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General BlogA dissertation on gaming.

Please note that when posting this online I have censored sensitive personal information including in the appendix and bibliography. This means that real people I interviewed will have pseudonyms and any identifying material altered or removed. For reasons of space and because I do not feel it is necessary, I will not be duplicating in-text citations. If you want to know what I used for specific parts, ask in the comments section. All my sources are in the appendix and bibliography.

What factor contributed most to the decline of UK PBM gaming in the late 1990s and early 2000s?

May 2017 In partial fulfilment for the degree of: BA (Hons.) History and Politics Department of History, Sociology & Criminology 1HIS699: History Dissertation

For more than a few decades, Play-By-Mail has sat on the pinnacle of distance multiplayer gaming. It was the Master of Mankind by the will of practicality and Master of a million worlds by the might of inexhaustible imagination. It was a lively scene, writhing invisibly with power from the Dark Age of Technology (1980). It was the gaming medium for which a thousand characters died every day. Imagination & dreams- the stuff of which gaming is made. However, it was one method among many: board, computer, tabletop, card, gamebook, and phone. It lived in the cruellest & most bloody regime imaginable (Royal Mail/Post Office). This is the tale of those times. It is a universe you can read of today- if you dare- for this is a dark and terrible era where you will find little comfort or hope. If you want to take part in the adventure, then prepare yourself now. Remember the promise of technology, money, and common dreams. Remember the promise of progress and understanding, for there is hope for PBM yet, an eternity of carnage and slaughter, and the laugher of mad Kharijites. But the gaming scene is big and whatever happens, you will not be missed.

There is no time for cards. No board games. No computers. There is only WAR.

Introduction

This dissertation focuses on the subject of Play-By-Mail, a form of gaming usually relying on written text to play and usually sent via the postal system, though other methods apply. Due to space, this only focuses on the United Kingdom, though the work of other countries may feature if they connect directly with UK PBM. There will be more details in later chapters, but PBM was a major force in gaming during the latter 20th century. The issue considered here is why it declined when compared to other methods and media. This is of historical interest, especially business history, as PBM is a good indicator of the changing nature of technology regarding how it affected normal people as a business type and as a big customer of communications technology, yet, as discussed in the final chapter, it is rather unknown to the public. Why do gamers now use it less than other methods?

The magazine Flagship, in its 93rd Issue (written when the magazine focused primarily of PBM), explains that PBM is a simple process where players send orders each turn to a moderator (AKA GM) who then sends the results back. This can accommodate hundreds of players and allow much contact, discussion, and negotiation. Although most games process everyone’s orders in bulk, results are purely individual and tailored towards what the individual knows. Games can include RPG, adventuring, empire-building, sports, and more, of varying complexity and difficulty. Note that the source does not specify the method of communication; all that matters is that the orders get there and back. Therefore, one can play PBM by any communication system, from email to carrier pigeon. Therefore, it is a very versatile system. A convention is this dissertation is to refer to general PBM matters in the present tense.

The overall question is why PBM is used less compared to other media. To do this requires an analysis of other gaming methods. The ones here are tabletop, gamebooks, phone, and computer. Respectively, tabletop gaming is an analogue method like PBM but still going strong; gamebooks declined and revived during the period covered and are also an analogue method; play-by-phone is simply a brief attempt at a digital game using telecommunications; and computer gaming is currently dominant and may have had a direct role in PBM’s decline. There will also be a question on how the other analogue methods have not suffered as much as PBM.

Primary sources were relatively easy to find and use. These include gaming material, special interest magazines like Flagship, contemporary books, online archives, forums, questionnaires, and interviews. Very importantly, four direct interviews and two questionnaire responses gave the opportunity to analyse first-hand experience of PBM. Hiyiros is a graduate, Star Trek fan, Blake’s 7 fan, and was involved withthe PBM game Delenda Est Carthago to remain mentally alert.

As shown in the appendix, where the full interview notes are, Hiyiros had many things to say about the PBM business and had other contacts in the industry. With Hiyiros at the games meet I attended were Madoc and Selyas. Madoc was a GM for the games Knights of Avalon, Chronicle of Kings, and Serim Ral and is an associate of Hiyiros. Selyas is a former Delenda player who still plays the PBM En Garde! LPBS and so is still a participant in the hobby.

