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  The Hivemind of Play By Mail
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-10-2011, 11:22 PM - Forum: Editorials - Replies (1)

It's a thankless task, but somebody's got to do it, I suppose. Then again, maybe somebody's already done it, but they are hoarding the details - guarding them steadfastly and with vigilance that would make the Omega Dark Guards of the famed Krulang Krang of Galaxy:Alpha proud.

In issue # 77 of Paper Mayhem magazine, Marguerite Dias of the PBM company of the same name stated, "We personally would greatly fear for the survival of PBM gaming if Paper Mayhem was not around to trumpet its presence." Sage words, indeed!

The gravity of the situation demands action! With PBM fans scattered to the furthermost reaches of time and space, the Internet has acted as a fundamental law of the new PBM universe - exerting its decentralizing force with great effect. In brooding tones, the PBM seers of yesteryear prophesied the coming of Postal Ragnarok - the Doom of the Internet was bearing down on them with ever-increasing speed, its fury a splendid thing to behold. The devastation was great.

The great prophesy fulfilled, or so it seemed, play by mail's prophets suddenly found themselves unemployed. With the Golden Era of play by mail behind them, they began to labor anew to exploit the technological mother lode that the Internet had delivered into the palms of their hands.

Fast forward to the present day.

In hindsight, play by mail has survived its appointment with Ragnarok. Bob McLain was last seen holed up in his Fortress of Solitude, a PBM-proof bunker constructed from the souls of the PBM damned. All attempts to lure him out have failed. It is eerily reminiscent of the Hell Gate, for those of you who played Galaxy: Alpha in years gone by.

My voodoo doll of humor of old, Bob McLain, aside, it is pretty evident and intuitively obvious to any who are willing to explore the PBM landscape for themselves that play by mail is still with us. As Jerry Clower might say, we had a rat killin', but the genre of play by mail gaming is not graveyard dead. Incredible as it might seem, both play by mail and the Internet now co-exist side-by-side.

Welcome to the Promised Land, people.

The Internet assimilated some. It scattered others. Some, it anointed. Others were simply overwhelmed by the technological assault en masse on every fiber of their existence.

With the commercial sector of play by mail leading the way, the postal genre was eroded - bit by bit and piece by piece. The technological revolution underway was too tempting to resist. The Bane of Postage had met its match, and the Sword of Internet would slay this foul beast, freeing PBM of its never-ending curse.

Just as humanity embraced the aliens in the old V miniseries, PBM's commercial sector embraced the Internet. They intended to exploit this alien Internet technology in full. They could discern the advantages that technological domination would confer upon their respective companies. Rather than riding the wave to prosperity, the scene was more akin to watching someone stand on the beach, preparing to catch a tidal wave with a baseball glove. The ensuing "progress" of play by mail's commercial sector was not a pretty sight to watch.

Before sampling the lotus of the World Wide Web, in some cases, PBM's game moderators experimented with computer bulletin board systems, or BBSs as they became commonly known. The transition to html and php only worsened the addiction. Technology was the Savior. It would save them all.

The carcasses of many PBM company websites now litter the Internet landscape, the actual casualty count unknown.

With each advance in technology, the commercial PBM companies led their players by the hand into the future of PBM. Somewhere along the way, most of the former thousands upon thousands of PBM players let go of their game moderators' hands, opting to explore the Internet landscape for themselves. Most of them haven't been seen since.

An industry Hell bent on dismantling itself, and focused on remaking itself for the dawn of a new technological era, should not feign surprise nor indignation at the eroded landscape of what was once a very promising commercial play by mail habitat.

Nonetheless, the search by the commercial sector for PBM's mystical El Dorado of Technology continues to this very day.

It's really not too difficult to find the last vestiges of play by mail's commercial sector, if you look for it. Just use the Internet. Unfortunately, this Jurassic Park doesn't feature a lot of dinosaurs. Most dinosaurs of PBM's commercial sector went extinct years ago. What remains of them are only a few fossilized remains. You might even be able to find some of those old highly-touted PBM games that are no longer on the market, if you search the Tar Pit of Time long enough. Good luck on that.

Of vastly greater significance than PBM's commercial sector, PBM's player sector survived Ragnarok relatively unscathed. There were games aplenty for them in PBM's Promised Land, aka the Internet. There was just one eensy weensy problem - most of these new games were not postal genre games. Thus began the Exodus.

Marguerite Dias was very prescient, it seems.

Once upon a time ago, both Paper Mayhem and its arch-competitor for PBM audience share, Flagship, illuminated the play by mail landscape with the unmarred light of postal genre purity. Silmarils, were they.

