The Nexus finances
Posted 28 February 2011 - 08:54 PM
I finalised work on Morrowind Chronicles, which was my first Elder Scrolls site, back in August of 2001 and registered on the official forums back in October 2001 when there were barely 2,000 people registered on the official Elder Scrolls forums. It wasn't until July of 2003 that I decided to look at supporting the Morrowind modding community. Over the 18 months from Morrowind's launch the modding community had blossomed but had hit many hosting stumbling blocks. A string of major mod hosting services had either disappeared over night or thrown the towel in due to the rising cost of hosting a popular file download service. It really isn't cheap to host such a site and the costs were even worse back then as bandwidth prices were far more expensive than they are today. Morrowind Files, Morrowind Mods and Euro Morrowind, to name but a few, all went down and many mods were lost never to be seen again because of this recurring issue with file hosting.
Sites like Planet Elder Scrolls (then Morrowind Summit) and ElricM filled the gap left by these fallen hosting services and at this point I also decided to focus more on hosting Morrowind mods. My aim from that point on was to provide not only a good service but a reliable service; one that wasn't going to fall off the face of the earth without warning or hit financial issues down the line.
To that end in the past month I have splashed out a considerable sum of money on enterprise backup solutions for all the Nexus sites. Until now backups have been handled by a primitive copying system I created that worked between all the file servers; all the files are already backed up on the file servers simply by function of them being file servers, backups of the databases, the file and image share images and other miscellaneous content happen automatically at set points. The system has thankfully not had to be used but it was always a worry for me. By investing in a proper enterprise solution the survival of the sites, should anything bad happen, is all but guaranteed. Such a solution was important and is another step in the direction of the Nexus being a serious file host rather than a haphazard fan site, but this has come at a price that needed to be saved and accounted for.
Of course the primary expense of the sites is the hosting costs. I currently hire out 4 powerful web servers from a hosting company based in Kent. Run by friends of mine that I have worked on and off with over the past 9 years they provide me with good mates rates, almost cost-price, that has enabled me to keep these costs down as low as possible. These web servers host the sites themselves and need to be powerful to handle the hundreds of database queries the sites generate every second. These servers together currently push about 125mbit of bandwidth a second, and UK bandwidth is expensive compared to American bandwidth. On top of that I hire out file servers in Washington DC, Dallas, Seattle, Denver and the UK and together these servers are pushing close to 400mbit a second. All-in-all that's a bandwidth consumption of 525mbit/second, over half a Gigabit. In laymans terms that's 65.6 Megabytes a second, 3.94 Gigabytes a minute, 236 Gigabytes an hour, 5.67 Terabytes a day and 170 Terabytes in a month. That's a lot!
Despite the ever rising costs I believe I am now in the position to say that this guiding mission aim of running a stable mod hosting solution is a success. Mission achieved. The Nexus sites have been running since 2007, and the sites before have been running since 2001 and I think the future of the sites is bright. There have been hiccups, but each hiccup is a learning experience to prevent the next hiccup from occurring.
The Nexus sites are funded by the advertising you see on the sites and backed up by the Premium Memberships. Without either of these revenue streams the future of the sites would not be assured and I keep a keen eye on all the financial aspects of the site as money is very important. I need to not only be able to afford the monthly/yearly bills but foresee future bills. Software licenses, new hardware, ever increasing bandwidth consumption, professional services (accounting, server management, programming, etc.). It's not enough to be able to afford the bills for the next month, I need to plan for the future.
And what does the future have in store? Skyrim has a release date of 11.11.11 putting it firmly in this year. I have no reason to think that it's going to be anything but massive. Whereas would-be buyers only had Morrowind as a contemporary reference when pondering buying Oblivion, Skyrim has a much more up-to-date and telling back catalogue of games that have garnered Bethesda a massive fan following. Their obvious focus on the more main-stream console market has alienated some of the more hardcore RPG fans but provided Bethesda with an army of more casual (or I would say "open minded") gamers on all platforms. Funded by a multi-billion dollar investment company (Zenimax) Bethesda have come a long way from their Morrowind days and Skyrim is going to show that. It's going to be huge, and Bethesda have already confirmed an SDK will be released for Skyrim. Huge means planning ahead. Skyrim is going to need its own Nexus site, its own web server and an unknown amount of additional supporting file servers for the large number of people that are going to be looking for their fill of mods for the new game.
