March 2001

HIT AND RUN [Author: Lum the Mad]

As the smoke clears from the bombs EA management dropped on its until yesterday loyal infoserfs, people are sorting out who’s left and who’s not.

Oddly, despite OSI’s brave noises about refocusing on UO, some well-known UO staffers were let go yesterday as well. We’ve confirmed that Lead Interest GM Greg “Eidolon” Chapman was let go, and the rumor mill has Volunteer Coordinator Jack “Kal El” Wood and Designer/ex-Rant Demigod Pete “Adrick” Warner out the door as well. I guess we won’t really know who’s left standing until the rubble is cleared out by rescue teams flown in from Israel (they’re experienced at this sort of thing now).

In any event, if you were wanting to make an MMORPG, this would be the time to do it. Will Create Worlds For Food!

Speaking of creating worlds, Richard Garriott’s no-compete is set to expire Real Soon Now…

Moving on to other self-destructive companies, Verant announced the beginning of moving the filtering of status messages to the server instead of the client. And a thousand planes raiders cried Hosanna…

…and jumping from exploding game companies to the other side of the dot.bomb, Gamespy announced a partnership with RealNetworks, where Real builds the buggy and bloated Gamespy Arcade into its less-and-less-actually-an-audio-player Real System. I had a dream that the only gaming news network left standing was Planetquake. Of course, in the same dream, Gothmog was beating me with his +7 Mac of Disruption and the Mississippi was running red with the blood of the damned…

…and finally, moving back to my own twisted dreams, I’ve agreed to do a semi-regular not-MMOG game review column for Quarter to Three. The first installment, where I tell you not to buy Star Trek: Away Team, should be up later today. Of course, I just gave away the entire point of the column, but go read anyway so that their bandwidth costs will skyrocket, they’ll shut down and I won’t have to write any more columns. Wheee!

UO2 KILLED: LUM REACTS [Author: Lum the Mad]

Like the rest of you, when I heard that UO2 was cancelled, I was stunned. Shocked. Apalled.

But unfortunately, not surprised.

I had heard from folks at EA that EA.COM was due for layoffs this week (which we duly posted about)… and Origin was one of the largest links in that particular chain. Also the only one that actually had a hope of generating income, but logic never drives desperate accountants.

And UO2 or Ultima: Origin or Ultima: Nexus or Ultima: Woo or whatever it was called this week (the inability to even think up a simple name for the game betrayed the utter incompetence Origin’s upper management could seemingly never exhaust their supply of), after years of development, was supposedly only weeks away from beta, and months away from release. Some rumors had it that the game itself was an unplayable mess; others insist that it was ready to go and as revolutionary as was promised. We’ll never know, now.

Because EA, in their again infinite supply of wisdom, decided that aborting one MMOG in the womb, and handing OSI’s largest competitor a pre-built development team, wasn’t enough insanity for one fiscal year. No, in addition, it was decided that it was time to flush years of development, toil and sweat into the toilet. Because, you know, Origin might not be able to run more than one game at a time. And UO is making money at the moment. Making money in a is a rare thing these days.

So OSI once again turns to Ultima Online, as the standard bringer and now apparently the only project in their shop (an anonymous source described OSI’s place in the EA.COM hiearchy as “the server farm, nothing else”).

Too bad they don’t have a clue what to do with that, either.

Third Dawn is a technically amazing feat of engineering. It’s on a par with taking your old COBOL systems and teaching them to store dates as 4 digits instead of 2. But is it something that will compete with the latest and greatest from Verant, Turbine, and elsewhere?

Of course not.

I say this with a great deal of sadness, not because I personally like UO (I haven’t played it seriously in over a year now) but because it is the greatest example of what might have been. It betrays so much promise it’s almost criminal. UO could be the greatest MMOG out, of ANY of them. It would be so goddamned easy. All it would take is courage, and trust, and the willingness to take risks.

Leave aside the unbalanced PvP system, or the lag-happy networking code, or the omnipresent bugs, or even the recent hell-with-it-just-make-everything-a-number attempt at localization. Those are all technical issues. Those can all be fixed. What can’t be fixed is a lack of vision.

