The Sims Zone is five years old! Five years have gone by since this site relaunched at 17 November 2001, after TheSimsFusion and before that SimsZone went offline. These five years have flown by and a lot has happened. On previous occasions I wrote about the history of TSZ as well as all the happenings in the news. This time, with some personal insight in what it takes to running a website like the Sims Zone. I hope you'll enjoy reading the article.
Just before that though, I want to thank everybody who made it possible to keep The Sims Zone in the air over the past five years:
- Matt, for originally starting SimsZone and TheSimsFusion, and creating the designs for The Sims Zone
- Matthew, for webmastering TheSimsFusion in the past
- Andy, for being a great reliable assistant over the years
- GamingFusion, and particularly Jevon, for hosting TheSimsFusion and providing the first versions of the software
- All past and current team members of The Sims Zone: Bettyjoe, Carrie, Chris, Enzymes, Greymon, Ian, James, Jendea, Mark, Mike, MissWendy, Neil, Nicx, Ryan, Starrats, Stash, Steve, Sumit, TJ and William, and anyone who should be on this list but I don't remember unfortunately.
- All our current and past affiliates, for supporting The Sims Zone and helping each other whenever necessary.
- Anybody who has submitted content to the site.
- Everybody who donated money in the past, to keep the site online. Their money has helped us to pay the bills when we most needed it.
- Maxis (The Sims Division) and EA (US, UK, Netherlands, Germany), naturally, for creating and publishing the Sims franchise, specifically Will Wright for the original idea, and the individual Maxoids, as well as organising trips and other Sims related events.
- All Maxoids, webmasters and fans I met at various events.
- All members of the Sims Zone, for showing their active support in the site.
- And naturally all other visitors, the millions in the five years that are over now, for giving this site a purpose at all.
- And last but not least, my girlfriend, for being sweet and supporting The Sims Zone just as much as her own site.
Before The Sims Zone
Something not everybody knows is that The Sims Zone has actually been around for longer than 5 years. The site originally started early 2000, around the time the original Sims game was released, as SimsZone.co.uk. Unfortunately we no longer own the domain, but there isn't much we can do about that anymore. Anyway, I created a first version of the Neighborhood Handler, crappy as it was, and sent it out to a bunch of Sims websites to get it promoted. Matt, webmaster of SimsZone, decided to hire me for their team. I felt privileged and joined them.
I joined the site as soon as it became part of GamingFusion, a gaming network under which Matt would run TheSimsFusion. A time which didn't last too long though. Matt started to have little time to run the website, and passed it on to Matthew. I started doing more on the site - posting news and other things - and eventually Matthew passed on the site to me, for pretty much the same reason as Matt.
Unfortunately the GamingFusion network was badly maintained. Most sites within the network hardly received any updates, and TheSimsFusion was the most active site of them all. Eventually things went completely wrong, and with nobody at all being able to do some work anymore, the network was killed in April 2001.
A New Beginning
That's how The Sims Zone was born. The team wanted to continue where we left off. Thanks to some people of GamingFusion we managed to get cheap hosting, as well as the old software the site ran on, and pretty much all content that was needed. It may have been a somewhat slow start, as it took six months to relaunch, but one decision was made quickly: we would continue under the old name, SimsZone. Due to some problems it wasn't possible to get the site running on the old domain, so instead we continued as The Sims Zone. Slightly different, but still the same team. 17 November was the launch date.
Personally I think we made a fairly good launch. We had the advantage that we already had some content, so there was no empty start. We did have to start from scratch in getting our visitors back, but over time that turned out to be no problem. Slowly but surely our work improved, and only after just a few months we already launched our first Sim Brother series. Unique to the Sims community at the time, we combined the Sims and TV hit Big Brother. Although we didn't check visitor statistics back then, it did become quite a hit.
More features for the site were developed as we needed them, but one of the main problems was the hosting. In the beginning the Sims Zone was split over 2 servers, one for the pages, the other for all the files and large things which pulled a lot of bandwidth. It was the cheapest solution for us at the time, but a far too expensive one. Hence we decided to switch from the ASP language to PHP. The main advantage was that we could do with one host, one server, and less costs. The disadvantage was that rewriting all the software took several months to complete, but now we are dealing with a more robust solution than in the beginning.
