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Moon

Battlefront Mod and Scenario Depot - your opinion counts

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The website and server changes of this summer have been the first major stepping stone on the way to a modernization of the Battlefront portal as a whole. While there are many infrastructural changes that happened in the background as well, mostly invisible to fans and customers, one of the core reasons for the improvements is that we want to enhance our offerings to the community. Or, I should probably say, communities, since there are several "fan blocks" around the various Battlefront games.

One of the first such new features is going to be an official Scenario and Mods Depot for Combat Mission, Strategic Command, Theatre of War and all other Battlefront titles. Some of the work done in the past years by fans, financed out of their pocket and updated with their own sweat and blood, has been - and continues to be - outright amazing (yes, this is directed at ColumbusOHGamer from

www.cmmods.com and others). The Battlefront File Depot is not meant to be a competition to them. But at the same time a central repository for ALL Battlefront games, easily accessible to ALL Battlefront customers, is meant to round out our offering of tools and features to the community as a whole, and to perhaps help centralize and streamline some of the efforts in this area.

With new games coming up for release in the final days of 2008 and in 2009, including some new Strategic Command games and of course a whole number of new Combat Mission modules that are in the works, this central repository should help fans to find and exchange exciting new scenarios, mods, and maps to enhance their gaming experience. This kind of user interaction is a central point of the design and games development philosophy at Battlefront; and has been from day one (which is long before most other game publisher out there even realized what mods are).

We have always wanted to increase our focus on this area, but before the recent structural changes it would have simply not been possible.

So much for the past. Now on to the future, and the main reason for this public post.

Running and hosting a file depot comes with a lot of requirements that need to be fulfilled so that everyone to enjoy it. The most obvious one is the bandwidth and server storage space required to serve thousands of files to thousands of users and many thousand Gigabytes of data day in and day out. While the File Depot would start off fairly small, looking at some of our current server stats and considering that file sizes generally keep increasing and that we'll have more and more games in the portfolio, it's clear to see that these requirements will be HUGE quickly. We don't often talk about internal business data, but it should suffice to say that Battlefront has about 1 million hits on an average day. We have started sharing demos and other free files with partner sites long time ago because the download requirements were VASTLY beyond what our server structure is able to handle.

These requirements (and there are a few others besides just the hosting) come with a price tag. While hosting your own private website today is almost "free", when you start looking around for real you will notice quickly that the kind of server required to reliably run a file depot for us comes in at a hefty cost. We know because our full game downloads are using a server network structure to ensure smooth downloads even on a release day. That's EXPENSIVE. We're covering this cost obviously from the revenues that people are paying for their games.

The problem I'm leading up to is that obviously mods and scenarios and maps are free. That's the whole point of offering them. This not only means that there is no way to offset the cost; it also means that - since everyone likes freebies :-) - the possible bandwidth requirements could be EVEN HIGHER.

If you search our discussion forum you will find a whole number of posts over the years that talk about various solutions people have been trying to come up with in the past to keep running and hosting such a file database viable. The same problems apply to anyone who is thinking about running such a kind of service.

The very first thing one can do to save cost is to use a small server at home. Plug it into the internet, and let people download from it. Private solutions like these save money because the cost of running a server at home is fairly low, but of course there are many bottlenecks to this solution, especially if the amount of users and files being served is inceasing. This is not a viable solution for a company owned server and the foreseeable bandwidth demand.

One possibility are donations. This means asking for people to voluntarily donate money "for the good cause". There are several problems with this approach for us as a company however; credibility is one. Another issue is that it's questionable if volunatry donations would be enough to even marginally offset at least part of the cost.

Another option are ads. Instead of charging the users for the service we could of course let others benefit from the amount of eyeballs visiting the depot. But ads are often intrusive and counterproductive, and as a games publisher we'd be in a quandry because the people who would offer to pay the most for ads are those that we're competing with. But if we have to skip the good paying ads, then we have to add a massive amount of low-paying ads. You would have to look very very hard to find the download button and jump through several pop-overs and pop-unders probably before you could anywhere close to a download button. Anyone who's used one of the free software repository sites out there knows what I mean.

So what does this leave us with? Forcing people into a membership kind of agreement to use the site? That's a big no from our end. Forced memberships run completely contrary to the main idea of such a central mod exchange, and would probably suffocate the entire project before it gets off the ground.

At the same time: What is not an option unfortunately is offering this kind of service entirely for free. You may have the opinion that you have already paid for the game, then why should you pay the same company for the ability to exchange files and mods.

Well, let me answer this by prefacing that we're not talking about making a profit from this kind of service. Far from it. No matter what (voluntary) model we will decide upon in the end, it is extremely unlikely that the revenue would even come close to cover the real cost of running such a service. We've run the numbers and we're talking here about bandwidth and server storage requirements in the thousands. Each month. And growing from month to month as more mods, new games and new users are added.