Paper Mayhem's light was abruptly extinguished, with the passing of editor David Webber. The fate of Flagship's light was a different tale. Its light was lost gradually. At most, the postal genre of gaming has endured under a pallor, ever-diminishing light - and its fauna and its flora have withered until now, we are left with a landscape sore with desolation.

We are lost in the wilderness, anew. In this much reduced light, the Death Globes of competition resemble Picts, savages who war for the sake of war. If there is to be a flourishing commercial PBM sector, then it will have to be rebuilt. In the meantime, we of the PBM Clan have this world virtually to ourselves. One man's world of desolation is another man's world of adventure.

In David Webber, one can see glimpses of Gil-Galad. David was play by mail's Star of Radiance, and he fought the good fight for our genre of gaming. He was truly the last High King of Play By Mail.

In Carol Mulholland, one can glimpse Galadriel. Carol is the Lady of Light of the genre, but the realm of play by mail suffers under a growing darkness of the technological Sauron that we call Internet.

But, what of that thing that I refer to as the Hivemind of Play by Mail? It is scattered, with part of it seeking sanctuary in fortresses of forum sites and arks of discussion groups, and the remainder still wandering and exploring as individuals in the new wilderness of Internet gaming.

Can the pieces of the PBM Hivemind be made whole? Or is it a task impossible?

Prepare yourself for the arduous journey to come.

NOTE: Originally posted in 2010 on the old PlayByMail.Net forums.

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  PBM : Your portal to the core of your imagination
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-10-2011, 11:19 PM - Forum: Editorials - No Replies

Browsing through issue # 40 (January/February 1990) of Paper Mayhem magazine, I happened upon a half-page article authored by C.A. "Red" Beam, from Salt Lake City, Utah. The article was titled, "On Inequality."

It's a good article, I think.

I cannot but help to wonder whether old Red is still with us, seeing as how he explains in the article that he was playing PBM chess in the 1930's, when it was the only game around. My daddy was born in 1933, and he passed away a few years back. Red Beam was a true pioneer of play by mail, if he was playing chess via the postal medium around the time that my daddy was born. Go big Red!

In his article, Red discussed things such as equality and play balance in PBM game design. From what I can tell, all these twenty years after he authored that article, Red was on to something.

Red favored variety - lots of variety. He favored play balance over equality in PBM game positions. He did not seem to be a fan of equality in game design for positions in PBM games.

In Hyborian War, a play by mail game of imperial conquest in the Age of Conan, run by Reality Simulations, Inc. operating out of their ancient stronghold located in Tempe, Arizona, it is the lack of equality in the thirty-six different player kingdoms that helps to imbue that game with its lasting appeal.To imbue a position in a PBM game with uniqueness, a certain degree of asymmetric nature must be incorporated, I think. The one thing that I think should dominate in a PBM game, above all other factors of game design, is something that I term the fun factor.

If a game is not fun to play, then how much of a future did it ever have, even when still in the womb of imagination? Conversely, if a game is fun to play, then its errors and its excesses can often be forgiven.

Of course, what constitutes "fun" can vary widely from person to person. The same game is very unlikely to appeal to everyone, no matter which PBM game is in question.

A lot of browser-based games of the modern techno-age invariably come across as boring, no matter what their respective themes are. They tend to quickly become exercises in perpetual tedium. The satisfaction that derives from the immediacy of their turn results is all too often quick lived. These games have their moment in which they have captured your attention, and then suddenly - they are gone. Gone from your appetite. Gone from your focus. You play them no more.

PBM games - those that are the wonder children of the postal genre - have a tendency to cast spells of anticipation upon their players. Far from being on its deathbed, it might be more accurate to describe play by mail gaming as a genre that was premature at birth. The genre was not nurtured sufficient, and consequently, its growth was stunted.

Play by mail games, those of the postal variety, are a form of intellectual nourishment on an entertainment level. They are the sweet nectar of gaming. They are the forbidden fruit. They are the Holy Grail.

That's right. You heard me right. That relatively few of us, oh so proportionally few, even bother to search for them in order to play them, these days, makes them no less the Holy Grail of gaming than at any point in our genre's proud and glorious history of gaming.

My cell phone bills of the current advanced techno era pale in comparison to the days of yore, when plots and schemes and war plans of immense scope shook the foundations of the PBM world back then. I spent far more on phone bills, it seems, than on turn fees for PBM games. Go figure!