Cuthpawl was a player of Earthwood, World of Vengeance, and Delenda and of PBM up until 2007. During the interview, as well as revealing the research used in some games, he also demonstrated how role-playing worked, suggesting that he may have roleplayed the entire interview. Additionally, I sent a questionnaire to Enterprise, creator of [REDACTED]. Jafl, the webmaster of [REDACTED] also did the same questionnaire, after amendments. These sources should be completely reliable.

Secondary sources were harder to work with, as there was a simple lack of academic sources. However, Jonathan Green’s YOU ARE THE HERO covers other gaming methods during the period, such as computers, play-by-phone, board, tabletop, and gamebooks (the whole book is about the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series and their creators, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone). This book has no mention of PBM apart from an ambiguous mention of Diplomacy, which Green refers to as a ‘correspondence game‘, so the source’s primary use is to establish context. In terms of reliability, it is uncertain. There is no true bibliography; instead, Green only gives formal references for pictures, such as ‘Lord Mortis, by David Gallagher (© David Gallagher, 1990 and 2014)’ and ‘Iron Serpents, by Tony Hough. (©Tony Hough, 1993 and 2014)’. There is an acknowledgements page, but it is for thanking people and there is no real indication of what sources Green used. The overall attitude is one of name-dropping- Green will name a Fighting Fantasy related product, such as the d20 Conversions of certain gamebooks by the games company Myriador in 2003, effectively leaving the reader to find the original sources in their own time. Effectively, this is not a real and proper history book- it is more for casual readers. However, there are no true academic books on the topic.

Another secondary source is The Evolution of Fantasy Role-Playing Games by Michael J Tresca, 2010. This book is not about PBM, but does contain information on it, even if it does sometimes call it play-by-post. Unfortunately, it may not be the best source around. First, Tresca only focuses on American games, saying that Dungeons & Dragons “is suffused with hope and power, with gold around every corner,” and “American individualism,” while Warhammer RPG contain history, decadence, and nobility because they are British. Therefore, Tresca has excluded most of the world based on prejudice (and effectively makes the book title a lie- it should be The Evolution of US Fantasy Role-Playing Games if only focusing on the US), and his coverage of PBM does not cover the same country as this dissertation. Also, the book title itself indicates that this book is limited- only fantasy and RPGs. PBM is more than that. Tresca also discusses why women do not play RPGs, suggesting women dislike sitting at a table as long as men do, a study based solely on the observation of his sister-in-law.

As an aside, Flagship 100 explained why women do not play RPGs from a woman who plays RPGs, amongst quite a lot of other women who play RPG games. Lisa Fordham says that many women do enter the RPG hobby and then leave after encountering a disproportionate amount of prejudice and sometimes-obscene behaviour from male players, e.g. raping a character, and feeling too intimidated to protest. completely different reason given in an established publication, with first hand-experience. Therefore, this secondary source is also not brilliant. In fact, it is perhaps worse for this dissertation than the non academically written YOU ARE THE HERO.

Other secondary sources, listed in the bibliography, are not history texts, though there is an obituary. The others are mainly business guides and reports on science.

Due to this difficulty, secondary sources will play a lesser role than in other dissertations although will remain present. There are also sources that could fit both the primary and secondary categories.

Chapters

1: ‘Play-By-Mail’ covers the origins of the kind of PBM discussed here (i.e. not something as simple and basic as correspondence chess), how it works (it still exists) and some key games. 2: ‘Other Media’ covers tabletop, gamebooks, phone, and computer games. 3: ‘Decline of PBM’ takes three factors listed by an actual PBM gamer and analyses them (no more than that for space reasons). 4: ‘Conclusion’ covers the continued existence and contains the actual concluding paragraph.

Play-By-Mail

There were many games in the era discussed and many ways of playing games. As well as PBM, there was video, tabletop, gamebooks, phone, and more. The overall argument is that PBM existed in a time of many methods, all of which were changing for the new era of technology. This chapter explores the origins of the developed PBM business and how it worked, using a case study of one game.

