Status of the Site 2020

Introduction

2020 has been one hell of a year. So much has happened I considered making a video instead of just a text dump, but unfortunately I have some other tasks I also need to attend to so another text dump is the best I can do lol. That all being said let’s get into what went right, what went wrong, and the future of Weight Gaming.

Tldr;

  1. Covid caused a fairly large drop in traffic early in the year setting our estimated point where we would hit 100000 users back by 4-8 months

  2. Patreon has begun to fluctuate and while its holding steady we have lost some larger donors this year resulting in an overall drop in income

  3. The Gain Jam was a huge success this year with over 40 entries! Due to how fast it is growing we are working on some changes around deciding the theme and judging

  4. The site is now bringing in about 80000 unique users per month as of 12/2020 and continuing to grow steadily outside of the setback caused by Covid earlier in the year

  5. We are still wanting to do a community starbound server but with recent drops in patreon income, expected increases in operating expenses, and failure to find a group willing to moderate/manage it the project is currently on hold

  6. The VN project we have been working with Blackjack and his group on is nearing completion though no release date is available yet

  7. We have ended up dropping Wordpress for our back end and using a newer headless CMS called Strapi that has proven to be easier to work with

  8. We have finally figured out how we want to handle security removing one of largest major roadblocks we had to deal with

  9. We are currently moving our SSO system to Auth0 to deal with Hub lacking some security features we feel we need

  10. Due to the increase in traffic over 2020 we need to begin upgrading the infrastructure for the forums. Due to that we will be working on migrating everything to AWS over the course of 2021

  11. We are planning to try to have a small alpha release of the main site ready by 1st or 2nd quarter of 2021

Covid

First, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way, Covid. To be honest, I kind of dread talking about this only because I know how much Covid has affected people in the community, how much stress and uncertainty it has caused; so talking about how it affected Weight Gaming feels a bit shallow when I know many businesses and people who have had it much worse. That being said I do feel sharing this information may provide some useful if not at least interesting insights on how a pandemic can affect all industries and people.

Initially, Covid hit us hard. Through January and February we have seen the largest drop in our traffic that was not related to our game jam where we lost about 4000 users per month. Now you might be looking at that large spike around August 2019 and say that dip does not look too bad, but there are a few things you need to note.

  1. That spike was from the 2019 Game Jam
  2. The 2019 dip happened after a sudden increase in traffic where the 2020 dip happened in our standard traffic

When all was said and done we lost about 8% of our traffic and it took us 2 months to recover back to our December 2019 numbers. While that may not sound like much this dip in traffic set us back an estimated 4-8 months in when we would hit 100000 users. The reason why this number is so important is having a consistent 100000 users per month is what we estimate to be a minimum viable market size for devs to actually make a living off of these games as a small indi-submarket.

While we can never be sure what caused this dip, we can look at what was happening around that time and use that to try to ascertain what caused it. Around the time we started to see the major dips in our traffic was around January 2020 which is when Covid first started to hit the US. Most of the traffic drop looked to also have come from our organic search traffic and was accompanied with a drop in Weight Gamings search ranking. Since nothing changed on our end between December 2019 and January 2020 the only major variable at play was Covid. While correlation is not causation it is our belief that the initial panic around Covid caused more users to search for Covid and more sites about Covid to pop up. The results in our search ranking being pushed down resulting in a corresponding drop in search traffic.

The initial panic and lock down orders started to go in effect around the US around February-March 2020 which is where we begin to see our numbers starting to recover with them recovering back to December 2019 levels around April 2020.

Patreon

All in all Covid did not directly hit our Patreon as bad as we expected it to, though we do expect there to be some longer term damage due to the economic damage caused by the Pandemic. That being said, while we saw quite a few Patreons filter out this year (and a big thank you to all of those who did support us with what they had) many were replaced as they filtered out keeping us fairly stable. We did take a fairly large hit around October though that put us back under the $300 mark.

