Preserving Armchair Arcade: Town Meeting!

Matt Barton's picture

Armchair Arcade is dying and needs your help to survive.

As most of you have no doubt realized, we're been suffering from all kinds of technical problems here at Armchair Arcade. The biggest of these is a surge of "max connections reached" problems with our database. We've been working very closely with our host, Modhost, to resolve these problems. To put it simply, Modhost has been (in the past) very gentle with us when our website went over the limits imposed on database usage, but not any longer. Now, whenever we get too many people using the site at once, we get that nasty database error. According to our stats, we had 3,699 fewer unique visitors last month than the one before, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out why. This problem is killing Armchair Arcade.

There are a few possible solutions to the dilemma. One is that we could move to a dedicated server. However, this costs $165 a month, which is simply impossible for us to fund ourselves. Unless one of you guys (or a few of you guys) are willing to bankroll us on this, dedicated hosting isn't really an option. The second possibility is moving to a simpler CMS, like Movable Type. Modhost assures us that Movable Type would consume less database resources, but we'd lose some of the features of Drupal. In any case, we're about to have to undertake some pretty drastic measures to salvage the site.

Finally, there is some concern that our readership has been steadily declining, and that folks just don't care about this site anymore. Besides a few friends like Oldschoolgamer, most of our posts go uncommented, which is the only way we have of really, 100% knowing that people are reading and enjoying our stuff. Likewise, we are generating much less buzz on other websites than we used to--again, besides a few fantastic folks like SimonC of GameSetWatch, the rest of the world seems to be content to ignore us completely. As for the various tools we have to help publicize the site (the little buttons for digg, del.icio.us., and so on)--well, nobody is using them. Obviously, it does take a little bit of work to click these buttons and help us get some buzz going, and we can't pay you for this work, but I'd like to think a few of you cared enough about the site to chip in just a little bit. After all, Bill, Mark, and I put in hours (probably 20+ hours a week!) working on this site for free. It doesn't seem like too much to ask that a few of you click some buttons and leave some nice comments for us every once and awhile!

The way I see it, the future of Armchair Arcade is really in your hands, now. We're exhausted, and not even sure that what we do really matters anymore. If anyone out there actually enjoys this site and wants to see it prosper, you'd better start speaking up now. Otherwise, pretty soon you'll click the ol' familiar link to Armchair Arcade and get nothing but a "PAGE NOT FOUND" screen.

Speak up and let us know you still care about us! We love this site and all of our readers, but this isn't a one-way street. The time has come for YOU to step up to the plate and offer your support. Please, we need you.

Sincerely,

Matt Barton

Comments

brn
brn's picture
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Joined: 05/22/2006
By all means.

Clicking on some buttons certainly isn't too much to ask. I clicked on the PCMag ad on this page and got Server Too Busy. I also don't see links to Digg or delicious on this page. Is this not an official article? It should be, if it isn't. Armchair Arcade being in jeopardy is definitely news.

Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Links to Digg and Other Search Engines

Thanks so much for your post, Brn. The links to the various publicity sites are at the bottom of each post and look like this:

links: Linkslinks: Links

Each one of these buttons leads to another site that can help you publicize our site. If you don't know about them, it's worthwhile checking them out just for your own personal use. I use digg and del.icio.us all the time to find good information.

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Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Update on Dedicated Hosting

I just got this message from Modhost:

When you upgrade to a dedicated server, the limit on simultaneous connections will be disabled in MySQL configuration, and you will be able to utilize all the processing power of your own server. Based on the account's current usage, an entry level Sempron 2600 server ($165/month) will handle CPU and bandwidth requirements and accomodate further growth or possible spikes in visitor traffic ("slashdotting effect").

And also this:

We offer a 5% discount with semi-annual and 10% with annual prepayment on all dedicated server plans. Any prepayments made on your shared hosting account will be credited towards the upgrade.

Doing the math here, this amounts to $1782 if we make a lump payment for the whole year. If we do the 6 month option, this amounts to $940.50 (or $1881 for a year). Obviously, it'd be more cost effective to raise $1782 and pay for the whole 12 months. Even with all these discounts, I'm not sure how we could raise this much money. It would take 71 people donating $25 each to cover it (or 59 people at $30 each), and I'm not sure we have that kind of readership. On the other hand, if we went 6 months at the time, we'd only need 37 people donating $25 each. Up that to $30 each, and we only need 31 people. Of course, that would mean two pledge drives per year rather than one, but it seems more conceivable. What do you guys think? Are these figures pie in the sky, or do we have enough momentum to reach this goal?

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Sprickett
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Joined: 12/03/2006
Weighing in...

I registered simply to give you guys some encouragement. Although I haven't commented, I read your articles on a regular basis. It's one of the few places I can find on the net that have some really excellent discussions on old school gaming.

I also had an idea, at least in terms of how to raise the $1782 needed for keeping the site up for a year. Set up a temporary PayPal donation link that would allow users to make donations for keeping the site going. The trick would be to get the word out there regarding the need to get enough contributors, and a well timed article on digg could do the trick. If it doesn't work it doesn't work, but I DO know there are enough people out there who would give because they are avid gamers who would love to help out a quality site such as this one survive. It's simply about getting the word out at the right time and in the right way, and I've seen it work on digg before.

If this works to keep the site going this year, you could keep the PayPal voluntary support link up on a regular basis, as a way to keep the site running. It could be very low key and very non-pushy. I know that I would donate.

Sprickett
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Joined: 12/03/2006
Of course, if it did work,

Of course, if it did work, it would create a significant spike in traffic, which was contributing to your problem in the first place...

