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Play By Mail: Doomed to extinction or ripe for reinvigoration?
In order for there to be a resurgence in play by mail gaming, I really do think that it is going to require the infusion of a new generation of PBM game moderators. I have grave doubts that the remaining members of PBM's Old Guard are motivated enough or interested enough to get the hobby back on track.

Now, if interest in play by mail gaming just suddenly exploded overnight, I certainly do think that Old Guard PBM companies would be well situated to take advantage of such a surge in interest. But, I just don't think that those Old Guard companies, themselves, will be the spark behind such a resurgence.

It may well be that the play by mail genre of gaming will not ever experience a significant resurgence of players, PBM companies, and play by mail games. If that is what is to be, then that is what is to be. Period. Of course, there is no way to know, for absolute certain, that that is the case. If you are a betting man, then the safe money is that it won't happen.

But, the beauty of people becoming involved in a given situation is that, although not always, quite often they can make a considerable difference. In order for gamers to play PBM games, then there has to exist PBM games for them to play.

A number of avid players from the old days of PBM have probably passed on, by now. Fortunately, I am not one of them. Not yet, anyway. There's still quite a few people form the old days when PBM was at its apex, and they are still involved in playing PBM games. Hyborian War is an example of an old school PBM game where, if you want to play, at all, then you still must play it via the postal service.

And, there are also people who are still joining the ranks of play by mail gaming for the first time. Once such fellow created an account on another website of mine, just today, in fact. He remembered seeing the old Hyborian War ads in some of the old black and white Conan magazines, and he somehow or other ended up came back into contact with info about Hyborian War, and is now looking to join a game of Hyborian war for the very first time.

Flagship magazine has been around a long time. Carol Mulholland, the current editor of Flagship magazine, tries to keep covering things, and as far as I know, she has never become disinterested in covering play by mail games and play by mail company news. Often times, there's simply no news, or no one bothers to share what little news that there is with her.

But, also, Flagship magazine is oriented more towards the PBM gaming scene in Great Britain and Europe, than the PBM gaming scene in the United States. When a new domain name was chosen for a new website for Flagship magazine, the domain name selected was FlagshipMagazine.Co.Uk. Note the end designation of that URL address, which are the letters UK.

In all fairness, when Paper Mayhem was being published, its primary coverage was the American PBM gaming scene, with some coverage of the Canadian PBM gaming scene. The United Kingdom and European PBM scenes received far less coverage, which worked well for Flagship magazine, I'm certain. But, those two magazines were largely a reflection of geographic realities and fund limitations.

Then-editor David Webber of Paper Mayhem sought input in the form of letters from his magazine's readership on more than one occasion. This is a lot like the situation that Carol Mulholland faces now. But, one simple reality of life is that most people who read or subscribe to a given magazine will likely never write a letter to said magazine.

There are Old Guard PBM companies that would, I suspect, embrace a new paper format PBM magazine that focused primarily upon the American and Canadian PBM gaming scenes. But, just as most American PBM companies have transitioned to the electronic medium to effectuate cost savings, a new PBM magazine would benefit from the advantages that the electronic medium conveys.

Much of what David Webber and Paper Mayhem published in the old days has transitioned to the electronic medium, since that magazine's passing from publication. Having ceased publication, Paper's Mayhem's subscriber base and its readership base (not necessarily one and the same thing) filled the void in other ways. Those who had lost interest in play by mail while Paper Mayhem was still in publication, and who returned after Paper Mayhem's shut down, had little choice but to pursue other options.

One of the core functions that Paper Mayhem served, back in the old days when PBM was king to a large number of gamers, when new PBM companies and new PBM games regularly appeared on the PBM gaming scene, was that of facilitator. Paper Mayhem facilitated getting the prospective PBM player connected with the PBM game moderators and PBM companies that had the PBM games that needed players to fill their ranks.

In this day and age, who is investing in the play by mail genre of gaming? Is anyone? Or has all of the investment, what relatively little that there is, shifted to the electronic medium?

Because there is no real investment in PBM going on, right now (at least, not that I am aware of), and because no major company, PBM or otherwise, is taking the lead on revitalizing the PBM industry, I think that any real resurgence of PBM gaming will require individual innovators to make things happen to any notable degree.

By and large, the Old Guard PBM companies still know how to program and to run play by mail games, but realistically speaking, they have all but abandoned postal gaming as a viable medium of gaming for their respective companies' business models.

Can new play by mail companies come into existence, in the current day and age, and be sustainable operations that generate a profit? I think so, but the real problem lies more with connecting potential players with such company and its games. I think that there must - of necessity - be something there to fill that void, a new facilitator, if you will.

In PBM's glory days of old, one thing that prospective PBM players had was a lot of PBM games and a lot of PBM companies to choose from. If you don't have that range of choice, then common sense dictates that your likely player base will be much smaller than might be the case, if there is a large body of PBM games and PBM companies filling the PBM genre with vitality and energy and presence. After all, who wants crappy choices, either for gaming or for anything else in life?

One of the greatest challenges facing any new PBM gaming focused magazine is what to print. In order to exist - and to thrive, such a new PBM magazine will have to address that challenge. As an example to help illustrate the point, what would such a magazine provide to a new PBM readership that those very same readers couldn't find elsewhere, where play by mail news and happenings is concerned. Are magazines such as Paper Mayhem and Flagship still relevant to PBM gamers?

I think that they are. Or, perhaps I should say, I think that they should be, and that they could be. Paper Mayhem currently lies dormant, and Flagship has a whole host of problems that I think that it needs to sort through, in order to be a viable facilitator for the play by mail industry and PBM gaming community of players.

Flagship hasn't sunk. Not yet, anyway. But, it is listing terribly. Granted, that's just my opinion of one, but it is my opinion, nonetheless. Continually missing publication deadlines, regardless of why, only worsens things - both for Flagship's readership and for Flagship, itself.

Realistically speaking, though, how are Carol and Flagship supposed to resuscitate a play by mail industry which has emaciated itself, and which won't even invest in itself, anymore? Such an industry is more in need of hospice, than a facilitator, wouldn't you say?

The primary reason that I can think of for someone - anyone - to invest in the play by mail genre of gaming is that it can be a lot of fun. Whether you are a PBM player, a PBM moderator, a PBM company, or a PBM magazine personality, shouldn't your primary, over-arching interest in it all be to have fun?

Recognizing that key fact is fundamental, I think, to reinvigorating the PBM industry - no matter what angle or perspective that you approach it from.

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

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