When we made GMod I never wanted to make forums. It was a common thing for mods though. The order in which you made a mod 10 years ago was Website, Forums, Screenshots, Trailer, Start work on Mod.
So I tried to be resistant to that. The all hype no substance stuff. It was also inevitable that these forums got full of kids just bitching with each other.
In January 2005 I gave in and made a forum. It was phpbb based and it got exploited and hacked every week.
Within a few months, in April 2005 we switched to VBulletin 3, with a theme I bought from some mac website. The jump to vBulletin felt like a significant one if I remember right, because it wasn’t free. This was when we stopped being just a GMod forum.
By September 2005 we’d moved to the subdomain forums.facepunchstudios.com and the design started to look a bit more terrible.
By 2008 the design had sort of solidified into the classic Facepunch forum design that we all remember and love.
In 2009 the forums moved to the facepunch.com domain. The idea being that the forums would be at facepunch.com, and the game development shit would be at facepunchstudios.com.
At this point the design is pretty much the same as it is today with a few minor differences. No forum icons, a lot more subforums, we’re still showing the threads/post counts and the who’s online spam.
In 2010 we started getting a bit experimental. I’m guessing I’d upgraded vBulletin and it had some new options.. which I couldn’t wait to try, leading to the appearance of the Highlights box on the front page. Christ that who’s online box is getting fucking massive.
By 2011 we were in full modern mode. We’ve got forum icons and we’ve got rid of the who’s online box.
And we must have been feeling experimental again, because we’ve not got the two column layout on the front page. With its efficient use of screen space, this layout saved the lives of thousands of mouse wheels all around the world.
Not a lot has changed by 2013. Lots of new forums have been added, lots of subforums have been removed.
By 2015 we’ve slimmed back. Megathreads replaced subforums that weren’t very popular. Because of the reduced forum count, the two column design wasn’t justified anymore.
And here we are today. A few more forums, but nothing has really changed that much. That’s 12 years of our forums.
On reflection there’s some stuff we did right and some stuff we did wrong with the forums.
The rating system is something I’m really proud of. Every now and then I’ll be browsing the web and come upon a forum and see an implementation that looks very similar.
There’s a fundamental issue with large forums with lots of moderators. They stop functioning as forums. In order to add coherence users are told to only post about a in thread b. This leads to megathreads.
Megathreads stop forums being used like forums. You’ve obviously got all the content going into these huge threads, unorganised except around a big subject.
But then you’ve also got the problem that people decide that they’re only really interested in these 4 megathreads, so they don’t even bother looking in the forum itself. In our case people only occasionally look in the forum itself when the megathread they were following is closed and a new version is created.
We amplify this problem in a few ways in our Forums.
- Read Threads allows people to skip opening the forums completely (so there’s no point in making a new thread, because no-one will see it).
- Over-moderation causes frowning on the creation of threads.
- Removal of subforums forces communities into megathreads.
- Lack of new forum users means the forums turn into a “hangout” where a handful of members chat to each other in megathreads.
We’ve wanted to move away from vBulletin since about a week after I installed it. It’s bloated, it has a colourful history, and it’s written in PHP (although it being written in PHP wasn’t such a big deal 10 years ago).
So since the forums are going to die anyway if we don’t do something.. I decided that I’d write our own, alongside the project sites stuff I did for Rust.
The hope is that while the old membership probably won’t like them much and a lot of them will drop out, we’ll be able to innovate and improve them over time and turn them into a decent, modern forum.
I’ll do another blog post about that soon.