To start with let me clarify early on, this is not a boast, this is a ledger of progress. 20k in visitors isn’t a huge amount I’m fully aware, though I’m pleased with the progress made and seeing the different traffic routes people are taking and finding the site from.
When I created this website, it was based off my own need for information that was already available, but not in the most easy to access way: Read, I wanted a better experience and better access to somewhat readily available information.
The first thing I did was search Google for a resource that would tell me what blueprints were available from the vendors across The Division, being that the game was fairly fresh off the shelves, I had my doubts that anything would exist aside from a sparsely populated wikia or gamepedia page, my gut was right, no one was making this information readily available.
Thursday 31 March 2016
So around 11am on a Thursday morning with about 90 minutes of my time, and a few cups of coffee I created a Google Spreadsheet that listed every blueprint that I could find in the Division (I had already bought some and knew I would need to double check what was missing). My hope being that I could crowd-source some sanity checking from a few reddit users, whether that was checking the information that I was writing down was up to date or correct.
Google Drive had some auto-filtering options that I figure would work great and let anyone with ‘read only access’ chop and sort the list of blueprints however they needed.
Problem #1 – Google Drive
Google has a coping mechanism for massive traffic it seems. When you share a document with, lets say, an entire Sub Reddit like /r/TheDivision things get a bit weird. The document with it’s auto filtering, sorting and conditional formatting options suddenly becomes a HTML page and looses all that fancy functionality. Essentially making a static HTML table. I have no idea why, I’ll put it down to caching, but either way I learnt two important points, Google Drive collaboration has it’s limits and I had something interesting that a not so insignificant amount of people found useful.
Around 8 hours had passed since I published the link to my little spreadsheet to the community, seeing the number of people viewing the document and being aware of the issue above, I decided that I could quickly throw together a website that would more than provide the same information and provide a much clearer and simple way to filter information. I spent around 2-3 hours that evening and another 1-2 hours the next morning putting together the code, registering a domain and all the other admin that goes with hosting a site like this. The site is built on WordPress, something that I am familiar with working on in a day to day basis, using built custom plugins and basic template code, I used Bootstrap as I already knew it would take care of all the structural styling needed to display this information for anyone using mobile devices, though information being put out in tables, there are improvements that can be made still, but not many.
Friday 1 April 2016
Between 12 Noon GMT and 1pm I copied the development version of the site to the live server and began updating the Reddit post and Google Drive document to let people know I had responded to the issues they were finding with filtering information by providing a new resource Darkzoned.com.
Now, here’s a disclaimer of sorts, I have my own digital business and we work day in day out with WordPress, and different forms of marketing for clients. I used the creation of this website as a sort of therapy, with Darkzoned.com I had no clients to please, I had no set deadlines or financial commitment to meet. I simply had the complete, selfish enjoyment and passion of creating something on the internet that other people find useful, something I have wanted to do for a long time. Because, otherwise, why do we bother?
I really wasn’t bothered about how the site looked, lets face it, the data is the most important thing and that was my priority, I threw a few colours into the palette and grabbed a Google Font that had a similar style to the in-game typography. I now want to update the styles of the website, and there is already a lot of hidden information ready to be displayed, but having time to finalise it and deploy it is another issue altogether.
And so, on with this story.
The next couple of days involved making sure the information was correct and updated, noticing daily minute adjustments that were being made to blueprint costs, and also taking a day to roll a brand new character up to level 30 to ensure I had a baseline to check every blueprint in the game was correctly represented on the site.
The response that the website had on Reddit was honestly better than I had imagined, comments and messages thanking the effort involved, the time taken suggestions, corrections and all the feedback has all been received and appreciated with true earnest, I want to thank all of you just now, if you took a look at the website, gave an up vote or took the time leave a message or comment with your thoughts. For the first day I watched the the up votes and comments increase past 300 each, I know this isn’t ground braking for Reddit, but to me it was outstanding. I had made something that other people found useful or valuable to them.
By the end of that day, the site had received visits from 546 different users. One week on and the site had seen over 4600 people come and go hopefully with the information they were looking for, the idea of blueprint cost and location.