A massive new game also has a domino effect on the rest of the sites as well. The forums, central to everything on the Nexus sites, are currently hosted on the same server as New Vegas Nexus. It's a very powerful server sporting dual quad core processors, 32GB of RAM and some RAIDed SCSI drives. The server is well balanced right now as the core hype following the release of New Vegas has died down now and the traffic figures are much more manageable. However if Skyrim is as popular as New Vegas was at launch (and I have every reason to believe it will be more popular) then the forum server will not cope with the load as it is. That means I'll need to get another powerful web server to support the forums or find a place for New Vegas Nexus on one of the other web servers that might threaten the load balance. It'll be something I'll more deeply analyse closer to Skyrim's launch but hopefully this gives you some insight in to just one aspect of financial planning that has to go in to running these sites.
While Skyrim is probably the biggest game I'll focus on this year there are also other games I'll be looking at more closely. The impending release of Dragon Age 2 will no doubt have some modding support despite BioWare being slightly less forthcoming with information about the modding potential of the game. Dragon Age was a hard game to mod and as a result the modding community has not hit as feverous a pace as Bethesda's games but the impact of another Dragon Age game to support needs to be accounted for with Dragon Age Nexus and Fallout 3 Nexus on the same server I need to analyse the space requirements and load on the server and assess whether I'll need a new web server and/or file servers for that too. Another game I have a keen eye on is The Witcher 2 that is due out in May last I checked.
Over the years I've learnt a lot from running these sites and developed my human capital; I've taught myself HTML, CSS, PHP and working with MySQL databases. I've learnt linux server management through SSH and remote connections. I've put my Business Studies degree in to practise and learnt, through experience, UK accounting, business law and business theory. I've experience in internet advertising and marketing techniques. Each of these competences is a trade, a job, in and of itself and as a result I've become a jack of all trades and a master of none. There's no point beating about the bush; each of these jobs I do is done at a sub-par level compared to a professional in the same field but up to now this sub-par level has been good enough, it's got me by. However if I were to put a more competent person in charge of some of these areas it would surely pay dividends for the quality of service provided to users of the sites.
This year is going to be a time of advancement and evolution for the Nexus sites. There's lots going on in the background right now as I begin to expand on the foundation I've made. Keep an eye on this blog spot for an update on my plans for the future of the Nexus sites.
Posted 28 February 2011 - 08:59 PM
Posted 28 February 2011 - 09:03 PM
Posted 28 February 2011 - 09:24 PM
Posted 28 February 2011 - 10:56 PM
A few comments:
I know these feelings. You start out with something that's more of a game than anything, and all of a sudden it's an avocation.
Remain focused; you're blazing a path into the kind of territory that is rarely presented to such a young man.
Already you're a player, now you have to be a businessman.
It's time to look at creating relationships that can turn your vision into the kind of long lasting things that can make you even more successful.
Hint: Being a great programmer is NOT the long term solution.
I wish I could offer more support, as I really like the way you've developed these sites.
Posted 28 February 2011 - 11:04 PM
I really enjoyed reading your article.
Thanks so much for supporting us all. There are many mods and many mods to come that would not have been possible without the Nexus!
Posted 01 March 2011 - 06:25 AM
Posted 01 March 2011 - 10:41 AM
Posted 01 March 2011 - 05:44 PM
I'm just sayin'... if you had some kind of a donation option other than just buying a Premium subscription, there are people who would help.
Posted 01 March 2011 - 05:56 PM
Glad you're willing to put some money where your fun is!
... if you had some kind of a donation option other than just buying a Premium subscription, there are people who would help.
And actually, you already can donate. It's just that the information is buried at the very, very bottom of the page about Premium Membership:
You have the option to donate money to the site without becoming a premium member if you so wish (please be aware donating to the site will not give you premium membership). Simply click the button below to be sent to PayPal for payment processing, and thank you.
[ Make a donation ]
Here's the link to the DANexus version, but it's the same page for all flavours: "About Premium Membership".
Edited by Thandal, 01 March 2011 - 05:58 PM.