The business model of PBM is very simple. Most PBM firms were small businesses and most of them were run as a hobby rather than as a professional business . In conventional business categories, using information provided by the 2007 Good Small Business Guide, PBM is a mail-order business (as how Lakeland Limited used to be) that also has Internet activity and can export. These businesses are advised to make themselves known by placing adverts in special interest media ( which of course Flagship was), though they have flexible business hours and no need to spend money on an actual shop. Interestingly, the book advises owner-managers to have a hobby as a turn-off to help them relax, but in the case of PBM as stated, the business was often the hobby and the escape from normal life. This does not apply to everyone- Mica Goldstone, director of KJC Games, has been a professional director since 1998, with no other job, though KJC is of course a larger firm. According to Hiyiros , the founder of the smaller Delenda game started it for a mental challenge and to talk to people, not to make money. Nonetheless, Delenda still pursued one course of action advisable to small businesses. The Guide says that one should not be overly sympathetic to debtors- if there is no legitimate reason for them not to pay, creditors should make them pay. Delenda was perfectly willing to withhold turns until player accounts had been topped up (an example being a player who had only 30p left yet just processed a £5.50 turn), but notes that during the early period of Delenda, she was willing to process the turn and hope the cheque would arrive soon. It does not appear that Delenda resorted to (or was willing to) enforce debts through external recovery agencies or court cases, though Delenda at least was willing to defend its interests, like in any other business. However, the possibility existed, as a prison guard warned that it was nearly impossible to sue a prisoner player who had not paid the fee, which implies that some GMs are prepared to sue under normal circumstances. Overall, PBM was like any other business sector, with an emphasis on smaller firms.

To demonstrate the popularity of PBM, consider the sheer number of firms competing for attention, a phenomenon needing many customers. One PBM company, founded in the USA by Rick Loomis, was Flying Buffalo. Loomis was in the US Army in 1970, where he worked to solve problems in wargaming. In 1972, he set up Flying Buffalo and bought a computer to run games– apparently the first person to do just that. He claims that as he was the one person developing new games rather than just adapting existing material like chess or the board game Diplomacy, he could use the slogan, “We Created the Play By Mail Industry,” especially as he was the first to do this full-time. Flying Buffalo also created non-PBM games, such as Tunnels & Trolls, which they claim was the second fantasy RPG. In 1986, the game designer Tony Bath recommended this game as an example of fantasy wargaming, describing it as a cheaper alternative to Dungeons & Dragons, with the rules being ‘somewhat interchangeable’.

In the UK, an example of another PBM company is KJC Games, founded in 1981 by Kevin Cropper. It became limited in 2002 when Mica Goldstone became managing director. It works to keep up with technology- paper to email- and uses Skeletal software to produce sophisticated games. It is also called Adventures by Mail (Europe) Limited. It is registered with Companies House, where it is revealed that profits declined from 2015-2016 (£39232-£33916). In addition, Madhouse Games has been around since 1991, claiming to have had thousands of players since. Finally, Harlequin Games was founded in 1994. All these companies will feature in this dissertation, but for now, that is the context of what would become the larger PBM firms.

