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BLOG PIECE: Nexus development and expansion philosophy


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#1
Dark0ne

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Iím enjoying a slow couple of days at the moment, catching up on watching Homeland (which I donít 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 Iíve 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 havenít completed Skyrim. I donít know about you but weíve had an explosion of awesome games come out over the past 2 months and Iím 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 Iíd update you with a blog post about recent things happening at the Nexus. I assure you itís 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 oneís for you folks.

So letís start with where we are right now. Since this time last year Iíve 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 donít) along with all the great volunteer staff we have here in the form of moderators. Weíve 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 weíre 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. Weíve 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 weíve released our Nexus Mod Manager which is now compatible with 8 of the 15 games the Nexus sites support.

As you can see weíve 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. Iím currently in the process of using those funds to purchase 2 new file servers for use by all members, and Iím 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 donít take any chances at all when it comes to the Nexus and its financial stability.

I know Iíve 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 Iím 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, weíve released 7 over the past year alone and Iím more than willing to expand that range.

Over the years Iíve visited various communities around the internet for games that we donít currently support. Members in these communities will talk about modding and finding a location to host their mods, someone will bring up the Nexus, thereíll be a few of the stereotypical comments that people donít want nude mods in their farm simulator and others will say ďThe Nexus only hosts mods for RPGsĒ, or ďThe Nexus only hosts mods for large gamesĒ or words along a similar vein. This isnít true at all and Iíd rather that stigma didnít stick. How weíve progressed and the games weíve 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 couldnít 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 gameís community and I want it to be wanted by that community. I donít want to step on peopleís toes and I donít want to be launching Nexus sites ďfor the heck of itĒ, or just ďbecause I canĒ. Itís one thing to provide a place to host files, itís 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 Iím done. Itís that simple. The longest process in that list is in finding a colour scheme that works that I havenít already used. Itís 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 donít 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 isnít setting up the Nexus site, itís exploring the game community youíre 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 gameís 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 thatís 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 developerís 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 thereís 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!). Iíd love to work with them, though. In retrospect when Bioware released their Social Site for Dragon Age: Origins I didnít think Iíd need to release a Nexus site for the game. Unfortunately the site was (and Iím 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? Weíre relatively set in our ways here at the Nexus, weíve got rules, regulations and etiquette that weíve built up from community input over the past 11 years. What we donít 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 donít 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 shouldnít 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 weíll stick to how weíve 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. Iím 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 wouldnít fit, and Iím not going to go against what the majority want or need.

These are just some of the things I have to consider when Iím looking at new games and communities to create a new Nexus site for. Once Iíve got a good idea of how the community operates and whether I think a Nexus site would work for the game Iíll try to start a dialogue with some of the prominent mod authors within that community. Iíll 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 businessmanís head. My aim isnít to increase page views/premium membership/revenue year on year (if it was Iíd be dinging out Nexus sites like thereís no tomorrow), itís 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 Iím really trying to get in to peopleís heads. Iím not in your community trying to convert you to a different religion and getting you to leave your community for mine, Iím 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 donít 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 donít 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 Iíve 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. Iíve got a spreadsheet full of games and communities Iíve 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 Iíve provided you realise that releasing a new Nexus site isnít 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 weíre over extending. Weíre not. In my opinion weíre very under-extended (if thatís possible), which is something Iíve 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 itís a very exciting time. Lastly, I wanted to make it known that weíre not genre specific, weíre not developer or publisher specific, weíre not AAA title specific, and we donít want to be. Funnily enough weíre currently working on a Nexus site for a well known space sim series, and Iím looking forward to announcing that one in the not too distant future.

Read this far? Well done. Have a cookie.

#2
Karmamuscle

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Insightful reading, thank you. :)

#3
MysteriousMrBear

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How I feel after reading this-



My comprehension as to the way these sites run remains unchanged but my admiration for the amount of work and planning and effort it must take, and how uncorrupted it has all remained, is once again boosted :D

#4
ishmaeltheforsaken

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Oh gosh are you going to do an X Nexus? Please say yes ;_;

#5
Bess

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Thank you, Robin, for another articulate & informative post. I very much appreciate hearing about what goes on in the background.
(And the cookie was delish. I'm glad you now have free time to bake, too :biggrin: )

#6
JayKay93

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I honor your respect for other communities Dark0ne. I was wondering why there wasn't a Torchlight Nexus. I'm glad to know that the reason it's not here is with the best intentions and respect for other communities. I found myself reading the post with a smile as I feel very honored and proud to be part of the Nexus Community. I sincerily thank you for the Nexus sites!

And also, thanks for the cookie! (^_^)

#7
warlordodin

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Keep up the Great Work! :D

#8
macadamstreet

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thats a biiiig and great news ^^

#9
MastaWizard

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well put.

#10
setiweb

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Pants?

And thanks for the cookie.




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