OSI’s finest hour was the Battle of Trinsic. And it also was its greatest failure.

In one brief moment, as the storytellers at Origin did their best to fling challenges great and small at the UO playerbase, people felt like they mattered. That the world actually responded to what they were doing, that they were no longer “just in a game” but in a world, a world that could possibly be shaped by their actions.

In that moment, UO held the greatest possibility of transcenedence — the ability to grow beyond its designers, that the fate of the game – the world – would from that point on not be in the hands of the caretakers, but the inhabitants.

But it was an illusion. The story was pre-written, and badly at that. It rapidly became obvious that OSI had no idea how to finish what they began, and as the events around Trinsic grew beyond their control, the story line just ….stopped. All of a sudden, it was time for UO:Renaissance (the fact that the battle of Trinsic was supposed to explain the events of UO:R was convienently forgotten) and the players didn’t matter. There was a game to ship, damn it.

It is no coincidence that the one part of UO:R that took the longest to actually make it into the game was also the one part that involved trusting the players to shape their own world. And as the faction system wound through developer after developer at the revolving door that was Origin, the ability of players to change their world was surgically removed, until the faction system itself was no longer a venue for storytelling, or a means for “PvP that mattered” (sadly, Origin’s words, not mine) but simply, in one last, final joke on the players, a way to dye your stuff purple.

There hasn’t been a new American server since shortly after UO launched (not counting Siege Perilous, and judging from its exclusion from most of UO3D, it really doesn’t count). There hasn’t been a major story-driven event in UO in months. While EQ launched two full CDs worth of expansions and AC delivered downloadable updated content on a monthly basis, UO managed to deliver one dungeon through creative hacking.

Supposedly, UO3D will change this.

Supposedly, we were supposed to have a new magic system called “Necromancy.”

Supposedly, we were supposed to have a revamped alchemy system.

Supposedly, we were supposed to have auctions for player property (and no, eBay does not count).

Supposedly, we were supposed to have a compelling faction system. Supposedly, we were supposed to have a working player economy. Supposedly, we were supposed to have an environment free of exploits and confused volunteers and uncaring overworked gamemasters. Supposedly. Supposedly. Supposedly.

Perhaps, as the localization changes that were rammed down the complaining playerbase’s throat suggest, Origin simply doesn’t care about the American market any more. We whine. We rant. We are unappreciative of all the hard work that goes into keeping a four year old collection of spaghetti code up and running. We’re a pack of ungrateful bastards. But, you know, Origin’s awful big in Japan. They probably think Richard Garriott still works there.

We know better.


I, like Rico here, also hope EA goes under for their mental shortcomings. It is unfortunate they dont quite grasp the concept of “learning” yet. How they make money is beyond me, but hey.. they do it, and I applaud them.. because its hard to make money when your not very bright like that.

Malt Refund,>

No, UO is not going to crash and burn right away but it will eventually. In case they have not noticed, there is a hell of a lot of competition coming out with games in the next year or two. Games that were made after learning from UO\’e2\’80\’99s successes, and more importantly, its mistakes. At least one game with fans at least as rabid as Ultima fans (and you can bend your Wookie too). Obviously, this was a calculated business move except nobody here understands the reasoning behind it. Is it to slowly force a shut down of any remaining OSI activity? Because nothing else makes sense to me. UO isn\’e2\’80\’99t going to be the breadwinner forever and now there is nothing to take its place. UO Third Dawn is nice. New lands, new monsters, a 3d client with new and improved bugs. However, new 3D wrapping paper on an old game doesn\’e2\’80\’99t make the product appealing to the market that would have been brought in by UWO:O. Unless I was wrong in my assumption that bringing in new gamers to your product is considered a good thing…

…They\’e2\’80\’99ve lost something much harder to overcome today. Loyalty from Ultima Fans..scratch that loyalty from paying customers. We\’e2\’80\’99ve heard it, said it and meant it before. But this time they took away all the hope and excitement for the future of a game with fantastic potential. And now, not only will we not believe you when you say “TRUST US”, we won\’e2\’80\’99t even trust you to get a game out at all. This time they took away from the core of a deeply rooted fanbase that, if nothing else, was devoted to the lore of their games…

Its time for the cynic to cancel her UO accounts. I\’e2\’80\’99m finished.



