Planning ahead or pulling off the road?
The end of Combatsim.com. It came as a surprise to many. On Dec. 29, I clicked over to Combatsim.com to see if they had any news or fresh articles. And there it was, a large announcement on "The future of Combatsim.com". Boiled down to the essentials, Doug Helmer, the President and big cheese, was pulling the plug on Combatsim. The announcement states that as of Dec. 30--the next day--all free access to the website was prohibited. If you want to read a review or article by a fellow gamer on Combatsim in the future, you have to pay. The future of C-Sim is now similar to that of a terminally ill patient; they just went on life support. I imagine by this time next year someone will have pulled the plug.
In the announcement, Helmer bravely explains why the move to pay-to-browse was necessary. Their costs routinely exceed their incomes. They admit they have no staff as such, although they (and most other e-journals) put up the front that they are a dotcom corporate entity. Combatsim is mostly a husband/wife operation, like the bait and tackle store I shop at. From what I gathered, they spend 100% of their time maintaining and promoting the website. They rely on advertising and game sales commissions to pay their hosting costs and provide an income for their family. Well, as the head of another e-journal, I can testify that advertising is mostly a no-show and game commissions vary wildly but rarely generate more than enough money to cover the costs. This type of venture is a hobby, folks. You have to like it and expect gratification from working in it, not money.
When I started SUBSIM Review, it was called Neal's Subsim Reviews. In the beginning there was a title page with almost the exact same introduction as today. There were links for six reviews. And that was it. This was January 1997, before SimHQ or Combatsim were known to me, probably before they existed. Over the first few months all I did was answer e-mail to the site. Gradually I began to see a role for a non-factory tech support service. I added the Tactics & Tips section. Many people contributed to this feature. In the summer of 1997, a fellow named Frank "Crimson" Morissette e-mail me and said he loved my work, would I mind sharing the review of Jane's 688(I) with his new website, Simulation Headquarters (SimHQ). A friendship was born. Frank helped me get the original Radio Room BBS working by coaching me over the phone. He also advised me to change the name of the website to just SUBSIM Review and give it a professional makeover. Along this same time I wrote an article for Len "Viking1" Hjalmarson and his Combatsim website. I suggested that Combatsim and SUBSIM Review share the same naval forum. After all, every page in the Internet is really part of one big website by virtue of the links anyway and this way Combatsim's flight sim oriented website and SSR's subsim oriented website would strengthen each other in this collaboration. He agreed and for a while we directed readers to a mutual forum.
Maybe four months later, Len informed me that Doug Helmer had decided that Combatsim would have better luck administering a separate naval forum. Doug made this decision in the effort to propel Combatsim (now known as Combatsim.com) to the top ranks of e-journals. With their own forum, they could collect advertising and not be beholden to SUBSIM Review. I offered to allow them to collect the full share of any advertising from the mutual forum. No dice. So we parted ways and our collaborative effort was dropped. I could appreciate the motive but I still think it was a bad business decision.
Over the four years since the inception of SUBSIM Review, Combatsim, and SimHQ, all three have grown. Naturally, with their broader scope and focus on the more popular flightsims, the latter two have grown into web standards. SSR has moved into some pretty heavy traffic ourselves but with the emphasis only on subs and naval sims, we are little brothers next to SimHQ and C-sim. Despite Helmer's claim to "14 million pages viewed monthly", there's no doubt that Combatsim was shouldering some hefty hosting fees. I can sympathize. We grew from allowing a college server to host us for free, to adopting a reliable hosting service's budget program, to paying for two dedicated servers. From no costs to almost $500 a month. (If you guys stop buying games through us, we're kaput!). SUBSIM Review went from just one guy's reviews to previews, interviews, troubleshooting tips, downloads, contests, forums where every tech support question is answered, and more, all contributed by men who love military sims. And we do it for a few key reasons. Because we like it. Because we want to actively promote the kinds of games we love. Because it gives me and about six other guys a chance to flex our journalistic muscles. Because we like helping you. And because you, the reader, have encouraged us. That last part can never be emphasized enough. Your kind words mean a lot to me and the other guys at this website.
The zenith for Combatsim must have been during the period where they were planning to launch their print magazine. They had a cover displayed on their website and were taking advance subscriptions. I signed on for that. Sadly, the magazine never made it to Issue #1. Eventually, my money was refunded. I wish the magazine had made it. I can imagine that was a bitter disappointment to Helmer.
As year 2000 began drawing to a close, I noticed a tapering off in Combatsim's content. I saw a few posts in various forums to the same effect. C-sim was beginning to look like a runner fading at the finish. Other e-journals were responsible for the most innovation. SimHQ had their Kali server room and were heavily involved with Steel Beasts. SimHQ was beginning to make giveaway contests a normal feature--every week they were handing out prizes to their readers. Jim Dattilo's Computer Sim Games has grown into a premiere website with its extensive link library and well-written reviews. Naval Warfare Simulations has evolved into a full-blown mod program, advancing and improving a host of legacy sims. BattleBelow.com is growing on the strength of its popular Pacific Thunder campaign. We at SSR introduced our popular Mystery Subsim contest that drew in and rewarded knowledgeable players. And we helped coax Sonalysts into making a no-cheat patch for Jane's 688(I) with our "Fix My 688(I) Petition". By comparison, Combatsim was verging on atrophy.
So perhaps the move to pay-per-view shouldn't be seen as a total surprise. It's a last ditch effort to save a hobby and transform it into an occupation. It's going to be tough. U-boat.net tried this trick earlier this year and nearly sank. They are back with most content available for free. I wish Combatsim luck but this has to be considered; if they succeed, then they have blazed the trail for other sim e-journals to follow suit. That could get ugly fast. In any case, the chance of success can be summed up by Helmer's own claim to glory; "the 58th most popular game information site across all top-ranked game sites (ranked by) www.100hot.com". What do you want to bet that the other fifty-seven games sites, as well as the countless number below 58th, are free?
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