Truth is that Battlefront is not a big label mainstream publisher selling millions of copies each year, and we can't simply swallow this kind of cost. We could perhaps try to recoup some of it in a hidden way, by increases the prices for our games. But we don't want to make everyone pay for a service that not everyone will be using equally.

So if the majority of people here thinks that such a service should be free (and if you just bear with me a few more minutes then you'll have the stage to voice your opinion!), then we'll acknowledge, thank your for participation... and there will be no such file exchange. Simple as that.

The way it will work, however, is that we're preparing to swallow PART of the cost. Basically whatever is missing at the end of the month to cover server expenses, Battlefront will cover and write it off as marketing expenses. We do hope to offer a great and convenient way to exchange game files that promises to perhaps draw in more players to become active in the community, so it's just fair.

So what is the solution we've come up with so far?

Our plans at the moment are to make the file exchange a completely free service to everyone who is registered at

www.battlefront.com (any customer purchasing something has an account created automatically during his first purchase, and of course you can also register manually if you want), but to place restrictions on the FILESIZE THAT CAN BE DOWNLOADED PER MONTH. It's not clear yet what that limit would be, perhaps in the range of 5-10 MB monthly. ADDED CLARIFICATION: Regardless of size, you will always get one file per month minimum, even if it's 100 MB or more.

This should cover most "casual users" and is a service that Battlefront is happy to provide for free to the community in exchange for the kind of killer mods and scenarios it's been turning out so far :-)

In order to avoid download limits for a given month, you would need to opt into a paid membership. We would offer one month, three month, six month and annual membership plans. The cost is not set in stone, but the current plan looks like this:

1 month: $5

3 months: $10 (save $5)

6 months: $15 (save $15)

12 months: $25 (save $35)

Membership is entirely voluntary. "Casual users" can but do not have to opt in if all they want is to download a file here and there. (If they do opt-in then you can think of a kind of "donate" option) "Heavy users" who want to download many files would either have to spread their downloads over a couple of months or more, or would need to get one of the membership options.

This system is meant to be fair in the sense that those who use the service most are also under the most pressure to opt-in. It's also meant to be 100% voluntary. All options and all files are open to all (registered) users without any restrictions, except the monthly download limit (there is a second limit with regard to how often you can re-download the same file; this is the same for all users and is mostly a security measure to prevent leeching).

You will be able to purchase this kind of membership option along with any other games that we're selling in our store at

www.battlefront.com.

In summing up, we basically have a system that is a mix of a voluntary Donate button and a paid membership. We also have a system with a direct relation between "price" (membership fee) and "product" (nearly unlimited downloads).

Uploading is of course free for anyone (you need to be registered to upload). And no, there are no "tokens" or free memberships for people who upload. This would open a big black box full of potential issues on how to make it "fair".

So far so good. The problem is that we're not doing this for ourselves. The File Depot is meant to be for you, the community, so there is little point in setting all of this up only to find that it's rejected by those who are supposed to be using it. At the same time we want to make sure that we clearly spell out the thinking behind the system we're proposing and, let's be honest, also to make sure everyone understand why such a service cannot be offered "for free" (even though in the approach above it kind of is in the end...)

With this, I leave the stage. Fire away! A simple Yay or Nay is enough, or don't hold back with your detailed opinions :-)

Please understand that this is not a poll, however. Your opinions posted here will influence our final decision, but we're not simply going to add up the posts pro and con here. This forum here is frequented by only a small minority of our customers (only about 10% of customers ever seem to register to the forum, for whatever reason), even if perhaps the most vocal ones :-)

Moon

PS. Don't hesitate to suggest a good catchy name for the repository, too. Filefront is taken unfortunately. File Depot, Repository...?

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May i suggest another solution, that would cost only a fraction of the costs you are planning?

Make a torrent-site!

All you have to do, is to motivate people to keep seeding.

On good torrent-sites, this is done by ratios, that are strictly observed and executed (i.e. if upload/download ratio below 0.6 you receive a warning and a certain amount of time to correct it - otherwise aou are banned. Additionally there are time-periods (i.e. 24h), people have to keep seeding after their leeching is complete.

You could also offer certain bonuses to good seeders.

And to be on the safe side, the battlefront-server will always seed every file in the database.

For people like me, with expensive mobile bandwith: give people the possibility to buy download bonuses, so that they can keep their ratio up, without seeding.

And make sure, you only allow certain safe torrents, that don't allow ratio cheating.

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All you have to do, ...

Yeah, right, that's all we have to do. And then some more things to manage it. And then to be on the safe side we'd need to do some more. :)

Sorry, torrent is not an option for us.

