What evil lurks in the minds of out-of-work dot-commers? Try murder. After being laid off last year from now-defunct ImageLock, a startup that tracked logos on the Web, Ken Belanger created PC-187, a mystery game set in the seamy underbelly of the New Economy.
Players try to solve the murder of a dot-com CEO who finds his options, er, terminated as the company flirts with bankruptcy. Co-workers clash, backers bail, and piles of money pay for profligate perks.
If the scene is Internet Age, the format is classic. Players interview suspects by choosing from pull-down menus of questions. The suspect list is as long as a San Jose unemployment line: vulture capitalists, angry workers, a cuckolded husband, even a drug-addled hooker.
Belanger says the $50 CD-ROM game is fantasy. As at so many of the dot-coms that inspired it, sales have been light because Belanger lacks in-store distribution. But the sentiment is pure 2000. "When money gets tight, a lot of bad things happen," he says. Sure, but is that any reason to kill a guy? Picture this: The number of people visiting a once-hot Web site plunges by 80%. A pitch reading "Your ad here" appears at the top of its home page. And its laser focus on the New Economy blurs to include bits on Sears, Roebuck & Co.'s (S) carpet business and layoffs at Ford Motor Co. (F)
Sounds like a chance for some hefty jeering by F---edcompany.com, a two-year-old site for tech rumors and hype-busting that rose to cult status during the dot-com heyday. Except that this time the troubled upstart is F---edcompany.com.
Jupiter Media Metrix says F---edcompany's traffic has fallen below 85,000 monthly users, down from 393,000 last July. Still, founder Philip Kaplan says his upstart is not in trouble, partly because he runs the site with one employee, and subscribers pay $75 monthly for access to hot tips they can trade on. "I have 1,200 paid users, and I wouldn't mind at all if they were the only people who came," Kaplan says.
Even if Kaplan won't feel much pain, F---edcompany may never fly high again. The demise of 780 Net companies means the easy targets are gone. Kaplan says readers want non-dot-com coverage: "I experimented with it last year, but I'm getting serious about it now." But the numbers say Sears just doesn't get people excited like Webvan did.