How can any thinking person expect UO to retain its current customer base once the “second generation MMOGs” start coming out? How many UO players are just biding their time until “something new” comes out? Without another game to pick up UO’s slack, what’s to become of OSI?

Does anyone really think “Third Dawn” will help? IT DOESN’T EVEN WORK.

No, I haven’t thought too highly of EA/OSI in the past. Yes, I see this as justification of what I’ve said for more than a year. But no, I didn’t want it to turn out this way. There’s no humor in kicking a dead dog.

J., Crossroads of Shadowbane

As a public service, we here at The Corporation would like to give EA a little bit of friendly advice, one gigantic, soulless company to another.

Put the fucking bong down.

The human mind recoils in horror at such a decision. Apparently, a stuffed suit somewhere at EA-HQ was getting bored making little log cabins out of pencils on his conspicuously empty desk and decided, “Hey, we’re making too many games! We need to make less games, especially ones that might turn a profit!”

Mr. Poppinfresh, the Corporation

The majority of UO players were NOT going to drop x years of gameplay just to go to an EQ/AC hybrid set in a Techno-Britannia and, if they did, chances are they would quit UO altogether. With such a mass exodus, neither game would be paying for itself.

EA took the safe, wise course, to go dance with the girl that brung ’em, and not try to find a new one at the prom. Good call from a business perspective, possibly not good for the gamers who wanted to play it, but gaming is a business, and money drives business.


Corporate wide, EA has big plans for PSWs (persistant state worlds) in other studios. It’s not like Origin was the only studio working on these.

David Swofford, Public Relations Manager, OSI, in interview with

UO2 CANCELLED [Author: Lum the Mad]

From the press release:

Electronic Arts and Origin Systems have announced a plan that will increase their focus on Ultima Online and halt production of OWO: ORIGIN (UO2). The reason is simple, rather than creating OWO: ORIGIN (UO2) as a parallel world competing with UO, we’ve decided to put those resources into growing and improving the core offering for Ultima Online’s 230,000 loyal subscribers.

In the near future and with the release next week of Ultima Online: Third Dawn, players will see new lands, new creatures, and a world that is continually evolving within Ultima Online.

Latest update as of 3:30p: Massive layoffs throughout EA. 85 from OSI alone. Kesmai also gutted (at least 40, Battletech and Air Warrior 4 both cancelled) and 80 elsewhere in EA. Harry Potter cancelled. Jack Heistand (OSI’s CEO) gone. Gordon “Tyrant” Walton moved to Sims Online.

This site, along with the rest of XRGaming is suffering frequent outages today. You can get the latest from our IRC chat room ( #lummies).

Our sincere condolences today to everyone who was hit by this.

Not a good day, by any measure.


Pardon me if I appear to be less concerned that others over the End of the World Wide Web. I may be conditioned due to the fact that I’ve seen this event unfold once before, and while I still look back to that time in my life with a wistful gleam in my eye, I’ve come to learn that change is not something to feared and shunned, but something to look at with anticipation – because you never know what will happen.

Once upon a teenager.

The 1980’s might not be one of the most important decades in the scope of human history, but that determination may not be ours to make. When the Wright Brothers first took to wing on the prairies of Kitty Hawk, did they realize they had ushered in the age of flight? When Guttenberg first pressed a copy of the Holy Bible into German using a press made of individual blocks of letters and symbols, did he realize that mankind had taken a quantum leap forward? Perhaps. Visionaries tend to “think big.” So before we judge the 1980’s for giving us Mork and Mindy, the Space Shuttle, and Cindy Lauper – we might stop to wonder if history will judge it as the Dawn of the Digital Age, or even the first catalyst towards the end of individual nation-states into a Global Government (Beware the Tri-Lateral Commission).