Smaller firms sometimes did not have formal names, instead using the GM’s name. The GM Adam Hill ran Barony of the Rivers in 2001-2002 at least, under the name Adam Hill, while operating no other games. In The Spokesmen Speak section of 93, Adam Hill was apparently reviving the game and looking for playtesters. For this, he charged £10 startup for three turns and £2.50 per turn. Galactic View, Flagship’s PBM directory says Barony is human-moderated and entirely postal. So Adam Hill, who only operates one game and does not have a special name for his business, relied entirely on paper. On the other hand, KJC used computer moderation for most games, though Beyond/Stellar Empires is mixed. All games were paper-based except Extra Time- original, which they shared with Crassiworld (both based in Lancashire) and so had to work with their rules too. Beyond/Stellar Empires is free at startup and £2.50-£6 per turn compared to full computer-operated games, averaging at £3 startup (most are free except for Warlord) and £1.89-£2.40 per turn.35 However, not all personal names indicate a small business- GMs for Lords of the Earth were all involved with Throneworld, but customers paid them directly. Regarding another firm, Mo Holkar revived his Undying King Games (obviously an actual name) in 2004 and offered free, webbased games. He planned to build an online community for UKG. Unlike Adam Hill, he had two games and as stated, both are electronic: The Gods Decide is about Greek deities favouring heroes and Mighty Darkness is about the life of a tree. However, PBM was not the priority for many GMs and so would be in danger if they had to choose between work and leisure. Importantly, some smaller PBM firms, perhaps the majority, were not run as a main source of income, but rather as a hobby. Danny McConnell of Ab Initio Games advised prospective GMs not to give up their day job unless the game is a big success and the job starts interfering with the game rather than the reverse.

One early PBM was En Garde! This game is relevant to the period as it received a major feature in Flagship 93 and demonstrates the amount of work that could go into PBM. In contrast to En Garde!’s coverage, Diplomacy was hardly ever featured in Flagship (though it is possible that there was nothing new to write about Diplomacy). In 93, Paul Evans, apparently a computer programmer and gamer, described the game as an RPG similar to wargaming done around a table; first appearing in the UK in 1975. The game based itself on The Three Musketeers and Cyrano de Bergerac. Evans says that the first PBM was run in the late 1970s in the zine Chimera, while he became involved in 1982 with John Harrington’s Take That You Fiend! To solve a GM turnover crisis in the 1980s (when there were about 12 games), Evans developed software to handle some of the GM’s work. Two-three GMs could handle 50-60 players in a weekend, and Evans soon set up his own game, Les Petites Bêtes Soyeuses, in 1986 with 50 players, some of whom still played in 2001.

In the same issue, Patrick Gleeson compiled an overview of the many En Garde! versions available in 2001, such as Dangerous Liaisons (French Wars of Religion, female characters, freeform game) and Delon (standard, uses Yahoo!). LPBS is present and apparently the oldest running game, a PBM rather than PBeM, but accepting email orders. Some games were apparently unavailable by the time of writing, such as Arcadia (temporarily suspended, which Gleeson suspects may be because it was free, which En Garde! should not be due to labour intensiveness) and Shogun (which just vanished), but Brian Jenkins had made a Webring to connect all players of the game . Outside Flagship, YOU ARE THE HERO implies that En Garde! had a greater impact on gaming due to the actions of Steve Jackson. Needing to differentiate it from Dungeons & Dragons despite the similar methods, he invented the term ‘role-playing game‘ and may have been the first person in history to do that.

Another thing is revealed here, that PBM could be a highly derivative industry. Diplomacy is a board game that has been adapted for PBM. En Garde! is an RPG adapted for PBM. Pagoda GamesStar Fleet Warlord is based on the game Star Fleet Battles, which is based on Star Trek. Tony Bath’s Hyboria (confirmed as a PBM by Phil Barker) used elements from the Conan series and as Bath’s book, cited previously, was from 1986 that would indicate that Hyboria predated that year.

In the early 1990s, Delenda Est Carthago was operating under the name Waveny Games and later Inferno Games. This serves as a case study of a PBM game and how much it cost, for both staff and players. In 1997 and 1999, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy considered it notable enough to mention as an example of a thriving commercial sector business. Therefore, this is a notable game and worth studying. Around in 1987, that year had 80 players and only 1 GM. Conditions were not brilliant for staff members- Hiyiros pointed out that anyone wanting a vacant GM position would need ‘the Wisdom of Solomon, the Patience of Job, and the dedication to poverty of St Francis’. For example, a GM got £70-80 a week- after working weekends. As an indication of the poor living conditions common in PBM, Hiyiros claims that the GMs of some games from the era were residential (living with the owner-manager): they were not paid enough to live independently. This was a fragile situation, so much that minimum wage legislation (paying people a decent wage) may have damaged some PBM companies, as they meant PBM companies had higher expenditure, one some simply could not cope with.