This large drop was mainly due to one Patreon leaving and gives me a good chance to talk about the problem with Patreon.

Do not get me wrong, I do not wish to undercut the generosity of those who choose to donate so much to us, but a good majority of our income (50-65%) is supported by 4-5 people with 1 providing us ⅓ of our current income. This means 4-5 people out of the 38 that currently support us greatly contribute to the growth and operation of the site and here lies the issue.

We understand that all this money given to us is just that, money given to us out of the goodness of our members’ hearts in order to see us succeed, and with that in mind we fully expect members to drop their donation if something more important comes up or money gets tight as they should. If this happens to one of our other 33-34 members this is no big deal, but if one of those 4-5 it could cripple out income quite badly. This is even more of a concern as we are starting to see costs for operating the site begin to increase as we are now reaching the size where we need to begin to expand. This also may put pressure on those 4-5 to continue funding us even if they can not which is not fair to them.

In the end the only two ways to deal with this are:

  1. Have more people donate on Patreon to dilute the larger donations
  2. Use alternative income sources

Out of the two choices we feel 1 is not feasible during this time and we do not want to really be asking for people to donate more money to us till after the Pandemic has been resolved, and option 2 has been something we have been looking at more and more especially since we have hit the size where advertising companies are starting to contact us to run ads. This has been hard for us as we really do not want to run ads on the site, but the money has been quite tempting with possible income ranging between $20000-$60000 a year with our current traffic which we could reinvest into the community.

That all being said, we greatly believe in what we are doing with the storefront is the right way to go and want to stay away from ads as long as we can if not indefinitely as we want our success to be tied to the success of the community as a whole. So, while we are keeping ads in our back pocket incase we really need them we are going to continue with our original plan of Patreon and the storefront.

The last thing I want to mention on Patreon is we are seeing an increase in the number of users that pledge and then leave before being charged, especially around the game jam. Due to this we are considering enabling up front charges to help combat this.

Gain Jam

I am happy to say this year’s Gain Jam has been our most successful yet! We had over 40, really well done submissions this year! We are so happy to see the Jam taking off like it is, and where very happy to see how much everyone seemed to have fun with it this year! That being said, the Jam is starting to get a bit too big for us to handle so we plan on doing some restructuring with how we score and choose themes next year.

First, we have been discussing removing theme voting from the Patreon. This has always been a bit of a sticky issue for us as we wanted to offer something to our Patreons but we have always been worried about how inflexible it is and the fact that we may come up with a theme we may like but still have to come up with 2 others for voting. Along with the fact that we plan on making more and more mechanically focused themes we are considering removing voting all together to streamline the process. We will be discussing this a bit more internally first before reaching out through Patreon to get our Patreons thoughts on the matter.

Second, we plan on reworking how judging is done next year. The fact of the matter is over 40 games was a ton for us all to handle so we need a better way to handle the ever growing number of submissions we are seeing. We are still discussing it internally and figure we may have two panels; with the first filtering down the top 5-10 submissions then judging those like usual. Many people have suggested using a popular vote to help filter out submissions but we worry that doing this would cause devs to make games to try to please the community instead of trying out of the box things that a normal user may not fully appreciate. Due to that we know that we will not be using a popular vote though we are still keeping it for community choice. Once we have a plan on how to go about it we will put a RFC out there for people to look over and mak suggestions on.

Site Growth

We have come quite a ways from the old site we used to be back in July of 2018. We are currently up to around 4000 users per day, around 80000 per month, and around 2 million page views per month! And best of all, I think we have started to prove to the community as a whole that we are here to stay and word is starting to spread more and more about our humble little community! At this rate we think we will hit 100000 unique users per month some time next year. That being said, this is not all sunshine and rainbows. We saw a fairly sudden jump in users after this years Jam and we need to work on improving our infrastructure if we want to keep ahead of the growth. Due to this we have some large projects planned for 2021 to help us deal better with the increasing traffic which I will explain in detail in the Plans for 2021 section.

