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Gamer's AOL contract zapped

America Online suffers slings and arrows from MetaCreations, which says the online service abruptly canceled a contract affecting 80,000 subscribers.

America Online (AOL) suffered slings and arrows today from MetaCreations, a longtime content provider that charged AOL with abruptly canceling its online game contract, affecting 80,000 subscribers.

The termination becomes effective September 1. The announcement comes in the wake of AOL's launch of a pay-for-play gaming unit, one of its first so-called premium services since it launched a "all you can eat" flat-rate pricing plan last year.

"AOL's demands that we begin to pay excessive fees, when none were previously charged, has accelerated our drive to migrate our entire virtual community of computer graphics enthusiasts to our World Wide Web environment as quickly as possible," MetaCreations chief executive Mark Zimmer said in a statement.

He added: "All other options for how to keep MetaSquares available for loyal fans in other virtual game environments are being explored."

The company also blasted AOL for the way in which users were notified: "A notice of discontinuation on the splash screen containing a glaring typo." The name of the product was misspelled, a MetaCreations spokeswoman said. The two sides had been in negotiations on the contract, she added.

MetaCreations' predecessors, MetaTools and Fractal Design, were early supporters of AOL, helping to attract tens of thousands of subscribers to the then-fledgling online service, executives said. It also distributed thousands of free AOL signup disks to its customer base and said the placement of MetaSquares on AOL was done at "MetaCreations' expense."

It considered the action a slap because of AOL's policy to nurture and grow content on its service. "This is simply no way to treat the companies and customers who have helped to build your business," Zimmer said.

Responding to the charges, an AOL spokeswoman said: "We've had a positive relationship with [MetaCreations]. Their contract is up and it's not going to continue." She didn't elaborate but noted that users were given 30 days notice in the announcement.