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The Ongoing Appeal of PBM
I suppose this post is in lieu of writing a letter to the editor of Suspense and Decision. As a relative newcomer and admittedly, not a die-hard PBM player, I might be overstepping my bounds. But I think what I have to say needs to be said.

There has been much written throughout the years, and in several issues of S&D, about the need to revitalize the hobby. About how something new and innovative needs to be done. All the great minds of the PBM world seem to come up lacking. I think that is for good reason. If you want new and innovative, there are plenty of modern games on PC's, consoles and smart phones to play. That's being new and innovative. PBM and PBEM games are not any of that. They are, quite simply, completely retro. They are never going to be anything else.

Nor should they be.

Honestly, I think the best strategy for promoting PBM is to fully embrace the retro feel and play it up as much as possible. That's it's enduring power. That's it's strongest selling point. Be completely and totally unapologetic, and never for an instant try to portray PBM games themselves as anything other than what they are. If you're going to market PBM, market the hell out of that retro feel. Never pretend. PBM has survived decades for a reason. It offers something real and substantial. PBM just isn't going to change that much. It can't, without losing its identity. So I say, flaunt that identity and market it to new generations in all of its old-fashioned goodness.

S&D has been doing all that wonderfully, actually. But I get the feeling it's publishers yearn for the hobby to evolve, to change, to be what it's not....all the while never losing its charm. Do you see what an impossible situation this is? The charm of PBM is PBM, plain and simple.

That being said, there is a tremendous packaging problem when it comes to PBM--or at least PBEM games, which is what I am familiar with. And this is where it might get controversial.

Most PBM web sites are completely outdated, and the look and feel is simply of the "ancient days" of the internet. If you're going to market the classic PBEM feel, you can still do it with more streamlined and responsive web sites. I am firmly of the opinion, if you're going to go retro, it should be the artwork alone that has a retro feel. You can still update the web site and have a slightly more modern layout. It's the game that's supposed to be classic retro. A web site that hasn't been redone in fifteen years, on the other hand, looks cheap and neglected. Like it or not, that's the impression most PBM web sites give. This is unfortunate, because I think it's safe to assume that the games themselves are completely worthy of time and attention.

Maybe I'm contradicting myself. But I am fully of the opinion, that in order to attract a younger audience in greater numbers, web sites need to update a little. The heart and soul of PBM need not change, but boy, could it ever use a facelift! Let the games themselves be retro, and never apologize for that. But making it look good on the outside would go a long way toward improving the image of PBM as a whole.

Of course, you are perfectly welcome to disagree with me. Maybe you think the outdated websites are fine. Maybe you're of the opinion, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." I'll even agree with that, as long as you mean the PBM games themselves. But I still insist giving web sites a fresh look for fresh eyes would go a long way toward revitalizing the hobby. Rather than inadvertently portraying PBM as a rusty old relic, it could use some new paint and polish to really bring out its glory. Like it or not, image matters.

There's plenty more to be said about marketing. But I am going to end my discussion here, as advanced marketing topics are far beyond my expertise.

One final thing: Frankly, I think S&D is excellent for the hobby, and I never would have gotten back into the hobby without it. It has led me to numerous games that I never would have found otherwise. I hope to see many future issues. S&D is a perfect example of the classic retro feel I'm talking about in this post. I just wish the editors would be a little more unapologetic about what PBM is and always will be.
I think your post should be included in the next issue as a "letter to the editor" anyway. Maybe it will help alert more players and webmasters to the issues involved and get them thinking, at least.

I think your comments are great ideas for helping entice the already-curious, though comfort and functionality seem to be most important for those already playing. But I think that there's yet another step up to be taken to get potential players to come to the gaming web sites in the first place. That's a problem of a different magnitude because virtually all of the game-players these days are conditioned to respond to that "instant gratification" form of play and don't seem to have any interest in checking out anything else.

Quote:Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to come up with a way to get the masses out there interested enough to take a first look. If any of your team members are caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This post will not self-destruct in five seconds. Good luck!
BTW, your comments about the retro feel are well taken, but I think that part of what that means has a lot to do with how S&D was named in the first place. One of the big reasons that PBMers like to play these games is embodied in that slower reaction time... the anticipation of waiting for your turn results to arrive (however that happens these days), the excitement of poring over the results to see what happened, and the extended time spent contemplating what you should do next. That has a lot to do with the feel of the game.

I wrote a page on my web site that discusses the benefits of this sort of slower play in more-complex games in the hopes that it would attract others to try it out. If anyone hasn't seen it and would like to read my description, it's at
Interesting post, CantripMaestro. I feel your last point is well taken - the hobby needs a magazine and I do miss paper. Digital is fine but it's not the same and cannot be enjoyed like a paper magazine. I miss Flagship, Paper Mayhem, Nuts and Bolts, etc. I have been working on a version of Midgard (aka KnightGuild) for 21 months now and I have been surprised by the sheer number of players that not only remember the game but are willing to work with me to bring it back. Surely there is that kind of support out there for a paper magazine???
I think there are some very good points made here, of course they mostly echo my own thoughts so there is that.  Wink

a.k.a. 'The MAD Scientist'
a.k.a. The "MAD" Scientist

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