites it was deliberately setup to be that quick and easy, and when Axel recoded the sites that was one of the main tenants I gave him for his work; make it easy and quick to setup a new Nexus site. So what takes so long? Why don’t we have 100 Nexus sites for every moddable game imaginable? Quite simply put; not every game needs a Nexus site, not every community wants a Nexus site, and not every community would fit in with our somewhat unique ethos and rule system.

    What takes time isn’t setting up the Nexus site, it’s exploring the game community you’re interested in making a Nexus site for and working out their needs, wants and desires for their community, and working with them to ensure what you offer is tailored to their needs. First of all, are the game’s developers at all interested in making the game moddable? Do they like modding or do they want to stop modders from touching anything to do with their game? If modding has no support at all from the developer, with or without tools, then that’s a massive barrier to overcome. Have the developers released tools for the game? Do they plan to? Is the game moddable without tools? Is it feasible that at some point in the future tools might be made that could enable modding without the developer’s help? Could a Nexus site for the game help to show the developer that lots of their customers really want to mod the game?

    Next, is the community keen on modding? Is it likely to take off to the point that there’s more than just a handful of mods or is it just a few members with pie-in-the-sky ideas of total conversions and overhaul mods that will never come? Would a Nexus site help to improve and bolster the community? Is there already a modding site set up for the game? Is it doing a good job or is it stifling the creativity of the community? An example of a game I have no interest in releasing a Nexus site for because I know the modding community is in good hands is Torchlight (1 and 2). They have the Runic Games Fansite, which not only hosts mods well enough but also has its own NMM style client for downloading and installing mods. I would never want to step on the toes of that site that has done so much for its modding community, even if people keep begging me to make a site for it (which they do!). I’d love to work with them, though. In retrospect when Bioware released their Social Site for Dragon Age: Origins I didn’t think I’d need to release a Nexus site for the game. Unfortunately the site was (and I’m not afraid to say this) pants. The forums had no search feature, the mod database had no, or very limited search functionality and unreleased mods and ideas were in the same database as released mods, making it an utter chore to find anything useful. It was as though the person(s) making the site had no idea about the needs or wants of a modding community. I wanted to give Bioware the benefit of the doubt and not step on their toes, but after a month with absolutely no changes or bug fixes made, and practically no contact from the dev team within the community, I released a Nexus site for Dragon Age: Origins and never looked back because the Social Site was seriously stifling the creativity and expansion of the Dragon Age community.

    Moving on, would the community that already exists for the game fit in well with the Nexus community or would there be massive conflicts of interest and differing views and opinions? We’re relatively set in our ways here at the Nexus, we’ve got rules, regulations and etiquette that we’ve built up from community input over the past 11 years. What we don’t want to do is bring in another community, with very different views to our own, that could potentially upset the status quo and unbalance the community. We don’t want to be frigid and inflexible, and compromises can be made for different communities, but how we operate and run, our rules and our etiquette shouldn’t be influenced just in the name of getting a few more page views and Premium Members. How other people choose to run their sites or communities is completely up to them, but we’ll stick to how we’ve done things up to now until we think a change is really necessary. With that in mind, not every community wants a Nexus site, and some would aggressively oppose such an idea. I’m not blind or high enough on success to think that the Nexus is great for everyone, or that everyone likes the Nexus, or that the Nexus should work in every community. In some communities a Nexus site just wouldn’t fit, and I’m not going to go against what the majority want or need.

    These are just some of the things I have to consider when I’m looking at new games and communities to create a new Nexus site for. Once I’ve got a good idea of how the community operates and whether I think a Nexus site would work for the game I’ll try to start a dialogue with some of the prominent mod authors within that community. I’ll talk to them about the Nexus, how I think it could help and ask them how they think things are going. What would they change within the community? What would they improve? How would they improve it? Would a Nexus site within the community work, and make sense for them? This gives me a great feel for the average modder within the community. If things still look good, I might start a dialogue with the game developers or I might hit up the official forums and create a public thread on the topic.

    At the end of the day I do not run the Nexus sites with a businessman’s head. My aim isn’t to increase page views/premium membership/revenue year on year (if it was I’d be dinging out Nexus sites like there’s no tomorrow), it’s to run sites that actually benefit, support and compliment a community, with emphasis on the compliment aspect rather than trying to over-run a community and move everyone away from the sites and official forums that are already entrenched within that community. As the Nexus network gets bigger this idea of not wanting to swallow everything up whole is something I’m really trying to get in to people’s heads. I’m not in your community trying to convert you to a different religion and getting you to leave your community for mine, I’m in your community asking if a Nexus could work together with whatever other communities already exist to ensure modders are getting the best service possible, so that the modding community is free to do their very best. I don’t want the Nexus to become some huge corporate machine trying to overtake modding communities whether they like it or not, and whether it helps or not. I don’t want to be driven by a need to have 3m unique visitors a month by next year, and 4m unique visitors a month by the year after. Such goals only serve to ensure I think about the business first and the community second. I want to help, and I want to provide and build tools that make modding better for as many people as possible. The moment I think the Nexus has a detrimental effect on modding rather than a positive effect is the moment I shut down the sites.

    And everything I’ve just explained in detail above is what takes time. A Nexus site might take 2 hours to make, but coming to that decision to make a Nexus site can take days, weeks, months or heck, even years. I’ve got a spreadsheet full of games and communities I’ve explored, notes taken from my observations of my time within the community and what problems and barriers there are to releasing a Nexus site for the game. Very few from the list have made it in to becoming a Nexus site. I hope from the depth of details I’ve provided you realise that releasing a new Nexus site isn’t just some knee-jerk reaction, but a really well thought out and explored idea that I really want to succeed.

    I wanted to release this blog piece because recently, with the launch of multiple different Nexus sites in a short space of time, a few members have come to me concerned that we’re over extending. We’re not. In my opinion we’re very under-extended (if that’s possible), which is something I’ve consciously done because I was waiting until I, personally, had enough time to dedicate to get out there and work with other communities. It really does take a long time to do. For me, that time has come. And personally, I think it’s a very exciting time. Lastly, I wanted to make it known that we’re not genre specific, we’re not developer or publisher specific, we’re not AAA title specific, and we don’t want to be. Funnily enough we’re currently working on a Nexus site for a well known space sim series, and I’m looking forward to announcing that one in the not too distant future.

    Read this far? Well done. Have a cookie.

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