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  Thomas Stahl - webmaster of PlayChess

Why do I ask for money?

by Thomas Stahl, webmaster of PlayChess
Last update: Nov 11th, 2001

PlayChess has been a free site for about 1½ years. So you might wonder why PlayChess mutates from a "play for free" to a "pay for play" site. And you may ask what the money will be used for. I will answer these questions honestly.

Current problems

I hope that the following problems are not obvious to everybody. At least, I'm working hard to hide these problems from you. But nonetheless, these are very severe problems.

Faster than his shadow  

Duration of program calls

PlayChess is limited in the complexity of its program calls by the current server. All requests must be finished within 6 seconds. This is no problem by itself, because PlayChess can normally satisfy all requests within a second. But other problems (see below) may increase this duration above the limit.

  Very irritating...

CGI-limits reached

The current server limits the number of parallel CGI-requests (program calls). During the PlayChess rush hours around 17 GMT this leads to error messages. Then, more than 200 players are playing simultanuously on the site.

PlayChess is a highly dynamic site. Every page request is in fact a program call (a CGI-request). During these hours it sometimes happens that more than 6 visitors request a page, leading to the notorious CGI-limits error.

No database access

This is another rush hour problem, but much more dangerous than the above.

PlayChess shares its database server with more than 1000 sites. Sometimes one of these sites (not neccessarily PlayChess) creates a very complicated database search, blocking the whole server for some time. This may happen in the midst of a database transaction of PlayChess.

Example: A player enters a move and clicks the "Move" button. PlayChess updates the current position. But when PlayChess tries to update the move list of the game it is blocked by one of the other sites running on the same server. If the blockade holds for more than 6 seconds, the "make move program" is killed by the server - leaving the game in an inconsistent state.

  Very dangerous!
Problems like the above have happened. I could repair most of them by hand (not all!). But as soon as the load on the PlayChess server is high enough, this problem will no longer occur every X days, but a dozen times each day.

I couldn't handle this by hand any longer.
This would be the end of PlayChess.

Did you notice the formulation "as soon as"? I didn't use "if", because it is just a question of time. This will happen unless we do something!

Limit on transferred data

This is not a technical, but a financial problem.

PlayChess is limited on the size of data it may send to the browsers of the visitors (25 GB per month). This is quite a large number, most e-commerce sites would be happy if they needed half of that. But PlayChess currently uses more than 22 GB (90%) of this allowed transfer volume - with continuously rising numbers. Every gigabyte (GB) transferred above that limit, would cost me some 15 USD. I cannot pay that, too.

Limit on new players

PlayChess would have reached that transfer volume limit since long. But I limited the number of new registrations per day. This lead to only a slow rise in transfer volume.

PlayChess is probably the only site on the web rejecting potential visitors!

The price for that is high: I got some very ugly letters from rejected visitors.

Solution to the above problems

What do we need to solve all of the above problems?
The answer is easy: a new server - not shared with other sites.

Such a stand-alone server could be configured in any way needed by PlayChess:
  Help is on the way...

  • No limit on the time per program call.
  • No limit on the number of simultanuous program calls.
  • No blocking by other sites (it would be our server!).

But this alone does not solve the financial problem of the limit on transfer volume.

What will the money be used for?

Apart from solving the above mentioned problems, the money will be used for the following issues:

  • A stand-alone server
  • Transfer volume
  • A professional licence for the PlayChess forum
  • Professional Java viewers for games and annotations
  • Other hardware and software as soon as needed - and covered by membership fees

Will I fill my pockets with the rest of the money?

First of all: I wished there would be something like a "rest of the money". The monthly costs for a stand-alone server and the transfer volume may well be in the order of 1000 USD. It would need many, many members before I could put something in my (rather small) pockets.

But I promised to be honest. Therefore, I will tell you the complete truth.
  greedy for money?

If - and I repeat: if - on some glory day there will be more membership fees than needed for the maintainance of PlayChess, then I will put some of that money into my pockets. More precisely, I will put it into the pockets of my wife and children. This would make explaining to them all those hours of work for PlayChess a lot easier.

Yes, let's bring these speculations to an end: If you surprise myself and many, many, many players register as members of PlayChess, I could use this income to spend more time on the development of PlayChess.

Remember: I develop and maintain PlayChess with "only" two hours each day. Could you imagine how many nice features I could realize (not only invent) - if I had more time?

Aren't there other ways to get the money?

In principle: yes, in practice: no.

There are other ways to get money: advertisements, partner programs and sponsorship. As you probably have noticed, I wasn't inactive in the past. I tried to earn some money with any of these. And I have been quite "successful": in a good month, I earn up to 50 USD - not enough to cover the current costs, to say nothing of the costs for a stand-alone server.

Why can't I get much more money out of advertisement - with a site serving more than a million pages each month?

Because these pages are seen by only 2000 different people. For sites like PlayChess the number of page views per unique visitor is very much higher than for normal sites. This has two negative consequences:

  • Much higher server load per visitor (see problems above)
  • Much lower click rate per page view
The first point makes the maintainance of sites like PlayChess more expensive. The second points makes such sites less attractive for advertisers.

What about sponsorship?

This would only help if I had a long term contract with a sponsor. The sponsor would have to invest much more than some hundred Dollars. Else I couldn't risk to invest money into a stand-alone server.

But why should a sponsor do that? Wouldn't he try to influence the development of PlayChess? Let me give you a hypothetical example.

What if the sponsor is a manufacturer of chess software. Wouldn't he be much more interested in computer-assisted tournaments? And wouldn't this manufacturer be tempted to force me into that direction?

Let me clarify: I have no problems with computer-assisted tournaments. But I have big problems with anybody forcing me into something. Before submitting to this kind of influence, I would rather sell or cancel PlayChess at all.

  He's more like me...

My favourite business partners

There is, however, an influence that I like and even need: This is the influence coming from you, the players (yes, I said "players", not "members"). Many of you can confirm that I always had an ear for your needs and wishes. This will not change in the future - for guests and members alike.

I am forced to get some money for PlayChess. I am neither rich nor greedy for money. If I were rich, you would have that stand-alone server from the start - and I wouldn't be forced to write such a lengthy treatise. If I were greedy, I wouldn't try to earn money along this labour-intensive path.

So I am being forced into making business.

But let me ask you, the players, to be my business partners.


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