Starbound Server

This is a project we still want to do, and we found a service that would allow us to host an open server for everyone to play on. Unfortunately, we just do not have the funds right now to do it and are still looking for a group who may want to moderate the server for us.

Kono Fatty

We have taken over technical development and support of @DrBlackJack Kono Fatty project and have made great strides in its progress this year. We can not speak too much on it yet but we hope to have some good news for you all sometime early next year!

The Main Site

Finally, we had a fairly large breakthrough on the main site this year! For those who do not know one of our largest projects is creating an itch.io like site focused on fetish games. The original plan was to use Wordpress to build the site. We originally chose to use Wordpress due to the ease of use of the framework and the wealth of available plugins. That being said as we began to dig into the framework though we found that it quickly became inflexible and difficult to work with once we started to step outside of its well defined box. Due to that, we found that it was actually taking us longer to build the site and we had to buy a license for more plugins then we wanted.

We began to search for an alternative CMS that was lighter weight, easier to work with, and fit better into the more modern service based architecture. After much research we found a light weight, headless CMS called Strapi which we have begun using. While Strapi is not as well established as other CMSs like Wordpress or Drupal it has proven to be extremely easy to work with, and we have made more progress with it in a short time then we have with Wordpress thus far making the extra work we have to put into it justified. One of the coolest parts of the system is unlike most CMSs that store metadata in a database, Strapi instead generates JSON schemas and configuration files that are used to set everything up making it very git friendly and simplifying deployment and migrations.

Along with finding a more suitable CMS framework, we also feel we have finally found a good way to handle security which was one of the largest road blocks we have had to deal with thus far. Security has changed quite a bit from the old session cookie days when I first learned web design. While there is nothing wrong with this method and it is considered fairly secure as long as the cookies are configured correctly, it does not work well with more modern service based architectures and has been steadily being replaced with OAuth2.

Security has been one of our largest concerns as we wanted to really make sure the site was as secure as we could make it for our users and due to this we have had one hell of a time coming up with an authorization and authentication system we were happy with that worked well with the service based architecture we are now moving forward with. After much research and experimentation though we have finally come up with an authorization and authentication system we feel is an optimal balance between security and usability. With this new system, we can now securely authenticate users and since we are also moving to Auth0 we can now easily and securely share a small amount of user data with games making it easy for games to integrate with our login system. With this last puzzle piece we are now making fairly good headway into creating services for the new site!

Plans for 2021

Auth0

We are starting to outgrow our current SSO system. Hub has done a great job for us but as we worked with it we have found it lacking in a few areas we are not happy about and we feel it would be much better and safer if we were able to offload user management in general to a service that specializes in it like Auth0 instead of managing it ourselves. Originally we did not go with Auth0 as it would have been too expensive for us, and while it still is we are in a position where we can now better justify the cost which will be about $23-$50 a month.

Due to this we plan on Migrating to Auth0 from Hub over the course of 2021. For those of you who may be remembering the last time we did this do not worry, it will not be as painful as last time. Auth0 has several ways for us to migrate over existing users and if you are using one of the social sign in methods you have no need to worry as it will work automatically for you. While we are still planning the migration out, we do plan to shut the Hub server down by the end of 2021 early 2022.

Moving to AWS

Digital Ocean has been a great cloud provider and I personally love them, but we have hit the point that between the forums and the main site we need to start moving onto one of the larger cloud providers to help us better adapt and deal with our increasing traffic. Due to this we are going to begin migrating the forums from Digital Ocean onto AWS which is where we will be hosting the main site and our other services as well.

Right now the forums and its database are hosted on the same machine. This is not a really good idea as most people would tell you but we did so as it saved money. Now, especially with the performance issues we saw in this game jam, we feel it is time to set up something a bit more inline with best practices. We plan to move the forums database to an AWS RDS and then spin up two forum instances behind a load balancer on EC2 instances. The reason for two is to not just to provide redundancy but to allow us to run rolling upgrades on the system which will allow us to keep the site up (even if in read only mode) when we do upgrades unlike now where we have to shut it down for 30mins to an hour. We are still estimating the costs but we expect the price for running the site to increase from $15 to about $25-$30 a month or so.