Players lying through their teeth to you on the telephone, and all the while you being fully aware that they are lying their asses off, only added to the aura and mystique of PBM games. Behold, these Lords of the Land of Schemes!

To me, equality in PBM game design conjures up images of play by mail becoming a rather pointless exercise in futility, in the form of Chinese checkers writ large. Who wants that?

Where was Wikipedia, back in the heyday of play by mail? What if the Internet had preceded the birth of what we casually refer to as PBM gaming? What if our PBM fore fathers had had today's computers available to them, way back when? You want to talk about a Golden Age of PBM gaming? You can't even begin to imagine what great works would have been wrought.

A mailbox - a standard, traditional postal box - is nowhere near becoming obsolete. Much like the Internet which we all tend to take for granted, today, that postal mailbox in our yard out front, or at the end of our driveway, or in the lobby of our apartment complex, or just plain wherever it is, today, that there is a portal.

No, it doesn't look like a portal. But, it is a portal, nonetheless. It's not a transporter, like the kind that you see on Star Trek. It's not a portal that you climb in to. Well, maybe Bob McLain climbed in one, once, but that's a whole other story, I'm sure, assuming that it even happened in the first place.

My friend, just as we did in years and decades past, we can still access that portal. It still works, the same way that it always worked. The temptation never fully fades, I don't think. It is very doubtful that the Old PBM Flame dies completely inside of us. That portal is still there, and it's still waiting on you. If you use it, you can lose yourself once more in a universe that's bigger than ever - the universe of your imagination.

In space, no one can hear you scream. In PBM, you can bring a friend to dream. They can share your treks and your journeys and your travels and your adventures. Whether allies, enemies, or neutral parties to one another, in the realm of play by mail, they can remain your friend, even as they war endlessly against you and your hosts, legions, and teeming minions.

You don't have to take my word for it. You can experience it for yourself. It's waiting on you. All that you have to do is seize it!

Life doesn't have to be boring. There's still PBM!

NOTE: Originally posted in 2010 on the old PlayByMail.Net forums.

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  Play By Mail: The Orchid of Social Networking
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-10-2011, 11:15 PM - Forum: Editorials - Replies (1)

It is fortunate for me that Sean Cleworth of Gad Games happened along, today. Otherwise, this article would not exist, or it would have been about something else.

Sean made a good case, I feel, for why he feels that the postal genre of gaming is dead. Not only does he believe that PBM is dead, he truly believes that it is dead. Is this where we burn him at the stake for heresy? If we burn him at the stake, though, then none of us will ever get to play Gad Games' forthcoming gaming extravaganza, Ilkor: Dark Rising.

I consider myself to be neither an optimist nor a pessimist, so much as I consider myself to be pretty much a realist. Sean Cleworth makes a very good case, albeit a rather short one, for why PBM is dead. Of course, in the Additional Info About Gads section of his forum profile here on this site, Sean also stated the following:

I certainly can't find an online game that matches the shear excitement and enjoyment of waiting eagerly for the postman to deliver my PBM turn results!!

Go Sean!And that's just exactly the sort of thing that gives me reason to pause, cause to re-assess, and conjures up a glimmer of hope for the postal genre of gaming. The beauty of PBM gaming is more than the sum of its individual parts.

In his epitaph that he authored for PBM gaming, Sean points to Facebook, singling it out for special mention in underscoring his point.

What is Facebook, though? According to the omnipresent Wikipedia, that sage of the modern techno-age, Facebook is a social networking website launched in February 2004 that is operated and privately owned by Facebook, Inc., with more than 500 million active users in July 2010. Click here and read it for yourself from the source, itself.

Social networking is a big thing in this day and age. Sean Cleworth, in fact, would probably be the very first to tell you that Facebook isn't dead, and that social networking isn't dead.

Then why is he telling us that PBM is dead?

Play-By-Mail is a form of social networking. Oh, sure, the gaming element of it is usually what's stressed, but if you think back, for those of you who remember PBM at its apex, I think that you will begin to comprehend what I am trying to say.

Facebook has much in common with PBM. Facebook is a modern variant of social networking, a hybrid descendant of the PBM orchid.Except, of course, that PBM games have more depth than Facebook games. At least, that's what I have heard, from people familiar with both Facebook and PBM.

The Internet enjoys the benefits of decentralization that the postal medium continues to be denied. For some bizarre reason, even though monopolies tend to be contrary to the public good in numerous ways, society at large still suffers under the burden of monopolies, where postal services around the world are concerned.

