This title may not be what you expect but I'd like to take this opportunity and talk about S4DB, it's changes and the unforeseen things.
I won't do a rewind of 2018 only, I'll do a rewind of the whole Story of S4DB. This is something I never told anyone before.
When I was young, I was interested into everything related with computers, I was really curious how programming works, I ordered a book (Yes, back then I read books) about web development, I started to develop small websites for myself, like guestbooks, forums or small personal websites. It wasn't something special at all. Actually it was pretty basic but everyone starts as a beginner.
2009, I found this game called "S4 League", I loved it's gameplay, I played it a lot, I joined a Clan. I setup a clanwebsite, added a forum and developed a small extension to it where you could see the current members in the clan and apply for the clan. Back then, the clansystem in S4 League was pretty basic and didn't give much information. I then added exp and playtime graphs for each clan member to this forum. Everyone really liked it and instead for clan members of the clan only, they wanted to have this for the entire S4 League playerbase. This is how the idea for S4DB was born. This happened around 2010 - 2011.
I initially launched the public version of S4DB in december 2011. S4DB looked back then like this:
It had no social features, just the core components:
- Player / Clan Profiles
- Player / Clan Lists
- Server Status
- Staff list (GMs in the Game)
In early 2012, I added a lot more features to S4DB and it looked like this:
I added rankings, player comparisons, player level calculations, player / clan signatures, extended statistics and information about the game.
It was a pretty basic design and almost everything opened in a new window, I didn't like this. This was when S4DB v1 was born. The first complete redesign of S4DB!
In late 2012, I released the first redesign of S4DB, internally I call it S4DB v1, this is how it looked like:
The design was much cleaner, it didn't use windows in order to open content such as profiles or anything you'd open on S4DB.
This was also the first version, that had social components.
You were able to register and login on S4DB, comment on other player- or clanprofiles. However, you couldn't verify yourself yet, it was a beta feature and I validated the use case of this feature.
Also you were able to favourite players and clans, send messages to other S4DB users and receive notifications. That was pretty much it.
I worked a lot on this version, but in the end, I also didn't really like it and I wasn't happy with it.
This is when I was thinking a lot about another complete redesign, which I call internally S4DB v2, this is the version you are seeing today. I had the amazing help of Beffel, which also helped me with many design decisions in earlier S4DB versions, but he was the main driver behind the design of the current S4DB you know today. He designed EVERYTHING in photoshop, we thought a lot about it, we talked a lot about it, we also became really good friends at that time, but in the end he is the one behind the whole S4DB Design, it's base principles and why it looks like this today. It took us many months to design it, as soon as he had the first designs ready, I started right at the moment and turned this design into reality, it's still a design I'm proud of until today because I really like it and it was so much work, we thought about every detail, you could never imagine how many months it took me just to turn the design from a photoshop template into a real website. But the design wasn't the only thing I developed from scratch completely, I also developed the whole S4DB Source Code from scratch back then, in order to make everything as fast as possible. I optimized everything, I measured every millisecond in order to make sure S4DB is as fast as possible. I revamped the whole architecture.
Now, we hit another point. I started S4DB hosting on a small server at home, in order to give access to some friends and to anyone who knew the site, not many people used it in the beginning, it got known really fast amongst S4 League players, I moved S4DB to an own small server in a datacenter, quickly, the old server wasn't fast anymore, I had to rent a bigger server, I had to migrate to faster servers. Nowadays, S4DB doesn't just runs on 1 server, the S4DB server cluster spans around 15 servers, every server is on it's own, has own hardware, every server is dedicated to it's own task, for example there is a server for the database (storing the data), for the application itself (logic behind S4DB), for images (Newsfeed, Chat, Avatars), for search suggestions, for the shoutbox, for the chat and much more. It would be too much to explain everything here now. For every server, I'm using the best technologies and languages for it's task, I had to learn many programming languages, I'm not complaining about it, I actually loved doing it. I still love doing it until today.
Let's talk about another point, the probably most important one: Money. I will be 100% honest about it.
My principles and conditions when I started S4DB were the following:
- No ads
- No premium content, everyone should have the same rights
- No donation button
- Hobby Project, I don't want to commercialize it all
I have them still deep in my mind until today and they will never change. To be honest, I never expected that S4DB will become that big nor expensive.
For everything you buy or rent, you need to pay. Of course, in the beginning it wasn't that much, for example for the first server I rent for S4DB, I paid around 10€ per month. It was okay. Of course with faster and also more servers, you obviously pay more. Right now I'm paying around 150€ per month. This is a lot, considering I'm hosting S4DB on my own since 8 years already, completely on my own. I'm doing everything alone with paying the expenses. In total, I would say I spent around 12,000€ ~ 15,000€ so far on S4DB and I didn't earn a single penny with S4DB. I'm sure, almost no one knew it. It's the opposite, instead, many people think S4DB is driven by AeriaGames or by a company, but in reality, it's just a single person who loves doing and working on his hobby. That's all.
All of this is not meant as a complaint, I love it, otherwise I wouldn't do it and keep it up until today and many more years to come. I just wanted that everyone is aware of it and you can't expect anything from me, because I don't earn anything from S4DB except from spending money on it and also spending a lot of time on it. The average maintenance tasks and taking care of everything on S4DB costs me around 1 hour per day. I have a full time job (8 hours per day) and sometimes it's hard to keep up with it.
Many people didn't understand why I don't do something in seconds, that's why. Because in the end I'm alone and I have to do everything on my own. And trust me, S4DB is really time-consuming. If I can compare it, I would say, the last 8 years I spent on average 4 hours per day on S4DB. It wasn't something you can develop fast or in 1 hour every day. There were days, where I spent weeks on it, almost the full day, not doing anything else. I know, it's hard to believe but it was really something huge to develop. I would say, I spent around 10,000 hours (developing and maintenance) in the last 8 years of my life on S4DB.
Let's move on to the good things:
S4DB's activity always increased, S4DB had 20,000,000 unique page views in 2018, people spent more time on it, kept S4DB open longer, for example with the introduction of the new Chat, almost 9,000,000 messages were exchanged amongst S4DB users, something I'm really proud of. S4DB connects people. S4DB crafted many friendships and sometimes even more. I'm really happy about this. I was always like this: If I can help at least 1 person, I'm happy and I achieved my goal. I wanted to give the S4DB / S4 League community something back. Something the community didn't know before: Communication outside of the game. For me this is really important and a key part because a platform keeps it's members together and also motivates them to play the game. And it actually did this.
Of course, caused by a lot of activity, there is also much more trouble or different things to deal with. I'm sure you can imagine. Sometimes it's hard to take a decision and you can't make everyone happy. There is at least one person that will hate it. I tried really hard but in the end this is impossible.
S4DB is a part of my life, I'm really happy I had the chance to experience this journey, I learnt so many things, it helped me so much. It's something I'm proud of and I will ever be.
I'd like to give a huge thanks to the following people:
- Beffel: Huge help with design, I can't thank him enough
- Kurtextrem: Always helped me when I asked him many questions and gave me his opinions
- S4DB Staff Team: I know, I can't say it enough but also thank you for helping me with everything
- Alaplaya: Especially Netrunner, I guess almost no one knows him nowadays?
And the most important one: YOU! Thank you for using S4DB. It's an honour to me that you like browsing S4DB. Without you all, I wouldn't have reached and achieved with S4DB what it would be today. Every single one of you motivated me to work on S4DB and S4DB wouldn't be here today.
S4DB was and is a great journey. I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope that 2019 will be even better for you than 2018 was and you can gain many experiences and spend time with the people you love.