One Delenda player was Selyas, who joined at an unknown date and stayed right up to the very end. He recalls that another player, Cuthpawl, called him up on Cuthpawl’s wedding day. The game allowed a degree of player creativity, so it did not relying solely on the GM. The argument here is that PBM could become very in-depth, though could also incur extra expenses. To aid player research, Hiyiros had secured a deal with the Islamic bookshop Al-Hoda, shown in this image.

(In the original dissertation, the writing was perfectly clear.)

For example, Cuthpawl consulted Stanford Shaw’s History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey from 1991 by Cambridge University Press for determining how he would play, but Cuthpawl eventually chose to play the Kharijis. The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam describes the real-life Kharijites as a “populist” Islamic sect arising in revolt against Caliph Ali in 657 who declared all other Muslims apostates, thrived on the Arab racism in the Caliphate, and was actually less dangerous towards Christians and Jews than towards Muslims. Regarding the leadership of the Delenda ‘Hiyiros’ Kharijis, a discussion from 57 can explain: “My brothers, we Kharijis should follow the descendants of Akif Fazil. Only problem is, we killed them all!”

To clarify how possible creating all-new elements in PBM was, Cuthpawl said he recreated the Kharijites for World of Vengeance, which was a completely separate PBM. Cuthpawl also consulted a GCSE level textbook, which contained the Islamic call to prayer and rules on war (e.g. do not harm trees).More importantly, Do’s and Do Not’s in Islam gave much understanding of Islamic custom and Sharia Law, such as the forbidden Bai’al-Hasat random negotiation method and that it is permissible for Muslims to curse Kharijites. Therefore, a lot of research was down to players, making players as responsible as the GM to make the game authentic and at the same time enjoyable. Of course, it would also increase the costs if they actually bought the books and since Hiyiros specifically recommended a shop rather than a library, this indicates players indeed spent money on research.

Non-Delenda player and GM of other games (Knights of Avalon, Chronicle of Kings, and Serim Ral) Madoc claims that nobody did PBM for money. Also, PBMs were at the mercy of Post Office strikes. Nonetheless, Serim Ral had an international player base, including members of the military. Delenda had international players too, using CompuServe from 1991 onwards to help accommodate them for turn receipt and inter-player communication. Delenda asked English players not to use CompuServe to send turns as it created more work. Delenda imposed a 50p extra charge and asked overseas players to wait a week to get the game newsletter, The Eagles Cry.

As a demonstration of popularity, consider that PBM customer bases vary according to interest in the game, though En Garde!: Les Petites Bêtes Soyeuses by Paul Evans as stated had 50 players in In fact, it could be possible for some games to have too many players and disrupt capacity. Hiyiros claimed that some games around 1987 had 300 players and were therefore the ones who normally win PBM awards. In 1990, Delenda had 80 players, which resulted in the Delenda GMs having to make guidelines on when to make phone calls to avoid disrupting their social life. However, by 2001, the typical customer base was 10-15, and the amount of paper normally used to publish a book read by thousands had to be borne by those 10-15 people. Orleans En Garde! at the same time had 70 players, with a waiting list to join (15), while Dangerous Liaisons had 15-20 subscribers. In 2002, Pagoda said its next game of Godfather would accommodate up to 25 players. In 2004, Serim Ral OceanLords was able to accommodate up to 100 players. Regarding actual players rather than just capacity, Middle Earth managed the apparently extraordinary feat of 62 games with 25 players at game start. If each player were a separate person, this would be 1550 players. In this case, it is clear that some games had fewer than 100 players, but could accommodate much more.