That aside, the electronic sphere makes it easy to communicate,
quick to communicate, and efficient to communicate. Thus, turn results can be communicated quickly, easily, and efficiently - and in practical terms, at no additional cost beyond what one pays, already, for their Internet access. How can the postal medium ever hope to compete with that?

Well, why would anyone expect for it to make sense for the postal medium to compete with the Internet on unfavorable grounds? That's not the strength of the postal medium. As a medium for gaming and to facilitate gaming and entertainment, postal games must maximize the strengths of their medium of delivery, if they have any realistic hope of surviving and thriving.

If the Internet is truly where it's at, then why hasn't old Sean Cleworth of Gad Games been able to find an online game that matches the sheer excitement and enjoyment of waiting eagerly for the postman to deliver his PBM turn results? Is it because there are no games online? Is it because there are no free to play games available online? Is it because Sean is lying to himself? Or is it just plain because Sean Cleworth hasn't bothered to actually look for any?

You tell me.

NOTE: Originally posted in 2010 on the old PlayByMail.Net forums.

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  Ideas for increasing the popularity of PBM
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-09-2011, 06:13 PM - Forum: Editorials - Replies (11)

"PBM needs to be experienced rather than explained."

- Tod Lewark


So, who is Tod Lewark? Well, I never met him. I don't know him. I never knew him. Yet, here I am, quoting him. Go Tod!

The quote in question is from an article titled "The PBM Manifesto," which appeared in Issue # 84 of Paper Mayhem magazine. It was an article sub-titled "Ideas for increasing the popularity of PBM." That was a little over 13 years, ago. Fast forward to the present date. Tod was right, you know. There really is no good way to explain play by mail. It inevitably tends to come across as dry, tedious, and boring. The subject tends to get bogged down in a swamp of details, as one grasps for straws necessary to explain the concept to average, ordinary people.

In that article, Tod also suggested that, "For the good of the PBM hobby, every player, company and magazine should promote and publicize PBM in any way possible, especially outside the gaming hobby.

"Tod makes a lot of sense, you know. Or, at least, he did, all those many years ago. Tod's words of wisdom have outlived even the very publication that they appeared in - Paper Mayhem. It is unfortunate, indeed, that Paper Mayhem is no longer with us. Long live Paper Mayhem!

So, does anyone know where Tod Lewark is, these days? Is he still around, I wonder? Why did no one ever make a Tod Lewark PBM game, anyway? Ah, the opportunities that we have missed, lads and lasses. The opportunities missed, indeed!

Here I am, trying to follow Tod Lewark's advice, and good old Tod is nowhere in sight. Well, at least, I think that this site - PlayByMail.Net - qualifies as "promoting" PBM. What do you think?

So, it seems that I have answered Tod's call - even though I read his words after I started the website. But, we can still give Tod the credit, if you like.

And that brings us to you. Tell me, ye fellow denizen of play by mail, what are you doing to promote and to publicize PBM? Toss off your respective veils of secrecy, and enlighten those of us gathered here in the light of the present day of your noble undertakings and tales of derring-do.

The mad scientist, Mark Wardell of PBM Gamer fame, can be heard late into the night, conducting bizarre experiments with creating a PBM wiki. I just hope that he doesn't call it Frankenwiki.

And Sean Cleworth of Gad Games has agreed to stick his neck through the hoop of a PlaybyMail.Net interview. The guillotine should drop on that one fairly soon, I think.

And Walter? Well, good old Walt is thinking about creating a PBM game of his own.

But, what about the rest of you? Are you out there? Are you reading this? Are you listening? Will you answer the call?

Don't just do it for yourself. Do it for Tod - Tod Lewark.

He's not James Bond. Hell, he's not even Gold Bond. But, he did feel a bond for PBM gaming, and he felt it to be a form and a medium of gaming that was well worth preserving.

All hail Tod Lewark!

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  Dredging the River Styx
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-09-2011, 05:33 PM - Forum: News & Announcements - No Replies

I have begun the very time consuming operation of trying to dredging through an old corrupted database file for the site's original forums, in an attempt to resurrect a few of the editorials and articles that I had authored, previously.

This is certainly not my favorite way to pass the time, but I did want to try and avoid writing off everything posted on the original forums as a total loss.

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  The Perplexing Paradigm of Play-By-Mail
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-09-2011, 05:22 PM - Forum: Editorials - No Replies

If we flip the coin of PBM's fate, it will enable us to see the other side of what I affectionately refer to as the Perplexing Paradigm of Play-By-Mail.

