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GDNet: Past, Present, and Future

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A lot has changed at GameDev.net in the last few months, and now that we're preparing to enter our next phase of improvements I'm starting to think that it might be time to explain some of the bigger picture stuff happening at GameDev.net, along with how we got to where we are today.

The last few years we've gone through some organizational changes. One of the bigger changes was that a few of us became less involved in the day-to-day operations of the site - most notably three of us co-founders to include myself, Dave Astle, and Mike Tanczos. We were there in the background, but it was obvious we weren't around. As a result, aspects of the site appeared to go stale, and some of you may have even wondered if we had given up. We had our staff running the day-to-day, but it was obvious that GameDev.net wasn't the same.

We didn't like how things were going, and about 6 months ago we re-inserted ourselves into the day-to-day operations of GameDev.net. In those 6 months a lot has happened at GameDev.net - between the new site, the operational improvements we are implementing, and the future planning for GameDev.net a lot of change is taking place in a very short period of time. In some respects we're pressing the reset button with GameDev.net because we recognize that we can do better.

One of the biggest changes that everyone should be aware of is the new site launch. The community seems to have fallen into either the "love it" camp or the "hate it" camp. Although, now that some time has passed there might be a third faction called the "It's not so bad" camp. In any case, we sort of sprung the new site design on everyone, and in some respects it may have looked like we didn't really think things through prior to the launch or perhaps even test the new site out.

To understand why we launched you kind of need to jump back 4 years ago when we started a project we called "V5". V5 was supposed to solve world hunger, cure cancer, and probably most important be a new version of the site that provided capabilities that enhanced the community through the changing web content landscape at the time (circa 2006-2007). After all of our years running GameDev.net, we had reached a point where our site software was costing us more and more to do anything useful with it. We had lots of great ideas, but we didn't have the capacity to execute them. On top of that, because modifying layouts and adding new site pages required direct access to the server and knowledge of specific web technologies, we were becoming increasingly dependent on a handful of people to work on our projects, creating both a massive bottleneck and a huge security risk. Such is the bane of custom software.

Basically, we needed something that would require less maintenance, give us the ability to easily expand, and most of all allow anyone to do the work.

Three years later, and we only had a single demo page that we showed off at GDC 2010. For a variety of reasons, V5 development wasn't going so well. Finally, we reached our breaking point - GameDev.net was at risk of survival if we didn't do something immediately. We started investigating Content Management Systems to help drive the backbone of the new GameDev.net.

We found IPS and started evaluating it. We also looked at a few other options, but we settled on IPS for its forum software, which we believe fits well because the core of GameDev.net is the forums and the community. It certainly wasn't perfect and was even missing features we had in our custom software. The UI didn't even look as cool and techie as our old UI. But we had near-term and long-term needs that it satisfied, so we went with it knowing that we were sacrificing old capabilities in favor of future expansion.

IPS also included what some have called the "social media" features, which we've heard some say are "worthless". We disagree. We actually think the social media features can be very useful and can help strengthen the community. We aren't trying to replicate Facebook or twitter. Instead, we want to start connecting ideas to developers, developers to teams, teams to projects, and projects to services - what better way to accomplish that than through social media capabilities?

Also, we now have the ability to post and share any content on GameDev.net to social networks. We don't necessarily expect everyone to send their Facebook friends a link to a forum topic on shadow mapping, but the option is there. Pretty much every other site in the world has this capability so we figure we ought to have it as well. And if you love the site, then what better way to help GameDev.net than to spread the word about it?

With IPS we no longer had a development bottleneck. All the ideas we've had since we started GameDev.net in 1999 now had the possibility of coming to life because we weren't restricted by the bottleneck of custom software. We now have a platform we can build off.

Regarding the site launch in particular, we decided on a phased approach for the transition. Unfortunately, we had a finite amount of resources to spend on the development and testing of the new site, and we didn't want to wait another 6 months to launch so we set a release date and focused on ironing out all "absolutely critical" items - basically the things that made the site useless. We made the conscious decision to release the new site with known defects because we knew we were going to continue to iterate on the site. We knew we needed to get the new GameDev.net into your hands and let you tell us where to take it. Sure enough, you did (as of this writing, we've had over 1,000 issues submitted into our tracking system).

So we launched. We had problems, but the site functioned. It might have been annoying for some, but it functioned. And most important we were collecting feedback and addressing the critical items.

In the meantime, GDC was quickly approaching. Without getting into too many details, we had to divert our resources to GDC, which meant site issues were going to be put on hold until after GDC. We knew the risk was that it would look like we were aloof and not listening to you, the community, but with our circumstances revolving around GDC it was a risk we had to take.

That brings us to today. Since coming back from GDC, we've started to address the issues in the tracker system. We've also recognized the limitations of our tracker system and the need to better manage our workflow, so we've setup JIRA to manage both our defects and our new capability development. We've had these systems in the past, but we've never properly utilized them. We're going to stick to it this time around.

In the meantime we have a parallel effort focused on replanning and reorganizing GameDev.net. This sounds scary, but it's for the better. We're looking at a variety of things to improve the usefulness of GameDev.net. We're still in the early phases of this, so I'm not going to go into detail on these right now, but here's an idea of the types of things we're looking at:

  • Content reorganization and consistency across the site
  • Making information and updates easier to access and find, particularly the information you're most interested in seeing
  • The GDNet Marketplace that Mike has mentioned
  • Simplifying the content pipeline - you're seeing some of this with our ability to Feature journals on the front page
  • The ability to connect people, teams, products, and services quickly and easily. Need a contract artist? We can help you find one.
  • Expanding user profiles
  • Content aggregation
  • Improved rating system for forum topics, content, and users, so you know who and what you can trust
  • Breaking the mold of our PC programmer past
  • Expanding GDNet+ to include services
  • Revamping the GD Showcase to get more exposure for students and indies
  • And more...
    The over-arching theme is that up to this point GameDev.net has had a very techie, programmer-centric view of the world. That's more because that's all of our background and how the site grew than because we really intended it to be that way. However, it's time for GameDev.net to be true to our name and start focusing on "game development" to become a true resource for the entire games industry, whether that's a student dreaming about designing his own game, Will Wright, or someone in a non-game-but-related industry. In our 12 years of operation, the games industry has undergone massive changes. GameDev.net hasn't changed much in that time, but if we're going to provide the best resource for you then we need to step up our game and adjust with the industry.

    Our goal is for GameDev.net to proivde the games industry with a service that makes the industry more efficient through education and industry interaction. Our mission is to help people achieve their dreams and goals as they relate to the games industry. We've already helped so many people over the last 12 years - it's simply time to take that to the next level.

    So over the next year you'll see us roll out more changes, whether it is to add a new capability or to completely reorganize the site. We anticipate some of the changes to start as early as next month.

    Obviously this was a long blog post, but I hope it's been useful. My intention was to communicate where we've been, why we've made some of the decisions we've made, and where we're headed with GameDev.net. As always, let us know if you have any questions or comments. In the meantime, we'll keep moving forward.
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Good luck! I'm not so hot on the new system, and I'll probably be annoyed by some of the upcoming changes, but the fact that you guys are paying attention and actually getting things done on renewing the site makes me confident that in the end, GDNet will be even better than it was during my Lounge lizard days. Bring on the changes! :D

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I've been with you for almost 10 years guys and I'm a witness of how much you have helped developers all around the world. I'm on the "I love it" camp and I'd still be there if you switched to ASCII graphics on a dial-up BBS. :)

Thanks for everything, keep it up!!!

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I just joined almost 3 years ago, but in this time GameDev community helped me a lot, so thank you very much!

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