Computer Moderation: The Bane of the Play By Mail Industry


by Charles Mosteller


SuperNova had a lot of StarMaster in it. It was a computer assisted game rather than computer moderated. We still had lots of sheets of paper describing what the player was up to in their special actions, etc. The problem just became getting (and paying) good GMs and keeping the continuity from turn to turn since a different person might deal with each turn that got sent in from a position. Once hundreds (or maybe a thousand?) of people were in the games it was impossible to keep the true flavor of ‘special’ actions going and thus Victory was destined to be a computer moderated game since we had seen the writing on the wall for scaling games for larger amounts of customers.

Terry – Former programmer of Play By Mail games

Computer moderation was great for reducing errors, or so it has been said. But, in the bid to enhance efficiency, by removing the human element in moderating play by mail games, the Sword of Damocles fell – piercing through the heart of the PBM industry, and dealing a mortal blow that postal gaming has been wounded by, ever since.

Abandoning the warmth of human imagination for the cold efficiency of machine programming, commercial PBM companies led the way into the future – a bleak, desolate, and famine-stricken PBM landscape. Welcome to PBM Hell!

Paying homage to the gods of profit, efficiency was the key in this pilgrimage to the Mecca of the Future. Except, somewhere along the way, play by mail bore the brunt of efficiency’s gore. Efficiency slew the beast of the PBM Hydra. As it turned out, the heads of that Hydra belonged to the many thousands of PBM die-hard players. Efficiency prevailed across the industry, and play by mail gaming was never quite the same, again.

PBM had been terminated! As it turns out, it was an inside job.

It’s a shame that PBM games couldn’t have remained hand-moderated, with the customer service end of things becoming as efficient as the code. But, such is life in the PBM lane.

Automating things via the code had such obvious advantages for play by mail games, for sure – though in hindsight, the question might be asked, advantages for whom?

And what of this “true flavor” of special actions? Maybe that’s where the problem with the PBM industry lies. Maybe it just ran out of flavor. Do you like to eat meals that have less flavor or more flavor? I know, I know, it’s rocket science, apparently, but you can probably figure out what I’m getting at.

And if you can’t, well let me lay it bare for you. Full automation achieved at the cost of reduced flavor has not been such a good deal for the PBM industry, after all. For short term game, the Old Guard killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. Oh, they automated the goose, all right, but the goose was never asked what it thought about what they had in store for it.

And now you know the story of play by mail’s El Dorado. It was deep fried in the vat of automation. PBM’s goose was cooked!

Play by mail hasn’t tasted the same, since.

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