Play-By-Mail is a genre of gaming that consumes itself with costs. It is a cost-heavy existence. No matter which way that you turn, there are costs here, costs there, costs, costs everywhere.On the player side, there are postage costs, set-up costs, turn fee costs, and sometimes even special order costs. If you are one of those player types that just has to pick up the telephone and speak directly to allies, enemies, and co-conspirators in your games of Play-By-Mail, then there are also long distance costs.

On the game moderator side, there are paper costs, envelope costs, ink or toner costs, hardware costs, electricity costs, employee costs, and location costs (for dedicated places of business). If you want people to learn about your game's existence, then you can also toss in advertising costs - if you want to reach the niche audience of postal gamers who gravitate towards magazines that bother to cover Play-By-Mail gaming. If you want to advertise your Play-By-Mail game products to a potential audience, there will also be artist costs for artwork or clipart - assuming that you want to go with more than pure text advertisements. Also, don't forget research costs and programming costs, in order to create new Play-by-Mail games, lest the Play-By-Mail industry stagnates, offering only the same old, same old to a player base that yearns for more and new games to satiate their unquenchable thirst for gaming.

PBM's coin of fate has more than two sides, though. There are also costs associated with publishing magazines that cover Play-By-Mail gaming, magazines of such notable Play-By-Mail fame as Paper Mayhem and Flagship, just to name a couple. Magazines such as these have a host of costs that they share with PBM companies that produce the games that you love to play, but they also have printer costs to add to the equation.

Advertising rates in such magazines can and do pose a barrier and an obstacle to PBM companies - particularly to anyone potentially thinking about starting up a new PBM company from scratch. To re-grow the Play-by-Mail industry from its current humble state of disrepair, I am firmly of the mindset that an advertising model that is favorable to new Play-By-Mail start-up companies is simply a "must have."

You can, of course, go online to advertise, reaching a potentially much larger audience in the process. But, likewise, gamers can simply go online to find more games than they can shake a stick at - including a humongous number of games that are free to play. In effect, the gamer can effectively bypass all of the costs associated with the entire Play-By-Mail industry, simply by turning their back on an industry plagued by costs.

Why subscribe to magazines that want to branch out and cover more than just a shrinking Play-By-Mail gaming field, when the end result of that decision is that there will be more of other forms of gaming and less of PBM gaming that makes its way into the pages of each issue? Flip that coin of PBM's fate again, and you can understand why Flagship magazine took just, exactly that course. To survive as a magazine, Flagship needs something to fill the pages of its publication. With Play-By-Mail companies dying like flies, and Play-By-Mail games evaporating into the wisps of history, thereby yielding the situation where there are less advertising dollars from Play-By-Mail companies to purchase space in Flagship's pages, Flagship branches out.

But, isn't that exactly what the PBM companies, themselves, did - only well before Flagship followed suit? Play-by-Mail companies embraced technology to cut costs, to grow their player bases, and in the vernacular of the common man - to just plain survive.

Carol Mulholland, the editor of Flagship magazine, eventually acquiesced and made the transition to electronic format as one method of publication for her magazine. But, how can one blame her, particularly when Flagship sailed the rough seas of Play-By-Mail's reality for so long - longer than most, before succumbing to the temptation to seek online solutions to Flagship's and Play-By-Mail's enduring problems - problems that gravitate around a cost-based form of existence.

Flip that coin of PBM's Fate, yet again, and you'll find subscribers wondering why they should bear subscription costs for a magazine that can't seem to get published on time, with delays a recurring and unfortunate feature of the Flagship cycle. Why would Play-By-Mail companies want to take out paid ads in a magazine that can't seem to meet its own publication deadlines. Neither the subscribers nor the advertisers set the publication deadlines for Flagship magazine.

Of course, in all fairness, Flagship magazine is dependent upon others for articles, so that its pages can have material that will both interest its current readership, and will be of interest to potential new readers. When they don't deliver, Flagship can't deliver. Even if they do deliver, Carol is still dependent upon others to assist her with laying out the articles into actual pages. If they are unreliable, then the magazine cannot and will not meet its publication deadlines, even if all article writers get their material in to Carol on time.

Flagship can remedy such problems, of course, simply by paying people to write articles and to assist her with running the magazine. If she goes this route, though, then she will add to the accumulating mountain of costs that collectively burden the entire Play-By-Mail industry. What's the editor of a magazine that bothers to cover Play-By-Mail gaming, at all, to do?

