*** Update! *** See below… (or click here)
Now that the smoke has cleared and the results have gone live (as well as me finally being moved in to my new apartment), I’d like to start a discussion about that nagging issue of site costs. Phil and I have some ideas, but it’s you guys that keep us going, so I want to hear what you think.
In case you missed it, during Ludum Dare 21 Phil and I migrated the Ludum Dare server from a $10/mo shared host to a $60/mo VPS… and when that wasn’t enough, to a $200/mo VPS. So as of August, our burn rate went from an easy $150/yr (12 months hosting + domains) all the way to about $2500/yr. That’s not really pocket change anymore.
The root of the problem is that Ludum Dare isn’t a normal website or blog. Most of our content is dynamically generated, in real time, over one high volume weekend every 4 months. I was sent (and very much appreciate the) numerous offers to host us during the the event, but what most people don’t realize is that we’re not a bandwidth hog, but a CPU hog. All that dynamically generated content was A MONSTER on CPU usage, and that’s what raised the warning flags on the shared host.
As it stands now, we should be able to take a good sized burst of incoming traffic (Hi Markus). That’s not really an invitation (yet), but whatever happens happens.
So we have a website… it just costs a lot of money.
There are probably some things we can do help scale the cost of the site during low traffic times. Amazon has been suggested multiple times, but I have no clue how one runs a wordpress blog on Amazon, nor how to calculate what our costs would be. Again, CPU hog. Cloudflare has also been mentioned a few times, but I have to admit, as a small business owner, I kinda want to save my free instance for me.
So, how can we cover our costs?
Option 1. Take Donations
We actually used to do this, but stopped once people started abusing our generosity. ludumdare.com has a pretty decent site-rank, so we used to offer a link to anyone that sent us money. But the shadiness of some of the sites we were asked to link to convinced me to stop doing this. To be fair to everyone that did contribute, I decided to simply leave the links as-is for the past year.
So, we could open up the Paypal box again. Phil has been looking at some plugins that will sort-of automate the “hey we need money” side of things, but nothing is settled.
Compared to options that follow, this is easy.
Option 2. Regular Kickstarter Campaigns
I really don’t like this option, but would expect it to work. I don’t know Kickstarter’s fee, but I do suspect a direct Paypal deposit is lower. Personally, I’m kinda bothered by the whole “PBS yearly donation drive” mentality. “Give us money and we’ll continue showing educational television. Give us $100 and you get a T-Shirt”. At least, I don’t think that suits us.
Also it’s far more work, as a typical kickstarter offers incentives, and all of us on the staff are busy trying to run our respected gamedev businesses. Ludum Dare works best for us when we have very little to do.
Option 3. Adsense/Advertising
While it’s true banners and ad networks are an option, I don’t think we do enough volume for it to be helpful. Yes, we do lots and lots of traffic in one weekend, but I think for the most part it’s the same 1000-2000 people checking the site over and over again, where those banner avenues are all about uniques.
What we have instead is an EXTREMELY specific audience; Game Developers. People from the industry, students, and indies. Pretty much every facet of game development, we’ve got. So with that in mind, we’d probably be a really good place to advertise middleware, platforms/app stores, and perhaps even companies looking to hire.
I do think, honestly, we are not a good place to advertise a game. But hey, if somebody does really well and wants to give back, then who are we to argue.
Option 4. Take Sponsors
A variation of option 3. Per main event (April, August, December), take on 1 single sponsor that is the sponsor of that event. Whatever we charge sponsors should be enough to cover our costs for the next 4 months (maybe 6 to buffer), even though they’re paying mainly for the time around that weekend.
Unfortunately, this adds a more complexity and work to running LD, as it means I need to approach potential sponsors every 4 months to cover our costs. This might not be all that difficult; I have had some interested parties come to me directly already, and simply putting up a sponsorship invitation might be enough to get more. But I don’t know yet.
Option 5. Hosting Sponsor
All that considered, if someone or some company wants to outright eat our hosting costs for us, then that means we just have to run a site. Simple. We’re game developers here, and our time should really be spent doing that.
I used to say the Ludum Dare website ran on autopilot, and it mostly does, but Phil and I do put a lot of time in to it (like me, right now, writing this post). We learn lots running the site and the community, but I have to admit it might be nice to let someone else do all the server work for us.
Donations vs. Sponsors
That’s pretty much what the above options are. Either we the community pay for it, or some 3rd party does.
In a sense, that’s kind-of where Phil and my opinions deviate.
Phil is out of town at the moment, so I apologize for speaking on his behalf, but I think his opinion is we the community should pay for it. I think this is great, but personally, I am a little scared of donations having to cover $2400 per year. We could probably do this fine for a couple years, but I am really worried about this long term. If we could predictably be directly responsible for some Notch-like success stories then sure, but hahaha, you can’t predict that kind of thing.
When the costs were $10/mo, that was easy; We could totally pay that (as we have) or ask a few people throw some $20 bills our way. Done. But we don’t really have that luxury anymore.
So alternatively, I’ve been leaning towards the outside sponsorship option. Give some limelight “Ludum Dare XX, Sponsored by YY”. I do know we have something potentially very interesting to sponsors in our niche (gamedev). And companies certainly pay more money for far-worse advertising opportunities.
But at the same time, I’m like “HOLY CRAP! That’s WAAAY more work for me!”. It’s not like I get paid to do this.
Prizes and Incentives
I still get approached about this every so often (today even). Somebody wants to offer prizes for the winners.
Personally, I think one of the best things we do for both you the participants and us the organizers is our “no prizes; your prize is your product” mantra.
For you, it sets a good precedent. Win or lose, you are creating for you. Win is obviously better, but the takeaway from a Ludum Dare can be quantified in so many positive ways. All it costs is a weekend, some sleep, and maybe a little bit of sanity. That’s fair though.
For us, even though we have somewhat strict rules, we don’t have to enforce them vigorously because no money was lost. In other words we can be a little lazy, but really we are trying to encourage and foster a very positive game development community. Competitive yes, but in the best way possible.
That said, I’m not entirely opposed to prizes and/or things given out to participants, but I fear what our judging process would become if it was directly responsible for rewarding the prizes.
Also if we introduce sponsors, they may want to offer incentives. After all, what better time to crash course learn a piece of middleware than during an LD? I kinda think this could work, but at the same time I would never agree to an event that *only* used a piece of middleware. If you want to give a little something special to those that do, by all means.
Scaling down costs
Of course, probably the best to deal with the increased costs is to lower them in the first place. I briefly covered what has been suggested (Amazon, Cloudflare), but if anyone wants to comment on cost reduction ideas feel free.
We’re on a VPS now, and a little birdie in my ear is saying for that we should be dedicated, but that doesn’t lower the cost really.
So. Ludum Dare. We are complicated
Phew! I think that about covers all the angles, concerns and things we have to deal with. I would love this to be a simple “snap my finger and it’s done” problem, but things aren’t all that simple.
We are committed to making this event happen, since we all think it is incredibly important and valuable to a lot of people, but we don’t have infinite time either. We also think that it should stay and be as free as possible for everyone to participate in (this is the Internet after all).
So that’s what has been going on in my noggin’. I’d love to hear your thoughts.