In 1997, the simming community on America Online (AOL) was in chaos. Grand old clubs that had existed since the first days of simming were collapsing overnight, barbarians roamed the landscape - attacking club after club - and the old ways of running a sim didn’t work anymore. Paranoid and desperate, clubs fought each other, and civil wars, coups, and mutinies were far too common.
All of this was brought about by a simple change on AOL’s part – in December 1996, they switched their billing plan, going from limiting members from 5 to 20 hours of online time a month, to unlimited usage. This fundamental change shattered the old simming order that was based upon isolation and people only having enough time to join one, maybe two sims.
Simmers now could – and wanted to – join several clubs. They didn’t want to put up with the rules and restrictions clubs had imposed on them and that the clubs could get away with because peoples movement was restricted by the number of hours they could spend online. Hosts and junior officers in the clubs suddenly wanted a greater say in club affairs – but the old leadership liked their power. Troublemakers and barbarians – disgruntled simmers and people who just didn’t like Star Trek or SciFi – spent all day and night online attacking clubs, spamming members and message boards, and disrupting chat rooms.
However, despite the chaos, the changes offered opportunities – foremost among them that simmers and leaders now had time to talk to each other and work together.