Why Guild Wars Legacy is switching over to Woltlab Suite (coming from MyBB)

For those who do not know me yet, I’m Kevin and the administrator of Guild Wars Legacy which is the biggest Guild Wars 1 fansite on the internet. We launched with the site in May 2016 after it was announced that the previously biggest fansite, Guild Wars Guru, was to shut down.

The community jumped into the hole that this closure caused and Legacy was born. We launched quite quickly, only days after the shutdown was announced. It all had to go quite fast and I had very good experiences with MyBB, software that I previously used on another website of mine which had really impressed me.

It’s without a doubt one of the best pieces of software available to run a forum with - it’s fast, it’s free and it’s feature-filled. But it’s unfortunately far from faultless, and over the last year and a half we were waiting with major changes until MyBB 2 would be released and for the last 18 months, we waited for the release.

In the beginning, there were regular blogs about progress and it looked promising, but the blogs halted and it looked like progress was very slow. So, I decided to take a look and tried to install MyBB 2’s development version myself.

Trying out the development version of MyBB 2

It was a disaster - it’s years from being really useful, very barebones and I ran into issues everywhere - I coulnd’t even register myself without manual intervention. What was there and what did work looked really nice, but it was hardly going to be released anytime soon in a useable manner.

Modals were opening on the bottom of the page, the login modal even opened under the available space so you wouldn’t be able to login without extra handling, a number of notifications were marked as available but didn’t show up, the forum told me we had 42 new posts but in reality we had only 2 posts in total…

And those were things that actually did open. Opening up your profile gave a fatal error and in the administration panel only the most basic of options were available, but not all of those were actually working.

Keep in mind that MyBB2 is in early development. I’m in no way saying that it’s a bad product, it’s just early in development. It’ll take a while before it’s ready for real use.

Why did we wait for MyBB2? What were we trying to do?

Before we can go on, I’ll need to explain why we were waiting for MyBB 2. Our forum is used mainly for trading, but also for a lot of different things and we wanted to support those activities properly.

However, I soon realized that modifying MyBB is extremely hard: the documentation isn’t that good - I frequently found information for MyBB 1.4 or 1.6 that would not work in MyBB 1.8.
I did try to modify several things, but the things I found out was that whenever I tried to modify something, things would break. Horribly.
When an update came for MyBB, it required me to manually edit every template that we touched on to replace a simple version number on a JavaScript file, because otherwise things would break, like moderation tools or quoting people.
So, every update, I would lose a lot of time on small edits like this. What’s even worse is that currently, attachments are broken on our board and I have not been able to find a cause - everything is configured correctly, but it just broke and nobody seems to be able to help me with this. Even diving into the code myself coulnd’t resolve the issue. And all rights were okay.

The last point that drove me from MyBB was when I dove into plugin development: all plugins are a single PHP file. Yep, let that sink in.
No problems with that on it’s own, but it was so hard to find the information we needed and I couldn’t extract information from it either.

So, I realized that I only had a few realistic options:

  • Wait until MyBB 2 was released and hope that MyBB 1.8 would get some major updates or invest a lot of resources in this ourselves (by now, the MyBB developers have announced that MyBB 1.8 will be getting some major updates)
  • Make huge modifications on MyBB 1.8 to suit our needs
  • Look for another and better solution and switch over.

What were we looking for?

The things we were looking most for were the following:

  • An easier to maintain forum, as it was MyBB was taking too much time to maintain.
  • A way to add ads easily, without relying on third parties.
  • We relied heavily on extra extensions to add some features which in my opinion were quite basic.
  • MyBB is not responsive at all and works very badly on mobile devices.
  • We wanted to incorporate a portal on our site that was easily modified and allows us to display information from external sources.
There are a lot of different reasons as well and I even started working on a responsive theme (which broke even more things).

So, I decided to look into different software.

Looking for new software

This was a step that went better than I had honestly thought - I had prior experience with different kinds of forum software like PHPbb, SMF, YaBB, Vanilla and even Invision Power Board. So I went ahead and tested alot of this software again, but I discarded the lot:

  • PHPbb - well, I dont like it. Not much to say here, but I simply am not a fan of this piece of software, though I have used it a lot in the past.
  • SMF - I used to love this piece of software, it was my favorite forum software for years as it could do almost everything. What drove me away from it was how hard it was to modify, but we’re talking years back here. It also felt to me that progress was very slow.
  • YaBB - I didn’t even consider it for Legacy.
  • Invision Power Board - I ran a forum with this and when IPB 4 came out, it was a real disaster. I tried it again, but it is too expensive in my opinion for Legacy and it would not benefit us enough.

So, I went on and tested uncharted waters. I tested some exotic boards, running on Node.JS but that requirement kicked it off my list (our server is PHP-based, and while I could set it up to support NodeJS, it would require me to spend a ton of work on changing the backup system as well etc.)
I tried Flarum and was really impressed with it, but it is still beta.

In the end, I tested them all and went further with Invision Power Board and Woltlab Suite - our options were limited since we needed to convert. Both of them supported converting Legacy and I converted a copy of our live database to both of them.

Invision Power Board broke a few things in conversion and the resulting database size was huge - Invision quadrupled our database size which resulted in worse performance than expected even on my local machine. It got quickly canned as an option because of this.

So, the next one on our list (and desperation was slowly coming through) was Woltlab Suite Forum, a piece of software that I tried in a past far away and was unimpressed by. But I tried it again, and while Woltlab doubled our database size, it also impressed me with how powerful it is yet how simple it works. I went along with it and tested it for an extended period, running on a beta build of Woltlab Suite 3.1, and even though it was an early beta it impressed me so much that I invited our team to try the testing site out.
They were impressed as well, and we tested it further and further and decided to move on with Woltlab.

Why Woltlab?

Well, a lot of reasons drove me here, but I’ll list them here:

  • I kept an eye on the forums of Woltlab, and the support given is very good.
  • The pricing is quite fair - we’re only waiting to make the public transfer because Suite 3.1 is launching soon.
  • The software is very modern and does almost everything out of the box - it’s a fullblown CMS as well as a forum and we can create our own plugins (I found some really good documentation) and it’s far easier to maintain.
  • It allows us to modify it to great extent without breaking things.
  • I created a look that is completely the existing branding of Legacy, without requiring core edits.
  • It’s fast, it’s easy to use and well maintained.
  • It’s responsive by default and even has a RESPONSIVE WYSIWYG EDITOR!
  • If they dissapoint us, I live in a neighbouring country ;)
So, this is why we chose to port over - the last thing I’m going to say is that the conversion process is pretty painless as well, as far as conversions go!

Update, July 2018

By now, the makers of MyBB have decided to kill off MyBB 2 and instead slowly rewrite MyBB 1.8.

We’re still glad to have moved over to Woltlab and had no regrets.

  • Truly yours,

Kevin

Header image by Kekai Kotaki, copyright ArenaNet.

Posted on Friday, 15 December 2017