The ORDER of OBSCURIA is Membership for the Monster Rangers community. Yeah, you can be a Ranger for free of course, but for folks who want us (Dawna and Daniel) to succeed and thrive, we’ve made a way for you to contribute: the ORDER of OBSCURIA (or “OoO” for short.)
There are some different levels, most with Rewards of some sort:
- Core Member – Kind of like “base dues” level Membership
- Badge of the Month – Core Member + an exclusive badge
- Mystery of the Month – Core Member + Badge + a physical new Rangers mystery item we make
- Advisory Board – All that, and the best/deluxe versions of Mysteries, free Monstro Camp and/or attendance at our events, and other occasional surprises.
SOME BADGES AND MYSTERY EXAMPLES
A huge thank you to all of you who’ve been Members of the OoO! You guys have been generous and fantastic. Thank you for that.
We started it in order to be able to work on non-commerce based stuff a bit more, like videos, and to get away from doing every possible comic-con. It was a success pretty fast, and we were able to start cutting away more shows, which was superb.
BUT THEN THE PANDEMIC HAPPENED
Immediately, we lost something like 65% of our income. At first, Rangers spent a lot of money in our online store, which really helped. But that faded as things got harder out there, more things closed, and our woes became old news. (It was a big deal when the first show canceled on us; not such a big deal when the 5th one did.)
We also lost the 6 Monstro Camps that we were planning on doing. Camps generate online income, too, as people buy stuff to come to camp with. I got so worried I spent most of 2020 in a depressed daze.
THE OOO KEPT ON GOING
But, the ORDER of OBSCURIA kept on going, and we’ve managed to keep the doors open through all of this no-event hardship. Rangers stuck with it, and we didn’t see too much of a decline as the pandemic continued on.
Without bogging down into too many details, the OoO uses software to do Membership billing. There aren’t too many platforms that do this, though PATREON is the big one you may have heard about. We used another system that was a lot cheaper and integrated nicely with the Monster Rangers site we run (with WordPress.)
WordPress is written by a team of folks, and it works pretty dang well. It runs more of the internet than any other content publishing system.
But for every other thing that you want your WordPress site to do, you have to use a plugin to do it. (Written by some other team, somewhere.)
The Monster Rangers site does a lot of things, which require a LOT of plugins, all written by different folks. After a while, some of these things update and start to conflict with one another. It makes the site break in rather unpredictable ways. It’s happened a couple of times with our old OoO system, but we’ve managed to get through it.
UNTIL THIS TIME
WordPress had a big update towards the end of April, which then caused every one of our plugins update, and have us update the website. I did 15 in one day. Once I did that update, OoO transactions started to fail. Not all of them, just a few, here and there. Then more updates, and more failures. I didn’t even notice.
But on the 31st, Ranger Sarah let me know that something was amiss. I looked into it, and saw that normal Membership billing was failing left and right, with some weird error. About 80% of the transactions were failing, and being the last day of the month, I would have to arrange a different way for those end of the month Rangers to be billed.
SUPPORT IS AFK
I log into support to get some help and am met with a message that the Support team is on vacation until May 5th. We started trying to figure out what went wrong. We turned off plugins. Reinstalled everything. Tried everything that non-programmers can do, to no avail. The thing was broken.
I started my melt-down.
A NEW DIRECTION
So, we started looking into a new direction, as we didn’t know how how long it would take for Support to respond, let alone get the problem fixed. (Again, it’s complicated as every site uses different plugins.)
We ended up choosing another company called Paywhirl, who just specializes in Membership stuff like this.
In the end, Paywhirl offers some advantages:
- Much more reliable
- Not tied to WordPress
- Focused on Membership
- A better back-end for our Rangers
- You can buy multiple Memberships at once
- Signups on the 31st still work on short months (Like February)
- You don’t need to cancel the subscription to update billing or Membership level.
This time around with Paywhirl, we are disentangling WordPress from our Membership, so that we could avoid this sort of thing in the future.
It’s not great, as we really liked that about the old system. We have all kinds of content tagged that would only show up for folks who were Members of the OoO.
However, it wasn’t worth the chaos of a non-functioning and often funky Membership system. We’re still trying to figure out what to do about the exclusive content.
A NEW SYSTEM
I started to build the new levels out, formatting emails and all of the billing things that one has to do to get something like this up and running. Kale, our Webmaster, worked behind me rebuilding how folks would log into the site (which was tied into the OLD system.)
Of course, as we started to work on the new system, Old System Support got back to me: “There is a bug in the plugin. Reinstall it, and it should work.”
After all of this chaos, we decided to stick to this new Paywhirl system to avoid “the next time” there’s an update, conflict, or bug.
After 24 hours of scrambling to get everything fixed, we got the new system back up and running.
Now, we’re at the communication step. As of this writing on May 5th, we have about 25% of our normal Members converted over to the new OoO system. I suspect it’ll take 2-3 months to get everyone switched over. We’re including this note with the packages that we send out for the last system’s send:
- We had to move from our old Membership system as it wasn’t reliable or easy to deal with
- Our new system is much better
- Member Exclusive Content is still a work in progress
- We NEED the ORDER of OBSCURIA to survive
- We need all of the previous OoO Members to resign up
- We are grateful for Monster Rangers support!