The cost of calling BBSes

I know I’m not the only one to have this happen, but I’d like to relate my experience of calling BBSes in the early ’90s.

I was late to the party as far as getting a modem. I had an Apple //c from mid 1984, but it wasn’t connected to a network in any way, unless you include “sneaker net.” At some point, I picked up a 2400 baud modem from one of the ads in the back of Incider, and things changed.

I already had my own phone line in my room, for which I paid 100% of the bill. I spent the first couple of days calling any local number that I could find. There was a list of Detroit area BBSes, and I had some phone numbers from the crack screens as well. Not all of them were BBSes. I recall one of the crack screens had a listing for the FBI with a 313 area code number. I assumed it was the number of a BBS called FBI. Imagine my surprise when the phone was answered by… you guessed it, the Detroit FBI field office.

Near the tail end of the BBS era, systems were harder and harder to come by, so I started to reach out a bit farther. I convinced myself that I could call the Byte Bastards BBS (in New York – 212 area code) on a limited basis. If I called in, just to check messages, and see if there were any interesting downloads, it would cost that much. Or so I thought.

Connecting to, and interacting with these systems was addictive. It didn’t help that sometimes, the sysop was around, and would break in, and you would be having a one on one chat with someone… over the computer.

In hindsight, I really was flying blindly. I don’t remember whether or not I even called Michigan Bell to find out what the long distance rate would be to call Byte Bastards.

I remember calling every evening, I’d read the boards, check for email, and then log off. I’m sure there were some downloads in there as well. The first bill after this started was larger, but manageable. I was still working a minimum wage job, and making a couple hundred dollars every two weeks.

The second bill was over the top. It was over FIVE HUNDRED dollars. That was more than I made in a month. I think I called, and tried to make some arrangements to split that bill over time, and I told myself I needed to cut back.

Even that didn’t help. I’m sure there was some lag between that second bill being sent, and me realizing the hole that I had dug. When the third bill arrived, it was also over $500. Here I was, just out of high school, with two phone bill in a row tat would take up 100% of my gross pay. I threw in the towel, let the phone get disconnected, and worked to pay it off as quickly as I could.

I don’t remember what warez I could have downloaded from that BBS, but I can guarantee that even that could not cover the cost of those telephone bills.

The real rub is that this was just months before I would get access to a local dialup from the university I attended, which would open up so many more possibilities for $0 / minute.

</TLDR> When I started to call an “elite” BBS that was long distance, I racked up over $1000 in telephone bills.

Gamefly’s Worth

I’m coming up on the second monthly renewal for my Gamefly subscription. I received a 30 day trial with a Pizza Hut order a few months ago, and decided to give it a shot. The trial started out as the 2 at a time plan. In the first month, I rented 5 games: Half Life 2, Trauma Center: New Blood, Trauma Center: Second Opinion, Fable II, and Virtual Fighter Online. At the end of the first month, I changed the membership to 1 out at a time, and returned Virtual Fighter Online (keeping Fable II.) Here’s where the problems started. I received Fable II on 11/7/08 and it was returned on 1/6/09. I had the game for 2 months, and never found a chunk of time to devote to it. I had decided to use the membership to play through games that offered easy achievement points, and my next game was the original Condemned game. I blasted through it pretty quickly (just over 2 weeks,) and sent it back. I currently have a PS3 game out (MGS4,) and I’ve only played a few hours since I received it almost a month ago. The membership cost is $54 for the last three months, in which time I’ve completed Half-Life 2, and Condemned: Criminal Origins. The main reason that I’m thinking about this is that I have a $5 coupon that’s going to expire this month, around the time that my account would renew. With the amount that I’ve rented in the last 2 months, I can’t justify keeping the membership, so I’ll probably use my coupons to keep the game I have (MGS4 for $24.99,) and cancel before it renews.
If you have a few hours per day to devote to games, and you’re not interested in owning games, Gamefly may be probably right for you. If you rent less than one game a month, you’re probably better off going to Blockbuster/Gamecrazy/Family Video/etc. Heck, you might even do better buying used games at Gamestop, and using their liberal return policy as a rental system.

R.I.P.: Dreamcast

The SEGA Dreamcast is one of my all time favorite consoles. It was the first console of the last generation that I purchased. It’s kid of hard to believe that it has been ten years since it was launched. Eurogamer is running a retrospective on the little console that could (but didn’t.)

I liked the Dreamcast for a couple of reasons:

  • Shenmue (I and II) – I played Shenmue I and II on the Dreamcast, and I even went through the added steps to continue my saved game from Shenmue I with the import copy of Shenmue II.
  • Piracy – The Dreamcast started to teach me about the downside of piracy. I spent a log of time grabbing games from usenet, burning them, and then verifying that they would boot, but I didn’t spend a lot of time playing them. The lesson was that my time was better spent paying for and playing the games that I really wanted than downloading and burning games that didn’t.

In many ways I consider the Xbox and Xbox 360 to be decedents of the Dreamcast. To me the Xbox is more like a Dreamcast 1.5 (imagine a Dreamcast with DVD, and ethernet, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m getting at.) It doesn’t hurt that my number two Dreamcast game was only released on the Xbox for the US market.