Veteran modder ethone has written a very interesting article on one of the mod community’s biggest problems – Mods disappearing due to non-working mirrors.
At the beginning of the year I re-installed GTR 2 and went hunting for mods. I was saddened to find that even some more recently released mods like the Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR/Porsche 911 GT1 for GTR 2 are not available from the initial download links anymore. We are talking about mods that have been released as recently as a mere six months ago. We need to fix this.
There are a number of angles from which this is a problem. From my own perspective, the perspective of a modder, it is a horrible thought to pour endless hours into a product of passion and to imagine that people who look for it can not access it anymore. Anyone who did not pick up a mod at release will have to go to extraordinary lengths to locate a still-working mirror on some league’s website or ask around on forums for someone who still has the files.
>From a user’s perspective it is a problem that you would need to pick up mods at or close to release or risk not being able to easily get to them anymore just a few months down the line. If we consider newcomers to our hobby and community it is even more of an issue. If someone picked up rFactor or GTR 2 now and is mildly interested in what this modding business can make of these somewhat aged titles I wonder how long they will stick with hunting down links without calling it a day and return to their Call of Battlefield instead.
This is also an issue that applies to all games, not just GTR 2. After a quick check I found that even our own Virtua_LM tracks like the classic Fuji for rFactor are not available anymore from their initial download links.
The biggest contributing factor to this development has been the very nature of the One-Click Hosters like the now-dead Megaupload, Rapidshare or Mediafire. They are easy to use and upload to with no cost involved for the uploader. They also come with a hefty downside however: As a general rule they delete any files that have not been downloaded (at all or not enough) for a given amount of time, usually somewhere around 90 days. This makes them inherently unsuitable to long-term storage.
So what are they good for? They are good for offering some additional buffer for the initial release, if you, the modder, expect heavy traffic. Usually the hosters are stable enough to handle even heavy traffic, however they also limit the bandwidth available to non-paying users leading to slower downloads. Due to the limited window of availability you should never solely rely on them however.
About nine months ago a user called Abriel Nei on the ISI forums for rFactor 2 started a project where he collects all released tracks in a torrent file (for use with the Peer-to-Peer network BitTorrent). This approach does not rely on any servers hosting the files but instead relies on the users who downloaded the files to keep them available for others. The way a Peer-to-Peer network works is that files are transferred from one user’s PC to another user’s PC, with any intermediary servers only being used for establishing the connection but not the actual hosting of the files.
While this is a great way for distributing load and does not come with the definite time limit on file availability, it too severe downsides. While the time limit is not definite, it still exists. As soon as a certain file falls below a certain threshold (if too few users still have the file shared) it becomes practically impossible to get the file. It also has an uncertain download speed which might put off the new and impatient. Both availability and speed also depend heavily on popularity. Like One-Click Hosters it can be useful and it is great to see hosting expanded into newer models. But it too can not provide long-term availability for our files.
The Way Forward
At the point where we now stand we have taken a few steps forward but may have accidentally walked off the branch we were balancing on. We have newer forms of file distribution like One-Click Hoster and Torrents but we gave up the long-term availability of web hosting. We need to get back some of that web hosting to provide the basis of out modding community with long-term availability of our work. Such hosting is fairly cheap (I pay about 8 Euros/month for 25GB of webspace and unlimited traffic) and does not require as much technical skills as modding itself does.If you want to stand up and help this is a great way to do it. Rent some webspace with unlimited traffic and offer to host files for new mods or mirror already released ones. Write up a simple HTML website with the download links if you wish, or start a small blog and start posting the files you just uploaded (I can recommend WordPress here which is fairly easy to use).
Modders need to be aware of the issues with the different hosting methods and be willing to let other people host their files. If you only put your files on a single web server you run an immense risk of your mod becoming homeless if that website is unavailable or terminates service. An additional mirror is always an improvement. It eases initial load. It gives an additional fallback options. If you think you will update the mod again soon, let the hoster know about it if you wish but do not use it as an excuse to not let them host it at all.
We all need to stop relying on the false sense of security we get from seeing several links at release when they all are hosted on One-Click Hosters that will be gone after a short while. We need to get the basics working again here so that our community and the websites serving us like VirtualR can function properly.
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