by Charles Mosteller
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.