Getting Started In PBM
One of the greatest of challenges standing in the way of growing the size of the overall PBM player base is helping newcomers to play by mail gaming become actual players.n If they don't start playing, then in a nutshell, everything else is moot. Just getting newcomers started playing a PBM game can literally be the highest hurdle that any PBM company or GM can face.
On its face, this can come across as a fairly simple task. Ah, if things were only that easy. But they're not. For if they were, then PBM gaming would never have shrank to begin with. Back in the golden era of play by mail gaming, PBM GMs and PBM companies thought that competition was stiff. Well, that was nothing compared to the competitive headwinds that PBM companies and GMs face, today.
One reality that has dawned since the early days of PBM gaming is that entertainment options for consumers have expanded exponentially. There was no Netflix back then, nor any Amazon Prime, nor Hulu, nor any of countless different streaming entertainment options which have proliferated in recent years.
Oh, sure, those aren't games, per se, but they are entertainment, and entertainment, in its vast array of options and offerings, threaten to crowd PBM gaming out, altogether. Because PBM games are a form of entertainment, not just a form of gaming. How many ways do human beings spend time pursuing leisure of every sort?
Before you can even start worrying about how to smooth the transition for PBM gamers, you first have to figure out how to get their attention. Streaming video, video on demand, high definition graphics, high resolution imagery - these things and countless vie for the attention of the human mind. To compete with all of that, what has the PBM industry brought to the table, lately?
Not a lot, really.
Not that I can see, anyway. Hell, these days, there are a variety of A.I. (artificial intelligence) options for art generation. And in very recent memory, who in the PBM industry was leading the pack in exploiting this new option available to PBM companies and GMs? Roy Pollard who was, until recently, running The Isles PBeM game.
Not the PBM companies who currently have licenses for very well-known intellectual properties for PBM gaming purposes, of which there are but two that come immediately to mind - Middle-earth PBM and Hyborian War.
I'm as firm of a believer in the concept of repurposing of imagery as anybody that you are likely to find. Even still, at some point, new imagery associated with PBM games need to enter the visual stream of the gaming public. I know that the new owner of Alamaze is making some use of A.I. created art on the new Alamaze website, but within the game, itself, what new imagery has arrived in recent times to be paraded before the eyes of gamers? None, that I'm aware of.
While it was never a role that I initially envisioned taking on, way back when, as things have worked out, it appears that one of my functions is to be a beater of dead horses. Time and time, again, I pound the Table of Contemplation, in attempts to drive home certain points. And truthfully, for the most part, my words continue to fall on deaf ears.
I challenge all of our readers to take a guess - How much of a budget do you think that PBM companies and GMs allocate for new PBM-related art? Forget the GMs running PBM games for free for a moment, and focus only on the commercial PBM sector.
Finite resources limit what can be spent, obviously, but extend your view back for years on end, or even decades on end, and do you end up with the feeling that PBM companies and GMs have ever really made visual imagery to attract newcomers an actual top priority? If you don't use visual imagery where you can, then where will you use it at? When was the absolute height of the PBM industry making widespread use of imagery in PBM ads? The 1980s, maybe?
If you don't grab their eye, how do you hope to get them started playing PBM games? And if they don't start playing PBM games, how do you hope to grow your player base?
This issue of PBM Chaos features a new Middle-earth PBM ad, albeit one with repurposed artwork, along with more than 20 text links to articles and tips aimed at helping newcomers get started playing the PBM game that is Middle-earth PBM. This compilation of links stretches back to the year 1991 - thirty-two years ago!
Video game systems brought the arcade experience into people's homes. These days, there's tons of boardgaming websites and blogs featuring a plethora of visual imagery aimed at grabbing the human eye. Computer gamers have websites like Steam to help pull them in. What's PBM gaming's plan to compete with the massive proliferation of entertainment-oriented imagery and websites? Or is there even a plan?
Maybe there's a multitude of plans across the PBM industry and hobby. Fair enough, but what are they? Are they secret plans? Are they confidential plans? Are they too important to share? What's the word that I'm looking for? Are they proprietary?
Since commercial PBM gaming first appeared on the scene decades ago in the 1970s, shareware came about. That was in the 1980s. These days, the open source concept gets bandied about a lot. I use some of it, myself. Open source is a lot more prevalent, now, than it was in past years. Some of it is better than others.