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Yay

I think it is very important for future "Battlefront Mod Scenario Depot" the rating system and user feedback from the loaded material (so the restrictions on the FileSize THAT CAN BE downloaded PER MONTH would be reasonable)

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I'm stunned with the bottom of the barrel approach on this. 5-10mb monthly? Seriously? Well, that 10.1mb mod sure isn't going to go down well.

What's offered now is falling far, far short of my expectations. I'm going to go so far as saying this has un-value for me.

Less restraints on the user please! I can't care if you use wall to wall ads, just get the hell out of my way when I see a desirable mod.

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Yay

I think it is very important for future "Battlefront Mod Scenario Depot" the rating system and user feedback from the loaded material (so the restrictions on the FileSize THAT CAN BE downloaded PER MONTH would be reasonable)

Yes, all files can be rated and people also will be able to leave feedback/comments immediately attached to each file listing.

BTW, perhaps this needs to be clarified: monthly download restrictions only apply to non-members. Members have no download restrictions at all, i.e. for $25 you get unlimited downloads for a full year.

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This sounds great to me. I really don't expect you guys to provide a service like this for free and the rates sound very reasonable to me. Most scenarios average out at a lot less than 100kb so, for most folks, that's a huge amount of free scenarios every month as well as a couple of decent mods. So count me in.

What about The Front Line?

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5-10mb monthly? Seriously?

No, not seriously. 5-10 MB monthly is just a ballpark figure for now (just like the prices and member structure). The monthly limit may well end up being higher, but we need some firsthand experience first before being able to set it.

Also, it's not going to be a hard limit anyway, in the sense that your ongoing download would simply stop and you'd get a blinking message "oops, you used up your bandwidth". If you're downloading a file that brings you over your monthly limit, you can of course download it in full. You just won't be able to download any other files that month.

If you want no hassles at all, then simply get a membership.

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Seems entirely reasonable, but I think I'd charge on a download amount instead of time, otherwise you are just going to be pushing traffic way up, which is not really what I think you're trying to do.

For instance, the first month at $5, I can be a refresh monkey and get everything on the site, why come back for the second month?

Set it up for, say, 5 Mb at $5 (just to throw some numbers out) and auto bill to a credit card when the limit is up and reset the account. That way, people will just down load in ones and twos, as they need a new scenario, instead of trying to grab everything.

Simple, understandable, and low maintenance on everybody's part.

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As an "other" community member Combat Mission scenario archive depository owner, I've been providing this "service" for free for 6 years, which includes many other features besides just downloads. Members of my sites have provided TONS of discussions, reviews, tips and articles about various scenarios and game play for the CMx1 series games. While I can certainly understand and appreciate the desire to centralize archives for not only the older CM games, but for all of BFC's line of games, what do I tell my members? Will players that remain faithful to the older CM games want to go through rating and commenting on all those scenarios again? What about the playtesting of scenarios? Will there be no restrictions on who uploads what so you don't know if you're getting a severly crippled scenario or one that is fairly balanced? Where would this leave CMx1 players - will this in effect finally phase out those games? I'm not saying that my and other sites like mine sustain those games, but there's years of data that has been gathered and stored that will be lost should our sites shut down.

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5-10mb a ballpark figure? It's not even a bullpen figure.

Good to hear it's not a hard limit, but what is being proposed here isn't een in the same league of CMMODs. I've heard the argument against BFC supporting COG, I understand it, and I think it's the lesser of two 'evils' by a wide margin.

Right now I'd favour just about anything above this restrictive variant. Why not a forum section dedicated to modification, with Filefront or Megaupload links? If it's good enough for porn, it's good enough for mods. :D

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For instance, the first month at $5, I can be a refresh monkey and get everything on the site, why come back for the second month?

Because some new mods are out in month two that were not available in month one?

We won't want to get into the whole recurring billing thing. It will remain a one-off purchase for sure.

Martin

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It will, because there is a one file minimum, regardless of size.

Well that answers that concern, perhaps this should be edited into Moons original post.

I for one really don't mind ads, sure their annoying and obtrusive, but it's a necessary evil in my eyes. I wouldn't mind it being implemented in some way.

But I like what I'm hearing, this isn't a good thing, it's a great thing. Also been a long time coming too. So yes, I'm all for it, full steam ahead.

As for the name, let's not go with usual names like Filefront, FilePlanet, FileShack, etc. How about something more in tune with BFs military themed games and crowd.

How about:

BattleFronts War Toys Warehouse bfwartoys.com

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While I can certainly understand and appreciate the desire to centralize archives for not only the older CM games, but for all of BFC's line of games, what do I tell my members? Will players that remain faithful to the older CM games want to go through rating and commenting on all those scenarios again?

