Guild hosting/packages/applications discussion and recommendations
We have to move our guild webpage, and I volunteered to investigate options. I wanted to see what hosts and applications other guilds are using. Since we have to "reboot" our server, I'd like to take this chance to pick the best possible packages:
Our needs are:
Forums (PunBB has been recommended)
Attendance tracking/simple DKP
We won't someone with tons of time to modify a system, so I'd like something that doesn't require too much customization. I'm not afraid of Linux/php/etc though, so basic setup is fine. I'm also willing to spend $10-15/month for a premium service.
I'm interested if anyone is happy with a guild hosting package I'd love to hear their experience. I'm going to test out Guildomatic : World of Warcraft Guild Hosting - they seem to be fairly active in development. You risk them getting bored or quitting.
So, since our webmaster stopped playing, meaning little support when stuff on the site goes wrong I've decided to simply make a new one. I want to gather as much functionality as possible to our site: Forums, DKP database, and Raid signups are the most important ones but some kind of front page/newspage would be nice aswell.
What we use as forums doesn't really matter, I like SMF and would probably only change if something like a great signup tool required some other forum software to work.
EqDKP is nice, when it works, I've recently had some troubles with it and are currently unable to add any raids to it. So i can use whatever DKP software avaible aslong as it's not tied to any special DKP system like Suicide Kings or so.
Signup software is something I really haven't tried out yet, and don't even know what's out there.
What do people use and why that one over other alternatives?
I have used phpbb, invision power board and SMF and find that I prefer SMF from an "easy to use" point of view. For admins that are not comfortable with the backend side of running a site, many of the tasks are automated and built into the admin panel (like taking backups for example).
For the frontpage / news area, I would suggest wordpress. Basic blog software, but there are some nice WoW related themes for it. For example, Odenneke.nl. I use a modified version of the v4 theme here. It is also itemstats friendly, if that is of interest.
If you do not like wordpress, SMF has portal softare too... Tinyportal.
For raid signups, you may want to look into phpraider.
Other commonly used packages are phpbb, which also has portal software (such as nuke) and vBulletin (the grand-daddy, which is what is used here at EJ, but requires a license).
Hopefully that will give you a place to start at least.
It's a standard linux box with some administration tools. Great support from them. I get a 20 gig hard drive, and for the purposes of a guild website, unlimited bandwidth ( I think its actually like 500 gig a month transfer total)
On top of this I installed VBulletin - which costs 80 dollars a year for a "leased" license, or 160ish to outright buy a license "forever".
If I were to install a system like EQDKP I'd setup a seperate database for it so that there is no chance someone can hack into our vbulletin. EQDKP is notoriously hackable (I have first hand experience - and no, I wasn't the one hacked).
In total I guess I pay 60 a month for the server, and 6 bucks a month for the vbulletin license - if you average it out over the year. The thing is though, I have full controll over everything, and It also gives us full website space to do whatever we want with it. We have an FTP setup, we tinkered with our Vbulletin install and setup a photogallery, did all the front page stuff etc. It was a fun little project that took a week or 2 to get going, and now its maintenance free.
We use google app for you domain for mail, googlegroups for mailinglist/forums, integrated calendar for invites, online documents+spreadsheets for theorycrafting and blogger (for your domain again) for a public website.
Aphorism is the website. Mail for your domain looks exactly like gmail.
The only cost is the domain name which is peanuts.
For DKP we use EPGP (epgp - Google Code) which is completely in game so we have no needs for database backends to keep track of loot.
Thanks for all the advice. I spent some time testing the following sites:
Guild Hosting for MMORPG guilds | MMO Guildsites - Very pretty. Excellent layout choices with drag and drop setup. User registration is well done. But they're re-inventing the wheel. Forums are too simple, and don't offer granularity in permissions. Hard to find support information, and no public discussion. DKP and bank system don't tie into WOW mods and have to be updated by hand.
Guildomatic : World of Warcraft Guild Hosting - Least expensive. Very good feature set. Decent WoW addon track guild roster, DKP events. However, they look the least professional, and I was too worried about committing a lot of work to a site that may disappear without warning.
Guild Launch Guild Hosting for MMORPG and FPS clans and guilds - Very good mix between functionality and administration. User and permissions are consistent across all applications (forums, raid signups, guild roster, file uploads). They had the best support response of the three, and have at least two people working full time on it.
I ended up going with Guild Launch. I gave up customization, but traded it for ease of setup and configuration. We don't have a tech guy in the guild that can hack on PHP, and I don't have the time.
I also spent alot of time thinking about an optimal solution.
There are of course full hosting package providers, which might be a decent solution for some guilds without the know-how or to prevent costs.
But you should always keep in mind: those sites are not offering their service for fun, which mostly results in advertisement spam on your website. I would not want that on my guild site, except if I put the advertisements there.
Additionally there is always the risk of the provider stopping its service which leaves your guild without its website. I mirror our website and sql-dumps to another server frequently via cronjobs to avoid data loss and to have redundancy if something fails.
While a complete hosting package might be exactly what you are looking for, I will still write something about my own experiences. Maybe someone else reads the thread and finds some impressions or ideas for his own solution.
If you want to keep it on your own server, you are always stuck with the issue of single-signon.
In my previous guilds, you had to register on different forums, for the dkp system, for the raid planner, and so on... There was always trouble because someone - mostly new applicants of course - mixed up the logins, or did not visit some of the sites at all.
So since the founding of our guild, my goal has always been a single account for every part of the guild website and since we started with only a forum, the forum accounts are chosen to be the user database for every other application.