Some PBM games are better than others also, though in truth, everybody doesn't like to play the same games, nor the same types of games. PBM gaming used to offer a vastly greater variety of games for the public to play. There's still more PBM games out there, today, if you include digital lineal descendants along with paper format PBM games, than at first meets the eye. Who among them all, though, is at the vanguard of the visual cutting edge, as it relates to PBM gaming?
Getting newcomers to start playing PBM games isn't the actual start of the whole process. Rulebooks, beginners guides, player aids, and all kinds of different stuff aimed at "helping" newcomers to PBM games all all fine and dandy, especially in theory, but in actual practice, you have to succeed at getting players attracted to your PBM game products, before that array of ancillary stuff comes into play.
So, whenever you think about starting points, it might behoove you to actually start at the very beginning.
I played a number of classic PBM games back in the 80s -- Battle Plan,
Its A Crime, Monster Island, Silverdawn, Out-Time Days, and a few
others. And the grand-daddy of all close-ended computer-moderated space
empire games -- Empyrean Challenge. I spent hundreds of dollars,
obsessed over drafting orders, waited with extreme anticipation for the
mail to come, collaborated and conspired often, and even ran a
newsletter for my team on EC. At intervals I wanted to run my own PBM
The reason I dropped off had nothing to do with the internet. It had a
fair amount to do with the *expense* of it all. And there was the
perennial problem of having other players drop out -- usually well over
50%, even for games that held a deposit. And finally, some games were
starting to become available to scratched that itch while playing them
at home -- board games and computer games.
- Ixnay (01-07-2011)
[Click HERE to read the entirety of what Ixnay had to say.]
Articles for new Middle-earth PBM players
- 4th Age Hints for Beginners by Joe Hayre, News from Bree, Issue #21, February 2003
- Basic Advice by Middle-earth Games, Middle-earth Games Website, 31 July 2017
- Beginner’s Guide by Rob Gaul, Middle-earth Games Website, 30 July 2017
- A Beginner's Guide: Parts 1 & 2 of an in-depth guide to MEPBM by Jeffrey Dobberpuhl & Colin Forbes, News from Bree, Issue #14, May 2002
- A Beginners Guide to MEPBM: Part 1: It's the economy, stupid! by Rob Gaul, News from Bree, Issue #8, March 2001
- Beginner's Guide - part 2: A player/GM viewpoint by Clint Oldridge, News from Bree, Issue #15, June 2002
- Beginner's Guide Part 3: The Mid Game by Jeffery Dobberpuhl, News from Bree, Issue #16, July 2002
- Beginner's Guide: Part 4: The Mid Game (cont) by Jeffery Dobberpuhl, News from Bree, Issue #17, August 2002
- A Beginner's Guide to MEPBM, Part 5: The End Game by Jeff Dobberpuhl, News from Bree, Issue #19, November 2002
- Confessions of an MEPBM Newbie by Brian J. Hancock, News from Bree, Issue #19, November 2002
- Confessions of an MEPBM Newcomer by Brian Hancock, Flagship Magazine, Issue #105, December / January 2003-2004
- Getting Started by Middle-earth Games, Middle-earth Games Website, 21 September 2017
- Learning the Game: Thoughts by a Newbie by Philip Vincent, News from Bree, Issue #12, October 2001
- Middle Earth: The End Game by Jefferey Dobberpuhl, Flagship Magazine, Issue #99, October / November 2002
- Middle Earth: The Mid Game by Jefferey Dobberpuhl, Flagship Magazine, Issue #96, April / May 2002
- Middle Earth Games' Advice For New Players by Unknown
- Middle Earth PBM: An in-depth Guide for Beginners by Jefferey Dobberpuhl and Colin Forbes, Flagship Magazine, Issue #94, November / December 2001
- Middle Earth: Surviving from the Start by Rob Gaul, Flagship Magazine, Issue #114, June / July 2005
- A Newbies Guide to Middle Earth Part 1: Which nation to choose? by Colin Forbes, Newa from Bree, Issue #1, October 1998
- New Players in 2950: Some Suggested Nations by Marc Pinsonneault, News from Bree, Issue #19, November 2002
- Selecting Nations by Middle-earth Games, Middle-earth Games Website, 31 July 2017
- Selecting Nations for New Players in 1650 by Clint Oldridge, News from Bree, Issue #19, November 2002
- Tips From Middle-Earth Play-By-Mail™ by Joe Playtester, Whispers of the Wood, Volume VIII, Issue #5, 1 August 1991