Why should they? We're certainly not expecting them to.

What about the playtesting of scenarios? Will there be no restrictions on who uploads what so you don't know if you're getting a severly crippled scenario or one that is fairly balanced? Where would this leave CMx1 players - will this in effect finally phase out those games?

I don't follow how you come from one to the other? Why would a file depot "phase out those games"?

The use of the depot is going to be unmoderated and entirely "as is". This means that you will find "crippled or unbalanced scenarios" sooner or later, yes. There will be a rudimentary comments and ratings feature, but certainly nothing in-depth. A very good argument for people to continue using your site!

I'm not saying that my and other sites like mine sustain those games, but there's years of data that has been gathered and stored that will be lost should our sites shut down.

Why should they? Our service is meant to be in addition to whatever is out there. Like you say yourself, there is a good point in offering such a depot for all Battlefront games, and that's the main point here. Not to compete with the already existing sites.

Why not a forum section dedicated to modification, with Filefront or Megaupload links?

Well, we already have that. Go ahead and use it. :P

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PS. GJK, what is your site that you're referring to? Have you submitted it to the Weblinks section already? I'll be happy to offer links to other file, scenario and mod depots from our central repository. Again, we don't want to compete with what's out there but to complement it, and to help the modding and scenario/map making guys out there to spread their stuff.

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I guess I'll just have to monitor activity on my sites after yours is launched to see if it is feasible to continue financing and running mine and I guess that CoH and Gautrek and others will be forced to do the same.

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PS. GJK, what is your site that you're referring to? Have you submitted it to the Weblinks section already? I'll be happy to offer links to other file, scenario and mod depots from our central repository. Again, we don't want to compete with what's out there but to complement it, and to help the modding and scenario/map making guys out there to spread their stuff.

Yes, I run the two that are listed there, "The Proving Grounds" and "The Scenario Depot II".

I don't want to compete with "official" BFC scenario hosting either - I see no need in having the two, so if yours would be the preferred "vendor", then I'd most likely just go ahead and shut down. Again, we'll see what happens after your launch.

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Because some new mods are out in month two that were not available in month one?

We won't want to get into the whole recurring billing thing. It will remain a one-off purchase for sure.

Martin

Well, sure. But if I download 100 mb of mods for all my games in month one for $5, I think I'm good for awhile. ;)

I really think the recurring billing is the way to go. It's not like it's going to be a monthly charge, it's just going to come up when I hit my account limit.

Doesn't Amazon do something like this for Kindle? Maybe you could look at that model.

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I think a paid subscription service is an awful idea.

1. The community currently provides everything for free.

2. Battlefront would be charging its customers money for the hard work of its other customers.

3. If you can't match your competitors (who are a bunch of hardworking amateurs) for price ($0) and convenience what is the likelihood of the whole thing taking off? If you aren't going to make an awesome rating and discussion function then you are not beating what is offered by your (free) competitors.

4. The whole concept is a icing on the cake for people who have already bought a game, if you can't afford it, don't do it.

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Well, I can get a book for free over on Project Gutenberg.

But I still buy from Amazon too.

Yes, it is icing on the cake, as Moon pointed out in the beginning. And it has to pay for itself somehow. The question is, how?

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I think a paid subscription service is an awful idea.

Yes, I think so, too. Which is why that's not what we're going to do.

Instead, we do a system which is completely free to use, but which has some restrictions built in, and if you want some "extra" features, you need to pay for it. That's a very different thing than a paid subscription service.

Please note that "for free" is a term that should be applied loosely. *Somebody* is paying for it. It may not be the person using it. I described various ways of footing the bill including simply paying it out of your pocket, ads, donations etc. That's not "free", it's just that the cost is recouped in a different way than charging the user.

3. If you can't match your competitors (who are a bunch of hardworking amateurs) for price ($0) and convenience what is the likelihood of the whole thing taking off?

Perhaps zero. This discussion is supposed to give us a first idea, plus explain what we want to do and why it can't be "free". In the end probably only time will tell.

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Well, sure. But if I download 100 mb of mods for all my games in month one for $5, I think I'm good for awhile. ;)

Be our guest!

The idea here is not how we maximize profit from a Depot (because most likely there won't be any) but how do we strike a balance between usefulness (for you) and cost (for us). At the moment the idea to "pay per MB" to me seems to tip that balance too far to one side (recouping cost while increasing inconvenience to the user). And that increases the danger that it simply won't be used at all.

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Why don't you cooperate with cmmods.com or other sites? Makes more sense to me.

Many reasons: security, control, reliability, useability, just to name a few. An official depot has to be on the official site, for example. There is no way to cooperate on this without taking full control over whoever we'd "cooperate" with.

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