Keeping the lights on

Sustainability

This is a difficult topic that has long been in the making. I hope to convince you before the end of this topic that this is the right direction to go for this community.

This Forum does not qualify for free hosting anywhere. Since its inception, I have taken it upon myself to pay for the operating costs and to spend personal time improving it and managing it in different ways. This was done not with the intent of profit down the line, but out of sheer passion for the game we all know and love.

After many, many weeks of getting zero views per week, we are now at a point where we average between 5.000 and 10.000 monthly visits. This type of growth has had an impact – I feel it’s time we focus on making this sustainable instead of having a sudden shutdown in the long term because things just became too costly to operate.

For transparency reasons, I am willing to share that at the time of writing (Oct 4th 2021) this website costs around 100 Euro per year to operate, roughly 115 USD. When I started, I was paying around 25 Euro, around 30 USD per year. If we keep growing, this value will naturally increase as well.

Allow me to highlight that the point is not wether or not I am financially capable of covering the costs at the moment, but down the line, as we get more users and visits, this may not be viable for me to pay out of my pocket.

Here are the statistics for most of the month of September:

And here is a breakdown of the consolidated page views, separated by user type:

Take a moment to note how big of a percentage of pages are viewed by anonymous users (people that don’t have an account here) and crawlers, which index pages for Google, Yahoo, etc.

So what are the options?

I do not intend on shutting down Memoir 44 Fans! Taking this into account, there are several ways in which we can strive for sustainability here. I’m going to go through them individually so that you understand why one could consider it.

Data mining / Data selling

I’ve listed this here merely as an option because others websites do it, so you might think about suggesting it. It is illegal in the EU to do anything with users’ data without consent and I’m not going to ask consent from users for anything. I’ve said this before and will say it again: forum data and what you post here is not for sale and will never be. Nothing dishonest will ever happen to your data, posts or account: because it is immoral (first and foremost) but also because it’s illegal as per GDPR.

Donations

I am not a fan of this approach because it would be essentially asking for money from the people that contribute the most to this place – the users that come here to interact. There are also other disadvantages, like the unpredictable nature of donations. There could be periods where some might donate and other long stretches without donations.

The process of reaching out for donations is also awkward and I fear it would drive long time users away from the website, which is the last thing I want to do.

Patreon / Subscriptions

This improves on Donations in the sense that there is an explicit expectation to donate per month / per year rather than a single moment. Although I would also consider this, the problem is that people would expect some sort of reward for their subscription, which I feel I would have trouble providing. We could certainly set up special badges in the Forum for subscribers/sponsors/donators, but I can’t tell if this would be enough value for people to want to adhere to.

This option also suffers from the same main drawback of the donations approach: asking for money from the people that already give to the community. Aside from that, again, is the cumbersome process of reaching out in order to get more subscribers periodically, which is something I am definitely not comfortable doing.

Adverts

I know ads are not everyone’s cup of tea, but I would like you to keep an open mind in this section. Please take a second look at the breakdown of page views by user type:

On September 20th 2021, page views by logged in users accounted to only 9% of the total of page views. What if we showed ads only to those 91% that don’t log in?

This would, hopefully, create an instance where the users generating the larger portion of the traffic would pay for it, while the users that already browse the Forum would have the exact same experience they’ve had so far. They would not be bothered for donations or subscriptions, which matters if we want to retain these users (we absolutely do).

I cannot imagine that adding these ads would cover all of the expenses, but it would be perfect if we were able to do it. If we had any extra left, we could spend it on more frequent updates and further improve the server infrastructure.

Note: these ads would be non-intrusive, provided by Adsense or some similar respected provider.

What is going to happen in the future?

I have given this topic enough thought in order to feel comfortable adding adverts for non-logged in users, but I’m also all about transparency, honesty and communication. So I’ve decided to leave this topic here as a discussion and to hear what the community thinks. I’m confident that most people agreeing that this site needs to be sustainable will also find the advert strategy overall better than subscriptions or donations.

What if people don’t agree?

There is room for debate, of course. The most important takeaway from this should be that this site is growing, and with it the need of becoming sustainable. The strategy by which we become sustainable can naturally vary, there is no real reason to go one direction if the community as a whole feels different.

I hope that you will see this as the housekeeping required to maintain memoir44fans.com as the main resource website for Memoir '44 for years to come. If nothing is done, the growth we have seen would eventually lead to increasing invoice amount, which I would be willing to cover – but only up to a point. Having a really great and intense month with lots of visits and user interactions should not make me nervous about the amount to pay, and this sustainability is what’s going to make me sleep without worries.

Ultimately, I will get the final say in this matter, but I’m not willing to go the direct opposite as to what the community wants. If there is a strong disagreement, I will consider, for the greater good of the project, to transfer ownership to someone else who is a strong contributor, so long as the moral values that I applied here over time are kept. This will be done only as a last resort, if the community agrees and is at my discretion (after getting legal council), if at all possible.

What do you think?