When the Internet was something for Universities, NASA, and the Department of Defense, there was the Community Bulletin Board. At first, they were just individual little machines with nothing more than a message server and a discussion thread, but quickly they grew into a single web of interconnected little machines that could broadcast “electronic messages” to users across whole continents, and suddenly every geek kid with a Commodore, a TRS-80, or an Apple made the same discovery from within the twilight of a monitor lit bedroom – “We are not alone.” My own bulletin board was passed to me when the owner moved away, and I did my best to keep it going. Having been online for almost 5 years, it was one of the “Big Three” in the area for people to call and connect with one another. I bought a second modem, then a third, and a fourth. My hobby went from something I could fund with change I found in the vinyl cushions of my Chevy Nova to a black hole of cash where money went in and was never to be seen again. I sold my stereo one month, and I maxed out my only credit card in half a year. I was destitute and was faced with an impossible decision. Late one evening, I posted a login message informing the endless line of callers that by the end of the month, the system would have to go offline. I could not afford any more debt and the phone company was going to shut down the lines. A user emailed me and offered to give me his coin jar if I would pick it up and roll it myself. I drove an hour and with a smile and a handshake, took his mason jar of coins – Twenty seven dollars and some to spare. When I got home, I decided that I would reward him for his effort – his name would appear in bright gold and he would have access to one of the modem lines set aside JUST FOR HIM until the site went down for good.

The day after I announced this, I had about ten more people interested in how much it would cost to use this “premier line”. I simply asked that they give what charitable considerations they could afford. One user mailed me a check for one hundred dollars, another one shipped me a hard drive. “Maybe you can sell it and use the money for the site.” Another user bought it for fifty bucks (At the time, that was quite a deal for TEN WHOLE MEGS). A few days later, I got a very interesting email. Someone from Canada asked how many active users my board had on any given day. I told him the phones were constantly busy. He asked for my email address and in a few weeks, I got a Gravis Ultrasound in the mail with a note: “For review.” It was the first wavetable sound card I had ever heard, and I was up most of the night playing midi files. I installed the card and added a new section on the board: “Sponsors”. I listed all the hardware the system had and included any donated equipment. Near as I could tell, I was responsible for the purchase of six Ultrasound cards. Fast forward a year or so, and I was getting donations from users enough to afford most of the cost of the bulletin board. It would still be online today had it not been for the unseen predator lurking in the shadows – the internet. I left the board online as long as people continued to call, but by the end of the 1980’s, the periods of inactivity started to grow. Rather than allow the site to fade out into an abandoned husk, I decided to shut it down. I wrote a farewell message and gave the site 30 days. One month later, I logged in, read my messages, and booted the server down. I cried a little bit, I don’t mind admitting. In the attic of my father’s house sits a dusty 486 on an old aluminum desk – untouched by human hands since that last day in December of 1988.

Once upon a point here

Sorry for the detour, but I had a point way up at the top of the page, and that point is, “don’t sweat it.” That’s right – all this just to say to you, “don’t sweat it.” You see, the internet is sinking like a ruptured ocean liner, but not everyone will die. As the banner revenue dries like a desert gulch, websites will go down. Internet Service Companies (ISPs) will start seeing a drop in their customer base and they too will begin to notice that “hey, there’s water coming into my stateroom.” And believe me people, if you learn anything about Western Culture, learn this: Your government will not lift a finger to help you until the steerage compartments are already under water and someone in First Class notices a humid stink in the air. As smaller ISPs drown amid their own above-market hosting fees, other ISPs will see the predicament and will realize, “hey if we have no clients, then we have no jobs!” – either the federal government will step in (this is the Golden Calf they have been searching for: a viable excuse to tax the internet), or they will adjust their hosting fees to better reflect our post-dotcom economy. We can hope that may happen, but in the meantime, never under-estimate the ability for people to care, and to offer whatever measure of consideration they can afford, to bail water out of the lifeboats. In spite of what I’ve learned about humanity from Ultima Online (bastards, all), part of me still has faith in mankind.

Certainly large portals like Blue’s News and Old Man Murray might still find prices to be far too high to support a hobby, but the niche (i.e. less popular) sites will certainly find themselves scooped up from the frigid waters and pulled to safety, just as long as we promise to not let go.