The problem is not that the industry buries itself with costs of every shape, size, and form. Some of the costs simply inhere in the nature of the beast. The Play-By-Mail industry, either individually or collectively, has no control over postage costs, for example. When those costs rise, the end consumer will pay more for what they get. There is no way around this cost, if you want the postal gaming medium to remain postal-oriented.

Innovation created the Play-By-Mail industry of gaming, and innovation brought this very same industry to its knees. It is innovation which can re-create Play-By-Mail as a viable and thriving medium of gaming. In this day and age of electronic gaming of all sorts, gamers regularly part ways with their dollars and pounds, in order to receive entertainment in the form of gaming for their dollars. More money is spent by consumers, today, on gaming, than was ever true during the golden heyday of the Play-By-Mail industry. So, in a nutshell, people are still willing to spend money on playing games. They're just choosing to spend it elsewhere, rather than on Play-By-Mail games. It's not because Play-By-Mail games are any the less fun and entertaining to play than they ever were, though. So, common sense dictates that the blame properly lies elsewhere.

Personally, I think that the Play-By-Mail industry's ongoing infatuation with pricing itself out of existence, via a cost structure that is antiquated and archaic and ill-conceived for a modern era of gamers, must end.

To rebuild the Play-By-Mail industry, it is going to require investment - an investment of time, energy, money, and effort. If Play-By-Mail companies will not innovate - will not continually innovate - then they deserve to die. Period.

If rebuilding the Play-By-Mail industry is simply not a priority for PBM's Old Guard, those Play-By-Mail companies that have survived into the modern era, then they have already doomed themselves to institutional irrelevancy. Time, itself, will eventually bury such dinosaurs. It's not that PBM companies want to die, mind you. Rather, many of them, perhaps most of the remaining members of PBM's Old Guard, have other priorities these days. Some are complacent, while others simply see better ways of investing their time and effort in order to make money.

Ironically, though, virtually any PBM taking head of note during Play-By-Mail's halcyon days of old that was worth their salt publicly would acknowledge that your chances of getting rich by running a Play-By-Mail gaming company were somewhere between slim and none.Rather than the moneybaggers, where, then, are the innovators that the Fate of Play-By-Mail's future lies with? Complacency has never been a proper guide for any industry, and PBM companies whose game moderators have grown complacent with the status quo of Play-By-Mail are in no shape to help, whatever their resources otherwise might be.

If no one, and I literally mean no one, is willing or able to re-invest in the Play-By-Mail genre of gaming, then the writing is on the wall, for sure. There's plenty of fingers to point, in assessing blame for PBM's sorry state of current affairs, but realistically speaking, assessing the blame does not, in and of itself, fix the problem. That's not to say that blame should never be assessed, for most assuredly, it should be. But, there has to be more than just blame, in order to reverse Play-By-Mail gaming's decline.

The mailbox should be good for more than just a drop-off point for one's bills and junk mail. The television, the Internet, and even the radio were and are mediums useful and relevant to entertaining people. The mailbox can be relevant again, too.If PBM gamers expect there to be Play-By-Mail games to play, then they must be willing to subscribe to them. If PBM companies expect there to be magazines to cover their wares, then they must be prepared to advertise in them. If magazines expect both Play-By-Mail companies to advertise and PBM gamers to subscribe, then they must be prepared to deliver their magazine on time, every time, and that what they are paying for not be relegated to an afterthought's amount of coverage.

PBM gamers pay games - not rule books nor start-up packets nor maps. The costs of plaing by mail must be mitigated, where possible and feasible, and where conducive to making and keeping the Play-By-Mail industry feasible.To salvage the Play-By-Mail industry will require investment - and sacrifice. PBM gamers are going to have to sacrifice, as are PBM companies, as are PBM magazines. We are all in this predicament, together.

If the Play-By-Mail genre of gaming eventually dies out completely, then other mediums of gaming are not going to mourn PBM's demise.Thus, let the clarion call go out, to one and to all, to gather their strength and their resolve and their wallets and their wits, in order to chart a new course for a venerable and revered and memorable medium of gaming - Play By Mail.

For, it is sui generis, and a medium of gaming well worth preserving.

NOTE: Originally posted in 2010 on the old PlayByMail.Net forums.

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  PBM's Old Guard Meets the Death Globes of Competition
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-09-2011, 04:51 PM - Forum: Editorials - No Replies

The cybernetic intelligence known as Omega the Life Destroyer is thought to have created all Death Globes currently known to exist in the Galaxy. Omega first appeared during the early cycles of the First Age. From whence it came, none knew, but soon its presence was felt as it created a large number of gigantic 1000 mile diameter Base Stars to house the cyber intelligence of its minions who later became known as Death Globes. Vast numbers of these metallic horrors were constructed by Omega, and then set to wipe the entire Galaxy free of all life.