The site had grown fairly large, and was pulling quite a lot of traffic, which also meant higher costs. Since advertising didn't quite do the trick, donations were necessary for some time to keep the site up in the air. Thanks to our creators we were able to offer some exclusive downloads to those who were generous enough to make a donation. Some months things went better, some others we got hardly any donations. It usually depended on what we had to offer. It kept us out of trouble though, and after some changes in the ads we now no longer need any donations to pay the bills.
Since the beginning of the site we've been hosted at various locations. Due to the growth we kept consuming more and more, meaning we needed bigger packages. Especially when the Sims 2 was released in 2004, there was a massive jump in the amount of visitors every day - the amount of people coming by every day almost doubled from one day to another! Hosting has been a somewhat constant issue, and moving the site from one place to another isn't always the easiest thing to do; You don't want to lose any new data posted to the site, or have any downtime. Two things that don't go together too well, but it worked out ok in every case.
The most recent move from servers was only a couple of months ago now, and was more to get a slightly more stable solution. There were a few technical problems when we'd just moved on to the new server, but most of those should be resolved by now. Technical problems have been causing enough trouble in the past, in general. A change on the server software could simply disable part of the site. Member registrations hasn't been possible for some periods of time, and contacting us has also been troublesome sometimes. Bugs (programming errors) in the website software have also caused a few hiccups, but nothing that we could not overcome.
Keep on Growing
Until now the site has kept on growing and growing. We've also seen some massive peaks in the visitor count on some days, especially when special reports came up. On the first occasion when The Sims Zone was put in Maxis' community highlight on the Sims 1 official site
The Sims Zone got so many visitors it made the server we were running on struggle, and the site was unreachable for some moments. Future mentions never caused that much trouble anymore, but the amount of visitors each day did peak. Exclusive reports, including previews of upcoming expansion packs and of course the Sims 2 Special
, in which we were able to give a large sneak peak in the Sims 2 in the form of an exclusive preview. An invitation by Maxis was the reason to fly out to their studios, where several webmasters got to watch and play the game well before release. There have been more occasions like that now, and the hard work put in the special reports every time gets rewarded by visitors who read the articles and enjoy them.
The news and those articles is what The Sims Zone tries to focus most on. While downloads do play an important role, I believe The Sims Zone is most well known for other content. Exclusive previews and interviews, sometimes even causing hefty discussions throughout the Sims community, generally get quite a lot of attention. The same goes for Sim Brother, which is done mostly by Andy even though I have helped out in the background. People like it, and even now people still read through the old series just for fun. Quite a fun part of the job as webmaster and writer, as it makes you realise people do read and appreciate the work you do. The growing amount of visitors also shows this, and is in the end probably the biggest reward for running a website like The Sims Zone.
In the five years that The Sims Zone has now been running, I've also seen many changes in the team. There are a few people in the team who've been in there since the beginning, including founder Matt who is also still on board although more behind the scenes than anything else, but otherwise I've seen several people come and go. Either way it's fun to work with everybody. The enthusiasm of the team has always made it a pleasure to stay the leader of the pack. In this area too there have been some times when it didn't go as well, and the site wasn't updated as much as I would've liked, but we've been able to overcome this every time. It's not easy to keep everybody motivated to update the site, especially when you don't have a whole lot of time yourself. After all, the site started as a hobby and always will be mostly that. College and real life still have a priority higher than The Sims Zone, even though TSZ is high on the list.
What the future will bring, I don't know. There's enough that still needs to be done, and there will always be news as long as The Sims exists. Our sister site, The Spore Zone
, now 18 months old, is still up and running as well, although not too up-to-date and that's something I personally would like to change around, but it's hard. The Sims Zone is the established site of the two, and with the Sims being constantly updated there's plenty to write about. It's a lot of hard work, both behind the scenes as well as on the front, and I honestly don't know how long it'll last. All I know is that I enjoy running the Sims Zone, and that I'll keep on doing it as long as I like to. I hope the Sims Zone will make it another 5 years at least, and I'll do my best to get it that far.
I know the Sims Zone is successful but I could've never done it without all the team members. I hope the success will remain, and that you will keep on visiting, reading and downloading. Most of all, enjoy yourself while checking out all the latest at the Sims Zone. Thank you!
Written at 16:27 on Friday 17 November 2006 by