HIT AND RUN [Author: Lum the Mad]

It’s official: Ultima 9 makes baby Jesus cry. No doubt of great relief to OSI, Ultima 9 is now kid tested and Christian approved.

When my children are old enough, I plan on playing this game again with them and discussing the Avatar’s actions with respect to Christ and his followers — something the game designers probably never intended!

Especially when the Avatar starts hitting on Raven. I bet that’s a great point to explain the ethics of mature relationships. “Kids, BAD TOUCH.”

Fires of Heaven is Everquest’s baddest-ass guild. Don’t believe me? Ask them. They’ll tell you TWICE. In fact, their leader, Furor Planedefiler has transcended ub3rness.

Here we have the AC Ub4r Furor and in the next shot we have the HP Ub4r Furor. I am using a 4 instead of a 3 in my spelling of uber because I personally believe I have transcended the petty levels of uberness most people squabble over. I have decided that I am no longer ub3r but instead I am now ub4r. I hope to work my way to ub9r in the near future.

We’ve sent a collected copy of Hegel and Nietschze to Furor’s ub5r mail drop. We’ll let you know if he ever learns to spell “Nietschze.”

Years later, Murm finally got his goddamned catapult.

Over at planetCrap, there’s a good discussion of something that’s come up before: product placement in games. My favorite quote comes from Flamethrower:

My guess is Duke 4’s gameplay will consist entirely of SHOCK THE MONKEY.


Thanks to a server upgrade, Wolfpack’s forums timewarped a month (the most recent backup Ashen Temper had made). Some folks were a bit miffed about this, to which Warden responded:

We don’t consider these forums to be critical applications, and we don’t make any attempt to manage them as such. We don’t backup our voice mail, either, but I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

To be honest, I’m actually suprised that Ashen even HAD a backup. It certainly wasn’t outlined anywhere as one of his job duties.. or anyone elses, for that matter.

In the midst of UO laying off forum administrators and Brad McQuaid publicly suffering angst about Whineplay, this was… refreshingly honest?

Discuss: I’d make a forum link here, but I don’t consider it a critical application either.

MESSAGES IN BOTTLES [Author: Lum the Mad]

The OSI one is on, in response to a recent rumor, from someone who was obviously pretty high up the OSI food chain at one point:


Originally posted by aimfire:

Good! The guys that work at are fucking ASSHOLES! I know a few of them there and they are backstabbing, ego-headed fucks. I hope they sink big time, how the hell can they fuck things up when they had the biggest online gaming deal of all time with AOL?? Asswipes.

Having worked with EA/OSI for 2 years (beginning right after UO’s release) I can offer the following observation in agreement of the above:

The ‘powers that be’ at OSI and EA literally stumbled into the online gaming biz with UO. Thus the eventual desire by EA to cash in on the phenomena. Ergo,

Problem was, there was/is a serious NIH (not invented here) syndrome present at EA/OSI. Senior OSI/EA mgrs/execs felt that (due to the accidental success of UO) they must therefore know everything about the online gaming biz. Thus despite years of previous online gaming experience (in a professional capacity, which is why I was hired) my ability to help steer EA/OSI online gaming efforts continually fell on deaf ears.

Granted, there were some good ideas here and there but generally time after time EA/OSI would try to institute/impliment some of the most dumbass things I’ve ever encountered in my entire professional online gaming career.

As the above suggests, this is/was exacerbated by the political ‘backstabbing’ environment within EA. If you weren’t political you simply didn’t survive (my fate). And however diplomatic & professional, god forbid anyone raising an issue, questioning the validity of any ideas by a Director or above.

Thus’s future looking rocky doesn’t surprise me one whit. As they say, the ‘proof is in the pudding’. Look at previous attempts to expand their online gaming presence (AOL, Janes World War). Heck, they can’t even get a peer to peer lobby service working/running.

EA (et al) has not had ONE online gaming success since UO… and even THAT was purely by accident!