Excerpt from the rulebook for the Play-By-Mail game Galaxy: Alpha



PBM's Old Guard, that cadre of Play-By-Mail companies that have managed to survive to the current day, has a proud heritage stretching back to the dawn of the Age of Play-By-Mail. They have faced many companies, many challenges, and yet they are still standing. Maybe a little the worse for wear, in some cases, but nonetheless, they have not fallen to the sands of time nor admitted defeat in the face of a never-ending assault by the combined forces of the Internet and technology.

Their own self-polished images aside, PBM companies are as famous for their sacred cows as for their commitment to customer service. Many are they, these nefarious herds of doom. They have been exalted by their creators, the moderators of the Old Guard, and woe unto all who would dare even contemplate harming so much as a single hair on the wrinkled hides of these sacred beings.

For Play-By-Mail companies that have achieved automation of their game offerings, and who have transitioned from the realm of paper to the electronic medium, there is still much work to be done. Resting on their laurels will not keep them competitive, even assuming that they have harnessed the forces of technology to actually make their product offerings truly competitive, already. In an era when massively-multiplayer online games of numerous varieties continue to enter the fray of competition for gamers with ever-increasing frequency, PBM's Old Guard would be well-served to reconsider anew what being competitive really means, as they tread further down the path to the future.

Before a new golden era of the Play-By-Mail genre can be ushered in, the Old Guard's herds of sacred cows must be led to slaughter. They must be laid waste to, in their entirety, and it must be nothing less than a campaign of genocide. These cows are not your friends, nor are they gods to be worshiped. They are the enemy, and they must be vanquished!

For all of their professed embrace of technology, PBM's Old Guard cannot bring itself to part with its herd. This is exactly why the PBM genre continues to suffer under obtuse and archaic practices. Such as? Monolithic pricing structures and obsolete set-up fees, to name a couple.

Technology's progress has long since rendered obsolete the pricing structures and pricing methodologies of yesteryear. The PBM genre cannot compete with newer categories of gaming, while being unnecessarily burdened down with pricing schemes erected for a bygone era.

To ignite the equivalent of a Genesis Project within the PBM genre, the Play-By-Mail experience must transcend the Old Guard's old thinking. Instead of selling them a position in a game, they must be sold the experience of a game. The price difference is one of several magnitudes, to be certain, but the old pricing models are doomed. They do not allow PBM companies to compete on a level playing field with new mediums of gaming

Ironically enough, the Play-By-Mail experience has as much merit, today, as it has ever had - even including during the PBM's golden era, at the very apex of the number of players who regularly and enthusiastically embraced the hobby.

Per-turn fees charged on a per-player basis is not a sustainable pricing model for a resurrection of Play-By-Mail's halcyon days of glory. Newer mediums of gaming are the equivalent of Death Globes to the PBM industry.

Like terminators, these new mediums of gaming will relentlessly pursue the death of the Play-By-Mail genre in its entirety. Already, there has been a tide of devastation and destruction to the Play-By-Mail industry that would make Omega the Life Destroyer proud.

Old Guard PBM moderators would likely bristle and rail against new pricing structures as I propose herein, decrying such as reducing the fruits of their labors to gaming for mere pennies. However, when new mediums of gaming herald loudly the battle cry of gaming for free, one would be well-served to ponder anew turn fee schemes based on dollars or pounds on a per-turn basis.

The most innovative game companies alive today with deep Play-By-Mail roots are not American companies. The closest thing to pricing competitiveness by an American Play-By-Mail company that I am aware of, as of today date, is Flying Buffalo's "The Year of the Buffalo" anniversary special - where for a single game of Nuclear destruction or Starweb, Rick Loomis is offering to match 1970 (for Nuclear Destruction) and 1975 (for Starweb) pricing rates. This offer is good all year long during the year 2010. See here for details.

As long as each player in a PBM game has to pay a per-turn fee charged on a per-player basis, then the future of Play-By-Mail gaming looks nothing but bleak. A set fee that one player pays for an entire game for them and a group of their friends is a pricing model that has a much brighter future - if Play-By-Mail companies will only begin to see the light of day and embrace it. However, if PBM companies take that approach, but set a pricing structure of hundreds of dollars for a complete game experience of this type, then such game moderators will merely be sealing their own doom in the never-ending battle to remain competitive.

