The Mother Lode of Play By Mail


by Charles Mosteller


PBM companies sat on a wall, Play By Mail gaming had a great fall.
PBM players and PBM kin Couldn’t play games by pure mail again.

When the Internet collided with what was then the play by mail universe as we knew it, a great coincidence happened. The universe changed – or, in the colorful phraseology of the common man, shit happened.

When worlds collide, lives change. When dimensions of gaming collide, gaming habits change. The irresistible force of technology meets a mode of gaming that, as it turned out, proved to be anything but an immovable object. The winner of this clash of the gaming cosmos? Apparently, it’s the Internet. Big surprise, huh?

OK, so, in hindsight, it’s pretty obvious who the hands-down favorite was. Play by mail gaming was a mismatch of notorious dimension for Internet the Usurper.

Not content with a first round knockout, the Internet opted, instead, for continuous strangulation of the PBM hobby. The Internet did not put its foot on PBM’s throat. Rather, it decided to keep its foot on the throat of play by mail gaming. Believe it or not, this places the postal medium in a rather precarious position, as far as the postal medium remaining a viable medium for gaming entertainment.

Contrary to what some might mistakenly think, I do not advocate turning back the clock, in a futile bid to undo the Internet and to restore the postal medium to its former place of glory in the pantheon of gaming genres.

The Internet, whose hordes of techno-gamers are legion, is not a Goliath in need of slaying. The Internet is not the enemy of play by mail gaming. The gaming universe in its totality is, indeed, large enough for both the Internet and the postal medium to co-exist, simultaneously.

In the modern era, there are Internet games where just one game has more players than all of PBM gaming had in its heyday, several times over. This does not mean that, therefore, the Internet is like a Great Wall of Technology that was built right through the heart of play by mail gaming, an impersonal behemoth that evades all attempts by PBM companies to scale it, in order to overcome.

It is a matter of scale. To have a vibrant, thriving postal gaming medium once more, it is not necessary, nor even realistic, to measure the success of such with contemporary Internet-typical scale numbers. Millions of PBM Praetorians are not needed. Rather, a few thousand will suffice.

In the aftermath of the PBM Apocalypse, which was heralded by the arrival of Internet the Usurper, the diaspora of the PBM Hivemind scattered and settled. They gathered into pools, where they live on, even today.

The atom of the PBM player base was split, not fused, and trying to get the survivors to rejoin is a task of sizable scope. Each respective pool of PBM players does not sense an innate need to interact with one another, much less to merge into a larger entity of dubious value. The portion of the PBM pie on which they dine survived Ragnarok, so they rest content in their respective necks of the PBM wood.

Electronic invitations do little to move them. A migration to the great PBM hunting grounds of old does not ensue. However, this comes as no real surprise – or at least, it shouldn’t.

The dynamics that generated the growth of the postal genre of gaming in years gone by no longer rule in the new universe of gaming. Rick Loomis and Flying Buffalo, Inc. may well have “invented” the commercial play by mail industry, but they have yet to reinvent it for the modern era masses. Accordingly, those very same masses never materialize on the doorsteps of the commercial play by mail sector.

Business cannot afford to ignore sheer numbers, I suppose it could be argued. As such, it is unlikely, I think, that a new era in postal gaming is to have its dawn in the existing commercial PBM sector. Rather, a far more likely candidate, I think, lies with innovative individuals (not companies) who are still capable of discerning that there is still much fun to be mined from the postal medium of gaming.

If fun is the driving force, and not profit motive, then I think that the landscape of the postal medium becomes more clear to those looking at how to exploit its potential.

The mother lode of play by mail gaming, the postal variety kind, was never the medium’s potential for profit. Rather, the mother lode of play by mail was always its fun factor. PBM gaming may not have ever made tons of people wealthy, but it is incontestable that it greatly enriched the lives of countless thousands that made it what it once was.

One does not have to hate the Internet in order to still love play by mail.

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

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