By the way: Communicate to your members to chose their passwords safely... It's really scary if you just try the passwords of some applicants who once registered on your forums but who were denied, on the forums of their new guilds. Of course, I do not save passwords in cleartext, but in the days of rainbow tables it's so easy to crack md5 or sha1 hashes... If you want your own forums to be private, tell your members to think about their passwords. From a security point of view all those accounts in different forums are really a security nightmare...
PunBB has been my favorite forum software for a loooong time now, although I really miss the good-old tree-view forums which allow discussions to fork into different directions. Well, I think I could discuss for hours about software, so I will skip this here and just consider punBB as my forum-of-choice.
So we started with only the forum and did our raid planning and signups via forum (we still do). While this is more work for the planner, something I delegated to active members of the guild, it has the big advantage of bringing every user to the forums. Today, I can say that every single member of our guild visits the forums or website at least once a day (okay, I'm tracking every access, logging some data and creating statistics to see if someone shares his account with a foreigner, but that's a different topic too.. I know I'm evil).
I have never seen such a forum activity at any other guild i've been in and i think it's the result of doing the planning via forum.
Well, back to topic, what do most guilds desire for their website?
- a discussion board (forum)
- a news page with a CMS to add news without having to edit code
- a comment system to bring "life" onto the site
- a gallery system to post screenshots and share (member)-pictures
- a raid planner
- a dkp overview
- some pages of content (progress, member overview, charter...)
Well, for forum systems there are plenty which will do the job and some even have a built-in portal software and can be extended with gallery plugins. This can be enough for your requirement, but it depends on the forum choice of course.
With my choice being punBB, which is pretty simple and clean, I had to find a different solution for the website.
So i did some CMS System research and tried everything from mambo and it's fork joomla over typo3 and even some blogging software like wordpress or nucleus. But everything was either far to complex for my needs or did not integrate well enough. The result was, that i changed my approach and just thought - "well, i have a forum, this allows me to post new topics and others to write answers (comments) - isn't this already a cms?" (okay, to be honest the Last Resort page gave me some impressions ;-) ). So i just wrote a few simple php pages which directly read the data from the forum database which was basically just taking the extern.php of punBB and rewriting the SQL code with some nice join statements to fetch what i needed. It also made the other pages of the website easy to add, like a movie section, which is the same as the news website with another forum id to get the topics from. For things like the member site, you can do wonderful things with blizzard's armory data. ;-) But do not request the data on every pageload, run it via cronjob every few hours and only display the cached data, to reduce load.
The result is a fully integrated news and comment system based on the forum software that exactly matches my needs. Some things would have been impossible without editing some of the punBB files (feedback on which site you are in the navigation line), but since punBB supplies new releases as patch files, it is no real problem.
As a gallery system, my choice was Singapore which is still in early beta stadium and therefor a bit bugged, but not as bloated as Coppermine. Modding Singapore to use punBB accounts only required a few lines of code.
The next thing on my list was/is the raid planner. I know there are existing solutions. There are also existing solutions for things like the guild roster.
But have you ever looked into the source code? It's awful.. wow guild roster for example retrieves all the character information in one single sql query, including the class. Then it iterates over every single member and does another sql query for _every member_ just to find out what? the class, to display a class icon... That's incredibly inefficient code and redundancy and I have seen things like this in different projects. Itemstats is another example of incredibly bloated and ugly source code. EQdkp is designed far too complicated for normal use, just to fulfill the needs of some rare configurations...
In a few words: I came to the conclusion, that nearly every existing solution sucks.
So i will implement my own raid planner based on an existing punBB installation which is almost done. A raid planner is incredibly simple and should be written in a few hours, i still don't get why some systems are sooo ugly.
We use EPGP as "DKP" system and i would still like to have some webtracking based on NRT exports like EQdkp can do, but since the addon developer himself thinks about implementing some tracking feature, I will wait a bit until I implement it. Scheduled for Wotlk.
Well maybe most of my own decisions are not interesting for you, but I just wanted to write about the way I went in detail. Maybe it's useful for somebody to invest some time and create something he really likes instead of working with bugged existing solutions, that do not work together properly.
I agree with the previous poster that there is a real gap between the not quite good enough hosted solutions and the full-on CMS + php + mySQL that end up way to complicated especially for typical, smaller guilds. I used JOOMLA for our site (DENIED - Home) and rather wish I hadn't as it's stupidly over-specced and complicated for our needs (medium sized, six months behind, non-hardcore sort of guild). Somehow I've ended up using JOOMLA to enter a paragraph of text and a JPG each time we kill a boss which then gets read once by 40 people who all knew we killed the boss anyway. This is plainly nuts although, I suspect, not actually that uncommon.
99% of our guild happens in our forums and if I did it again I would just do forums + phpRaid + a *very* simple front page / news solution. I think it would be entirely legitimate and overall far less work and hassle to do the whole frontend/news bit offline in your HTML authoring package of choice.
For DKP we started (way back in MC) with a handwritten notes + spreadsheet method which quickly became a PITA and didn't allow us to do everything we wanted. I looked at eqDKP and concluded the people who wrote it were either all on drugs or suffering from some collective insanity :-)
So, foolishly thinking "How hard can it be to add up some numbers and divide by 40?", I wrote some software to do it for me. Obviously this turned out to be be way more work than I ever intended but it does have the advantage of doing exactly what we as a guild want and doing it all essentially automatically (weekly zero sum to solve the farm/progression problem, upgrade pricing, offspec discounts, attendance tracking, join/leave/re-join, dkp/attendance credit for people on standby, etc.).
The raw data is captured in CT_RaidTracker, processed in a .NET application and published as static HTML so that I don't have to bother with php, mySQL, proper hosting, etc. Each raid takes about 5 mins to do and the results look like this : zsDKP : Raids. I am particularly fond of the the little attendance graphs on the player pages (zsDKP : Aielene)