PBM moderators may scorn what I say, denouncing it as heresy against the established order. But, in case nobody has checked, lately, the established order of Play-By-Mail is in pretty serious trouble. Play-By-Mail companies are an endangered species - a species that teeters on the brink of destruction and utter annihilation.

And the Death Globes of competition from other mediums of gaming? Oh, they're out there, and their numbers increase every day.

NOTE: Originally posted around August of 2010 on the old PlayByMail.Net forums.

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  The World of Play-By-Mail in the Year 2011
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-09-2011, 06:10 AM - Forum: Editorials - Replies (4)

With Carol Mulholland, the editor of Flagship magazine, sidelined by health issues, I think that it is safe to say that the future of that magazine, one which has a long history of association with the play by mail genre of gaming, is in doubt. At this juncture in time, I have no idea, whatsoever, whether Flagship will return, and if it does return, who might be at the helm of it as editor. Regardless, I wish Carol nothing but the best for a quick and full recovery. I really wish that she had been spared the health problems that she has had to endure, recently.

The individuals that I consider to be key figures in PBM's Old Guard appear to not be generating very much in the way of PBM related news, these days. For all intents and purposes, the bulk of PBM's remaining Old Guard game moderators and game companies seem to be disinterested in the play by mail genre. That's just how it strikes me, with very few exceptions. There just isn't much energy and initiative emanating from those circles, these days. Such a pity, too.

I hate that this site apparently lost a few rather promising participants, who had posted several interesting postings in our former forums. The possibility, exists, of course, that they may return, some day, but I really have no control over that. So, I won't fret over it, but rather, I will focus upon trying to grow this site's content, once more. It will be a slow process, but hopefully, it will prove to be an effort of some merit and value, in due time.

Because nothing new seems to ever be going on in play by mail circles, these days, there often is little, if anything, happening of note that warrants reporting on. When I visit PBM companies' websites, more times than not, there's nothing new being reported on their own sites. Or, maybe there is, and I am just missing it.

If you happen to encounter anything newsworthy in PBM circles, then by all means, feel free to start a new discussion thread in the forums, here, for the benefit of others, who might share an interest in it with you.

Going forward, I'll see if I can dig a little deeper, though, and see if there's some meat left on the bones of PBM's Old Guard.

Here's to 2011 being a better year for play by mail fans, everywhere!

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  PBM Hivemind section added to the front page
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-09-2011, 05:11 AM - Forum: Website Related - No Replies

I have added a PBM Hivemind section to the front page of this site. The primary difference in this set of links, compared to some other links already contained on this site's front page, is that the PBM Hivemind links are links that point directly to the respective sites' forums.

The idea behind it, of course, is to make it as quick and as painless for the visitors to this site to connect to the hubs of play by mail gaming's active communities of players - to the PBM diaspora, if you will, scattered and reclusive though it may be.

I have also added a block in the lower right corner of the front page of this site to serve as a quick reminder to interested site visitors about where they mail get well cards to for Carol Mulholland, the editor of Flagship magazine.

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  Map making commentaries from the non-artist's perspective
Posted by: GrimFinger - 02-06-2011, 07:10 PM - Forum: PBM Design - Replies (6)

I decided, last night, to revisit an old idea that I first came up with many years ago, back when I was originally pondering the value and merits of Second American Civil War game.

At that time, I even bought a hard copy, an actual physical book, that contained maps of all fifty American states broken down into their respective counties. That was a lot of counties - and still is!

Like most other ideas that I've had for play by mail games over the years, that game was never brought to fruition. It was a very time consuming process for me to type into the computer by hand each link that each county in each state had to every other county, both in its own state and in neighboring states - as far as drawing up a list of contiguous borders on a county-by-county basis.

Even now, I don't think that it was a bad idea. Rather, as it turned out, I just didn't feel like investing that amount of time into that particular project - a project that would have been an enormous time hog, but with no guarantee that I could pull the rest of it off, as well.

So, why is any of this relevant, now?

Well, in truth, it's not - but, it is. It's sort of a little of both, at the same time.

I suck at drawing maps. I really do. But, I have a great affinity for maps. They're very neat little creatures. I also think that they help to make a game's setting more interesting than it would otherwise be without one.

So, last night, I did a few web searches on the Internet for state and county maps, thinking that county maps, in particular, could be a real time saver when it comes to crafting a province-based map for a new play by mail game.

Going forward over time, I am going to experiment with this concept a little more. From time to time, I will try to provide a glimpse or three of what, exactly, I have in mind, so that site visitors to this site can better visualize exactly what I am talking about.

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