Main Site Alpha

While we do not have a definite date, we are planning on having a small alpha up and running within the 1st or 2nd quarter of 2021. Thanks to us using a service based architecture we can more quickly roll out the site by focusing on a limited set of features first and expanding it out over time. We really hope to get something up quick so we can begin gathering feedback from the community so we can further improve the site as we build it.

Conclusion

Man, this is a long post. If you read this far thank you for taking enough of an interest to read this wall of text. All in all 2021 looks to be an interesting year with some major changes planned and we are very grateful to have you all here with us on it!

24 Likes

You’d think Covid would have INCREASED site traffic… What with people staying home and all.

1 Like

You would think. We saw traffic increase back to normal levels in terms of % increase per month once the lock downs went into place but we did not see anything significant. Since most of our organic traffic comes from searches we think it was a combination of worry and our search ranking being suppressed for most of the year.

We did see some nice jumps that stuck around after the Gain Jam though which was nice.

1 Like

Why wasn’t it a good idea?

1 Like

In general its bad practice to have your database and web server on the same server for 3 reasons:

  1. Redundancy. By having your DB and Web server on different servers you are a bit better protected from loosing both

  2. Scaling. By having the DB on its own server it allows you to run multiple instances of the front end which can help a bit with scaling and allow you to do things like rolling updates that allow you to keep the site running while it is being updated.

  3. Better allocation of resources. The Web Server and DB both have different resource requirements so while running them on the same machine is cheap and simple its not the most optimal use of resources. Also, both compete against each other for resources so if the DB is being hit hard the web sever will also take a hit and the other way around.

The above is a bit of an over simplification why you should have them separate but should get the point across. The main reason we did not do this originally is our main objective was to get the site back up as quickly as possible and keeping operating costs as low as possible was a larger concern then performance due to the low traffic.

2 Likes

It’s impressive all there are behind the scene !

Before read this summary, I thought, WeightGaming was only a forum and developers managed to host their own content.

But now I know, I was wrong. I only saw the top of the iceberg.

In all case thanks for all you do for the community.

About the Starbound server, their is already one hosted by Dispatch and Apple “Fayane’s Funhouse”.
It’s obviously private and need to apply for be able to play on, but except make an open server on Starbound, their is another specification of the server? Do you plan to use Dispatch’s mod or it would integrate something else?
Also Starbound is not a MMO, and even with just few people building everywhere server sometime have a hard time to support it. So an open server could be problematic, as it’s very easy to make the server crash by installing wrong mods and do inadequate actions.
On an open server, we couldn’t filter people just here for disrupt the experience of other user.

I was wondering about the server as well, but I didn’t say anything since you said it was on hold due to circumstances, and my question could have waited until the server was nearly up. Namely, the mods it uses.

Mainly just Dispatch’s mod and maybe a few others. The small test one was Dispatch’s mod and fracking universe but we wanted to hold a discussion on possible mods once we got closer to having it set up.

Very true, we never intended for it to be very large though. Just a drop in drop out thing for the community as a whole. We understand not everyone may be able to get in but we hope a first come first served setup with occasional wipes would help keep things in line. That being said it is more or less up in the air on what the actual plan is atm.

Yep, our entire goal is to grow and legitimize the community as a whole so we try to do our best to support it in any way we can.

1 Like

Thanks you for the answers !

Last question, there is already a subject about this Starbound server? I would be glad to talk about it but I am afraid to pollute the site status’s subject if I continue further.

No, not as of yet. We do plan on making one though once we get to a spot where we can pick the project back up.

Would just like to say, that I continue to really appreciate this staff’s professionalism. Transparency is such a sight for sore eyes these days.

I also love the graphs.

2 Likes