In other news, I’ve been having real fun over on InstantChess. Their interface is quite nice as long as all you’re doing is playing and chatting with players selected for you automatically, but there are lots of bugs and interface glitches and absolutely no documentation. Here are some examples:

  • Two players agree to “increase time to N minutes” and the time is increased by N minutes.
  • Many things that look like links aren’t, or they lead to do-nothing screens. Many essential functions must be accessed by clicking on something that is not in any way visually distinguishable from information-only text.
  • Everything seems to require far more clicks and screens than are truly necessary.
  • Some of the informational text in dialogs directly contradicts what clicking on a button actually does.
  • Some settings don’t do anything at all when you change them, even though there’s an obvious expectation of what they’d do.
  • If you play an opponent at one time limit and then want a rematch, the rematch might or might use the same time limit depending on who offered a rematch to whom.

On Monday I got hit by one of the more serious bugs (improper disconnect handling that cost me a game) for about the fifth time and I’d had it. I posted to the local message board, identifying some of the more egregious problems and suggesting more attention to interface/documentation issues. What was the response? Almost every admin on the site has by this point sent me at least one flame, saying the problems are all in my head, I must be an idiot, the site’s new (too new to have these fixed means too new to be deployed live IMO) and so on. Two or three tried to be helpful, but the majority have behaved in a way that shouldn’t even be tolerated in a regular member let alone a representative of the site. How these people ever got into positions requiring social skills I’ll never know. The worst offender is the chief admin, one mysterious “DEADLYPAWN” who never seems to pass up an opportunity to belittle the people who pay for his site. He threw one of the most amazing temper tantrums I’ve ever seen online, practically foaming at the mouth and trying to force the chief forum moderator (nominally his subordinate, and one of the helpful ones) to remove me from the site. Fortunately, a calmer head prevailed and no lawsuit will be necessary, but I was still left positively amazed at what a world-class psychopath this guy is.

Interesting side point: these guys will never be profitable. They claim to have 1100 paying members, at $30/year a pop. That’s $33K/year. They also have advertising, but in today’s market nobody pays more than a pittance for that. I know something about the highly competitive online-games landscape, and about the costs involved in this kind of business. There is basically no way in the world this business is profitable for them, and they must know that. If they’re still able to pay their employees there’s only one of three possible reasons:

  • Some other line of business.
  • Really gullible investors being fleeced like sheep.
  • Criminal activity.

The last item wouldn’t normally be something I’d consider, but these guys are incredibly, notoriously secretive, and the names that rumors associate with the enterprise are in many cases names that have also been linked to Russian organized crime. Between that and his thuggish behavior – and the pictures of admins sitting in luxury cars – it wouldn’t surprise me at all if DEADLYPAWN’s primary vocations are smuggling and prostitution.

If anyone else happens to hear any rumors about the shady figures behing InstantChess, let me know. They’ve piqued my curiosity.