Problem #2 – The 1.1 Patch
Now we knew that The Divisions ‘Incursion’ Free content patch was going to deliver some unsettling changes to the cost of materials, blueprints and locations. So when the patch dropped on 12 of April, I made sure to get in game and go between each safe house to find out what had happened. Within an hour, the site had been updated to reflect the huge shifts in locations, costs and the addition of new blueprints as well as gear set blueprints. Now when I threw this website together I knew there would be changes in the future I may have to deal with, I honestly didn’t think there would be such substantial adjustments so soon after release.
I had taken the decision early on to base blueprints within their respective locations so that when anyone using the website to view a specific blueprint could immediately locate what vendor sold the blueprint: darkzoned.com/dz06/custom-44 for example.
Readable, sensible and with a bit of intuition you would know that you can remove /custom-44/ to see the entire list of DZ06 blueprints. This is something that I now regret in a way, the way blueprints in game have been moved or put onto a rotation means there is no longer a pattern that I can rely on, which means we potentially loose the pattern for the website and this affects user experience. User experience being one of the main reasons for the website in the first place, never-mind, it’s our job to solve that issue and in turn we create more value for our visitors. I used the royal we here, to represent anyone who works on websites professionally or otherwise.
+3000 Visits per day
With this update, I took a moment to make an updated post on Reddit to let people know about darkzoned.com properly, rather than the edit to my very buried original post. I also received a message from /u/That1GuyWitACow, (I’m certain a lot of people are familiar with the Daily Reset information posts that pours his time and energy into) asking to include the website in his posts. From this point on, traffic began to take a hockey stick curve in growth, effectively increasing visibility 4 fold. The site was now taking on over 3000 visitors a day, peaking at 4600 a day.
For anyone that’s interested the site is using page caching to ensure everyone gets a fast responsive experience, the site is also hosted on a server with SSD storage, for that extra boost.
Problem #3 – Blueprints on Rotation
So now the latest hot-patches are in and it looks like there are blueprints rotating, I’m getting a lot of people messaging me on asking if I am still updating Darkzoned.com and offering their support to keep it updated. The real truth here is that I’ve been away since Friday 15th, so not had a chance to log into the game and grab any of the latest information or be in a position to update the site! The issue of blueprints resetting and rotating isn’t a small issue as well, it can take over an hour to ensure we’ve got the blueprint information correct and verified, identifying what has changed or moved, removed or added. A solution for keeping track of blueprints in rotation is being worked on but without more information on if these are changes are based on a random pool or a set rotation, the implementation is going to be very basic to avoid potentially binning vast amounts of development time.
Obviously, the less accurate the website is, the less valuable it is as well. Opening up the site for people to make adjustments or contribute is one option but requires a process itself that needs to be thought out to ensure security, consistency and commitment as well.
If anyone does have more information on how consistent the blueprint rotations will be, I’d love to hear about it. I also want to thank everyone who has noticed the lack of updates and offered their help in keeping the site up to date and promoting it’s potential as a resource for The Division and the community that play it.
I will keep working on the website, there are plans to improve the site so it’s more useful with more information and practical features where possible. Priority number one will obviously be to get the blueprint data up to date. Updates to the site will be documented in further posts like this, although most likely much shorter. I hope the site continues to perform and that we can improve the visibility further for all players, as you’ll see from the analytics below, traffic is starting to slide. This could be an indication of the site being out of date for some blueprints, awareness of the site isn’t what it used to be (though we have a lot of new visitors : returning visitors), or that the playerbase of The Division is in a stale place for a lot of players due to reaching end game levels but not having enough to do.
Advertising & Analytics
To finish off, you may have noticed that the website has some display advertising on it. I’ve kept this as minimal as possible and believe it to be as non-intrusive as possible. I also expect 90% of you guys have an adblocker of some kind on your browser, I’m not going to ask that you whitelist Darkzoned.com, but if you feel like supporting me and helping recoup some of the costs in terms of the hosting, domain and upkeep that is being made, you can know it is greatly appreciated. Advertising was added to the website around 13-14th of April when I realised traffic levels were way beyond what I had anticipated.
In the view of being transparent, which is what this post is also trying to promote, I’ll be publishing any progress to traffic as well as the amount of money the advertising is generating (disclaimer, it’s not much!).
As of the end of today, 18th April 2016 the site has generated approximately £13.22 (just under $19 USD), which effectively pays for the .com domain name for the year.
Below are a few graphs to show the overall stats of the site to date. Enjoy! 🙂
My last name is infact Bliss. Playing through The Division and having the voice actors constantly abusing you or talking about you is somewhat disturbing!