Moving on from OSI’s past to Dawn’s future, we have this bit of soul-searching from the now seemingly forgotten members of the Collective of True Believers:

As much as I hope that you are wrong in your opinion Qwerty, I do agree that Glitchless’ strict refusal to offer any kind of reasurrance that they are actually making a game, even to those of us who have been registered in the forums and been supporting their efforts and arguing for Dawn and its validity, it is slowly becoming frustrating that they do not provide any more info or screenshots or for that matter anything else…

That said I still think you’re wrong, I think the game and company is legit, although wheather they succeed in creating the game they have promised still remains to be seen…

Believe me, I would love to be wrong. I have tried to appraoch Glitchless in a professional manner, treat them just like I would any other game designer.

They have repeatedly acted in an unprofessional manner, however. The idea of censoring threads and banning users is childish.

Yes maybe it is wishfull thinking on the part of me and many others. But this game failing or turning out to be a hoax or whatever will not be a waste for me at least, I am involved in a clan that has many great ppl in it and I have become good friends with many of them.

We have also discussed on the subject of this turning out to be fake and we have decided simply to move the clan to a different game. We havent really decided which one as that would be most likely a clan vote and only our leaders have chatted about moving the clan but nonetheless I know that most of the clan will go with us to a new game.

So i am not really worried about the possibility of this being a hoax or not working out, I check the boards regularly and interact with my clansmates and I take Dawn in strides. It is just a game.

A HOMECOMING [Author: Riprend]

It’s definitely not what it was, but it’s good enough for me.

You’ve heard me spout off about it before. The old Neverwinter Nights on AOL was, just like the Neverwinter Tribute Site claims, one of online gaming’s greatest achievements to almost everyone who played it. When it was cancelled at the height of its popularity in July 1997, I heard friends cry over the telephone, grieved beyond belief because not just their favorite game was gone, but an online home was erased.

For more than three and a half years, Neverwinter has been gone. For two of those, a small group of coders has been trying to bring a facsimile of it back, under the name of Forgotten World.

Recently, they finished a web-based game, open to anyone for free, that captures just a part of Neverwinter’s magic. There’s not much strategy to it, the EGA graphics are still there, and it’s definitely not a complex piece of code. And it’s very much a far cry from the strategy-intensive original PvP.

But the people are still there. I can step into there any night of the week and see people I haven’t seen online in almost four years. The poeple – the true magic of what Neverwinter was – have been brought back. Unbelievably, the NWN community has held together even thought the last vestige of NWN, Nyrthellan’s Woods (chat-based roleplaying set with AD&D rules), was ALSO cancelled from AOL several months ago.

Field of Dreams was right. If you build it, they will come.

And I’ve come home.

NO, IT WON’T [Author: Lum the Mad]

Here’s some of the conclusions we’ve come to, as we try to navigate the flotsam and jetsam of the post-modern Internet.

Web sites are faced with three choices currently:

  • Try to eke out an existence in a collapsing ad banner market. To compete for dwindling resources, some content sites become little more than advertising with a dash of content. Advertising becomes ridiculously intrusive, with huge popup ad pages and animated Flash marquees taking up 3/4 of the page.

    Unfortunately, there is so little money in the ad banner market currently, that even with advertising so intrusive it literally chases away readers, this model is really only workable if a website is backed by a company with lots of venture capital and an unblinking willingness to pay the bills. Good examples of this include the Gamespy network (which run house ads almost exclusively, apparently existing solely on venture capital and whatever revenue registered copies of Gamespy-the-application bring in) and Daily Radar (which is a good example of more ads than news).

  • Run as a volunteer service, with unpaid writers, and publishers willing to foot the bill for hosting.

    This is the model our own site is (somewhat involuntarily) using. Every MMOG fan and news site, such as XRGaming, Stratics and Vault Network uses volunteer writers almost exclusively as well – the MMOG community has a surplus of talented and opinionated writers, and a shortage of actual income.

    The problem here comes when bills need to be paid. For a site such as ours, with a fairly small niche readership of 1 to 2 million page views monthly, finding cut-rate hosting that’s affordable by the hobbyist is in the upper end of feasability. For larger sites such as Casters Realm and Crossroads of Dereth, with 10 to 20 million page views and up, this no longer is an option. With hosting bills upwards of $4,000 monthly, the site either requires revenue or it bankrupts its owners.