This is very much an open topic. If you have something to say: about sustainability or any of the strategies here, please make your voice heard by replying to this thread.

1 Like

I have no problem with advertising.
It could be Days of Wonder themselves, but they probably won’t be happy with all the shared material!
Or it could be any of the many modelling and wargame manufacturers around.
General advertising would also not worry me - if an advert for something like Booking dot com pops up I won’t mind.

I would also be happy to contribute in some way - if each registered used paid an annual subscription fee of 2 or 3 Euro then that could work.

Donation might be a good way - if you set a donation target at the beginning of the year (e.g. 100 Euro), we can all contribute what we want and when the target is met you close the call for donations until the following year.
That way we know you are just doing it to cover costs.

And don’t feel the need to offer anything in return for donations or subscriptions.
It will only be a small amount of money, so for me the ‘return’ is to be able to continue using the site.

Thanks for such a detailled and honest post.
Regards

4 Likes

I am happy to pay a small Patreon fee for no extra reward.
But I prefer the idea of advertising to passing browsers.
Whatever you need to do to pay for this service is fine by me.

3 Likes

First, thank you! And thank you for the transparency.

Second, ads for folks who aren’t logged in, and a tip jar of some kind would be best for me?

I don’t like subscriptions. But a one-time ‘purchase’ that buys your account a cosmetic perk for a year (such as a title or symbol) would be good.

Or more aggressively, users could buy a year of ‘ad-free’ viewing? Adblocks are gonna bypass this mostly - so a cosmetic perk might be more positive and more effective, but I have no numbers to back that up.

2 Likes

I don’t have a new idea to add but I’ll second the idea of the donation/tip jar with a counter to a fixed goal.

I also like the idea of the cosmetic perk for user who donated/paid subscription. I actually have that at a video game forum I frequent (which uses the same forum software by the looks of it). There you have right beside the username a “VIP” marker.

3 Likes

Any of those options work for me. Advertising is the norm these days and I think people are used to it.

I’m new. I just recently created an account after my M44 searches kept bringing up this forum. That’s proof of how useful this forum, and it’s contributors are for the hobby. I respect the transparency, and trust you to do what it takes to keep this going! Cheers!

3 Likes

I wouldn’t mind advertising. Provided it does help with generating income for the site.

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Ads, and perhaps make it clear that if you are a member and log in that you won’t have the adverts which hopefully will drive membership up a little bit and give you better stats on what is really going on. it would be a bit funny if days of wonder was the only sponsor and all we saw were ads on their games.

3 Likes

Meles, zi love that thought! For that price, an exclusive, SPECIFIC market audience?

Anyway, any combination of those would be great, and maybe diversify the budget so if one of the strategies is impacted, it won’t go south altogether (I’m looking at YOU, Covid-19!).

Also, spitballing, there are some clever people here, creating cool stuff. What if users could provide something, with “profits” going to the site?

I just saw some cool flight stands someone 3D printed; if I could throw some dough at that, knowing $10 or something was going to the site?

I’m no 3D printer, and I’d love to have access to some of these folks brainz…

3 Likes

I would like to extend my thanks to all of you that posted in this thread. A special welcome to @Meles and @DrexlSpiveySR who decided this would be the first time they post here, and it’s such an important topic.

I have been reading the answers attentively and researching the possibility of adding a donation plugin to the website. I don’t think I can make it work for now, as all the options I saw were a work in progress or would work with a minor set of card providers. The available options also can’t track a fixed goal so unfortunately they don’t tick all the boxes we need. We can keep exploring this option in the future.

A lot was said about advertising, so I’d just like to add some clarity by saying that the browsing experience for logged in users would stay the same. The main idea is to show ads to people that don’t have accounts, which are currently generating the bulk of the expenses for running the Forum. It shouldn’t matter much if they have an adblocker installed, ads will be shown to the part of users that can see them and hopefully generate some income to pay for the server costs. It’s hard to estimate how higher/lower the income would be without trying it, so I might give it a shot.

It seems like the subscription idea isn’t very popular, which I’m happy for because I also don’t agree very much with it.

@oreso mentioned a tip jar as the name for one-off donations (I like the name :slight_smile: ) which I think could be another avenue to explore. The rewards for donating would be a custom badge in the Forum, access to a donator exclusive group/category where you would be able to suggest Forum changes, vote about any changes to current infrastructure and posts and request new content for me to post about, etc. If you donated once you would join the exclusive category, and the access is not revoged over time. The requests would of course be tended to according to my availability. In order to follow a fixed target for donations (equal to the yearly spendings), this would have to be done manually and I would have to post the current state of donations and the target. In terms of transparency this isn’t ideal but it would work.

I think I may try out the ads for 1-2 months, see how much we get and then confirm whether or not we still need the tip jar. What do you think?

4 Likes

As always (even if we don’t say it!) - thanks for all your efforts.
DrexlSpiveySR says this forum always comes up on their searches, and I did a few searches and had the same result, so the forum is certain well on the radar.
That means adverts should surely generate enough, and I second the motion to give them a go.