Matt Barton
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Donations and Such

Wow. I'm sure glad you're with us, Sprickett. Your offer to help really boosts our spirits! However, upon further discussion, we're back to the rather great idea that maybe instead of dedicated hosting, what we really need is some kind of technical assistance. Really, all we want to do is keep up what we've been doing--offering great editorials, reviews, news, and features, with images. It's not clear why these rather simple things should be exerting such a huge drain on our database. We have caching and all that stuff turned on, but it doesn't seem to make any difference. It's possible that we have something configured incorrectly; as it is, none of us really has the technical knowledge to properly diagnose the problem, and all Modhost is willing to do is either sell us dedicated hosting or advise us to switch to Movable Type.

Does anyone out there have some ideas about how we could solve the problem? It'd be awesome if we could figure out how to keep this site running smoothly without having to upgrade to such an expensive option!

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forcefield58
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Joined: 05/19/2006
Confused About the Situation...

I read your post Matt and am a bit confused as to exactly what the issue is. From reading the first paragraph, it would appear that there are too many people on the site that is causing the "max connections reached" error. If this is the case then I guess the move to a dedicated server may be the answer. However, if the issue is a technical one that has nothing to do with the number of people that frequent the site, then I'm not sure what the answer is. I know I visit just about every day. I don't post all the time, but enjoy reading the articles and Forum posts. Seems you're asking for us to click on the links that appear throughout the home page. I can certainly do that. I'm not sure what else I could do to help but am willing to entertain just about anything.

One question though, if there are so many connections at any given time, how can you make the statement, "Finally, there is some concern that our readership has been steadily declining...".

I personally love the site, again, especially the Forums. Granted, I'm not too much into Retro-gaming, but love gaming none-the-less. With my purchase of the Xbox 360 and Wii soon, what more could one ask for. I love reading the posts and agree it would be a major shame if ArmChair Arcade were to simply fade away.

I believe there are enough "regular" readers and participants that can make this site prosper.

It seems to me that the mods are putting way to much pressure on themselves to write the featured articles that appear on the home page as I've read more often than not about the problems with making deadlines, etc. What's the problem with having a vibrant Forum for adult gaming discussion. I get tired of all the kids posting garbage on some of the other gaming Forum sites, which is the main reason it would be a shame for AA to go away.

Cheers/Frank

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Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Confusion understadable

Thanks for the great post, Forcefield58. I think we're all a bit confused at this point. Basically, we seem to be facing two different problems. On the one hand, it's been very quiet around AA for some time now, with very few comments and few references to us on other sites. Likewise, we've noticed a recurring problem with "max connections reached" errors and a steep decline in the # of people who visit the site. The main problem is that our host had been letting us "get away" with using the database as much as we needed, but has now imposed strict limits on our usage. We would consider moving to another server, but the problem is that we've lost control of the domain (long, stupid story). We're stuck with Modhost, at least for another year, and must work within the strict limits they've set for us.

In short, we really want to grow and expand our readership, but we're now being hit over the head by our host for using the database too much as it is. It's such a frustrating problem; I'm at my wit's end. It should be possible to use caching to lessen the load, but it doesn't seem to make the slightest bit of difference.

If anyone has experience running a large, active site, please step forward and offer us some advice. We'd greatly appreciate it!

For your interest, here are the stats from our cpanel:

Month Unique visitors Number of visits Pages Hits Bandwidth
Jul 2006 25149 36355 97103 879791 8.79 GB
Aug 2006 29898 42762 111848 1036062 10.13 GB
Sep 2006 33530 48202 115291 1067804 9.93 GB
Oct 2006 35540 50518 140840 1159891 10.88 GB
Nov 2006 31841 45187 152813 938814 7.84 GB

As you can see, we hit a peak in October, then got slammed with the limits and have dwindled steadily ever since.

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dragon57
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Joined: 05/18/2006
I have a feeling your

I have a feeling your problem is related to the hosting service. Since you are on a shared MySQL database, they often will over configure the database such that each site has 'x' number of connections and they have 'y' sites hitting the server. Unfortunately the overall MySQL server config only is configured for 'z' max connections which is smaller than 'x times y'. If this is the case, there isn't much you can do. This is similar to what DSL providers routinely do. They oversell their back-end pipe and everyone feeding into that pipe is limited and never gets all the bandwidth they pay for.

As to my experience with the AA site in the last few months, yes, I have had problems. I get database errors and other strange behavior. This does tend to keep me from visiting as often as I did in the past, however for me the site problems are not the main reason for my absence. My wife has had major medical issues in the past few months and my online time has been cut back drastically. Having said all this, I still enjoy coming to the site and reading the blog entries. I just wish I had more time to post comments.

On a related note, my wife agreed to let me get an Xbox 360. I took advantage of the $100 rebate MicroCenter is running. Of course I have to wait until Christmas before I can unbox it, but hopefully I will have much to share after that. I also want a Wii, but that will have to wait until after the holiday credit card bills are settled. :)

Lastly, I appreciate all the effort all the AA editors put into the site. The blogs here help me take my mind off the pressures and stress caused by my wife's medical issues. Thanks to all!

Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Conspiracy theory.....

Dragon, from your information I gather it's some sort of nasty thing a lot of the hosting companies seem to be doing on a regular basis. Let some user get used to overspending and then slam down the restrictions on them requiring them to pay or suffocate....
Well the mobile phone companies have been doing that for years so I guess hosting companies might have similar things in their business plans.

Dragon, you'll love the x360! You have any idea of what games you are getting? The only thing I don't like is the amount of noise the fan and drive unit can make sometimes. The game play and on line experience has yet to be surpassed in my view.

I'm keen on getting a Wii too, and I've heard the PS3 is really silent in operation. Which is a big plus for me. So I might end up getting that one too, but it won't be before X'mas 2007 I guess....

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

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