  • Charge for content. This is seen by most analysts as the Internet’s future, based on the two entirely reasonable assumptions that (a) the current models aren’t working and (b) the money to keep things going has to come from somewhere. The only problem is that it won’t work.

Why not?

Here’s one thing to consider. How will your business – and it just became one, the second you turned on the “pay here please” sign – grow? Most websites grow through word of mouth. Links. But links to subscription-only sites are kind of pointless, since you have to actually pay money before seeing what’s on the other side. Your business doesn’t grow. Then it dies. On the plus side, this cuts your bandwidth costs significantly.

Still another factor for community based sites (like, say, this one) is the expectation raised by the transition from hobbyist site to paid concern. Simply put, people expect more from what they actually pay for. Picture someone trolling the message boards here, who is then banned, who then not unreasonably demands a refund. Every moderation decision (and most agree that successful web-based messaging systems require moderation of some sort) becomes a business decision – is banning this person from the system worth the hassle and cost of paying him back his money? One could argue, as, not coincidentally, most online games do, that forcing users to click through a restrictive End User License Agreement gives the content provider the right to prune his/her userbase without giving friendly refunds later. Whether or not this is legal (and so far no EULA has actually held up in court) is irrelevant – the key here is, is the content provider willing to suddenly provide professional moderation, enforced in such a way that the majority of users (who, remember, in a free market hold the real voting power over any business) don’t get fed up and vote with their dollars?

Even further, what if that website doesn’t post any updates for a week? Are they in breach of contract? Users who pay for access certainly expect something for their money. And it’s highly likely that a site that charges every user would no longer be able to run off of volunteer labor as well. After all, it’s pretty obvious that money is coming into the system, and those people are paying for the fruits of volunteer labor. Not a terribly workable proposition.

But all these are almost laughably insignificant in the face of the real reason why subscription-only sites will fail: the Internet is a free market, in more than one sense. It is ridiculously easy to find competing sources for nearly anything available online. If you don’t like the news and views here, you can go here or here or here or here. If you don’t like the EQ news at EQ Vault, there’s EQ Stratics, Everlore, Casters Realm, or any number of smaller news sources. If one or more of these sites suddenly began charging for access – even a laughably nominal fee such as $1 a year – loyal community members would undoubtably pay up, but the vast majority of users would simply click elsewhere.

Even financial burden aside, it’s simply easier to bookmark another page then to go to the hassle of going through a shopping cart application, entering in your credit card number assuming you even have one (many teens who are avid gamers don’t) and assuming you trust the site operator not to go on a shopping spree with your line of credit, then every time you visit the site, entering in a username and password. And you thought pop up banners were annoying.

So what will happen?

Well, expect a shakeout. Expect some of the larger sites to close, simply because they can’t afford to pay the bills any more. This will rapidly cause a cascade, as users of the sites that close flock to other sites, which then have suddenly increased bandwidth to pay for. Sites that aren’t self-sustaining – that lose money on page views – will collapse quickly in this environment. (Kuro5hin posted a good analysis from Shepherd on this correlation recently.) It will be a very dramatic month. And it may be next month.

The sites who survive this shakeout will try to juggle numerous revenue streams. Salon today announced such a juggling act – huge ads for free visitors, subscription options for loyal visitors. actually is offering you the opportunity to read Pud’s mail.

Niche sites will become further niche, as specialization wins out over all-encompassing portal. Instead of Shugashack and Blue’s (both of which I don’t expect to survive the coming shakeout) for FPS news, perhaps clan sites will pick up the tab for community and discussion – much smaller, more easily managed community – while the larger portals such as ZDNet/Gamespot and Daily Radar, which will probably survive the shakeout, do the yeoman work of posting press releases and game demos.

And eventually – in a year or so – all of these, including ZDNet and Daily Radar – and Salon, and, and Yahoo, and every other content-driven site on the web – will collapse. Simply because offering your product for free is not a sustainable business model. And only then, when the Net is literally a smoking wasteland of dead sites and the “free market” is finally no longer a convinenent option for users – only then will subscription-based web sites catch on.

Call it the Nightmare Scenario. I’d tell you to sell Yahoo short – but hey! You already did!