Another point is that PBM had a degree of flexibility when humans oversaw the moderation, something that would have been lost if computers took over completely. Therefore, PBM would have lost an asset distinct from other media, reducing it to another type of computer game. In 2004, the Flagship writer “Globetrotter” wrote that when it came to game moderation, computers reduced flexibility- computers would not ‘fudge’ rules unless they were programmed to.This indicates that computers cannot allow one-off or unanticipated circumstances- they have a set way of doing things. Humans do not. Delenda had reported the quote, ‘The GM won’t allow X to get power- it would upset game balance.’ Yes, they would if X was clever and could con enough people, and they would be Player of the Year.However, according to Flagship 107’s (2004) Galactic View table, out of 161 games, the vast majority, 100, were computer moderated, like Rugby League Breakout and Australian Empires. Forty were mixed, like Lords of the Earth and Horses4Courses: Epsom. Twenty were human, like Diplomacy. Finally, Tatarka, a French game, was unknown. One human game was email only. Enterprise agrees and says that mixed moderation adds a human element while keeping a consistent structure, which adds more flavour and variety to a game.

Therefore, the human factor was an important part of PBM, at least to the founder of its leading magazine. PBM eventually moved on towards online gaming, which itself undermined it in a way. What tools were available to PBM in the 1990s if they wanted to use computers? This is relevant as 107’s Galactic View lists Total Conquest as an email-based fantasy wargame with computer moderation (and charging euros). However, Dave Harris’ article describes it as a free game for Flagship readers, as an online game played via a Java client. While this requires a large download and regular Internet connection to submit turns, the client handles most things. The client also allowed single-player. Multiplayer is more like a normal PBM turn-based strategy, with deadlines and turnaround (resulting in dropout). The article also makes another point, but first, Madoc’s interview content will be repeated- that PBM was at the mercy of the postal system and all its flaws. This had not changed. Dave Harris, the author of the Total Conquest article, commented, ‘No more worrying about our wonderful Post Office or errant emails.’ The quote suggests the postal system was unreliable- still- and emails could end up where they should not; therefore, the client handles everything and everything that was needed for the game stays in the game and nowhere else. What caused this to happen?

In 1991, The Guinness Book of Answers noted several items of interest. The highest byte measure was the megabyte. Under ‘supercomputer’ is mention of lasers, fibre optics, and light-operated switches, predicted to increase speed in the late 1990s. The Data Protection Act (1986) requiring UK users on nonmailing list databases to register to establish records, suggesting an increased awareness of the potential of electronic communication. IBM announced the Intel Chip 80686 and a machine using MSDOS and UNIX. It mentions bulletin boards (computer-linked databases for hiding messages and information) and electronic mail using either user’s screens or computer mailboxes (needing a code). Also, modems (using telephone lines or radio links) and Prestel (BT videotext information service for TVs and computers using phones) were available. In 1981, IBM developed the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet and the Word Perfect word processor. Then in 1984, Apple Macintosh used a mouse for clicking ‘ikons’. This all indicates that there was a predecessor to the true Internet and many possible tools to use.

However, by the end of the decade, the situation was different. As shown in the 1999 guidebook Get Online, emails could contain the equivalent of 100 A4 sheets of paper and be sent worldwide for the cost of a local phone call, with a main attraction of buying a computer being the Internet and one of the main attractions of that being fast electronic mail. Email could also carry attachments, including sound files (and viruses). Additionally, the programming language Java allowed animation on webpages, such as clocks and golf games (though again there is a chance of a malware attack via a ‘hostile applet’). Overall, PBM adapted to the new technology e.g. Java and email, but many games allowed a non-human to manage them, removing randomness and fudging, even if it allowed more reliability.

Overall, PBM was a thriving hobby, but rather expensive even if one did not plan to incur extra costs, and eventually lost its distinctiveness compared to other methods. What were the other methods?

Other media

This section goes over the other methods of gaming available to players in the period and provides a source for comparisons to PBM. One of the most prominent gaming companies is Games Workshop. Founded in 1975 by John Peake, Steve Jackson, and Ian Livingstone, this was originally a simple mail-order company run from the founders’ flat (albeit one with the exclusive rights for the distribution of Dungeons & Dragons in Europe), then after Peake left, Jackson and Livingstone’s office from the back of an estate agent, and finally from an actual shop. In 1988, Games Workshop stocked non-Warhammer products e.g. Talisman (find the Crown of Command), Dungeon Quest (get treasure), Rogue Trooper (set in 2000AD), and Chainsaw Warrior (60 minutes to save New York). Its actual Warhammer games were Fantasy Battle and 40,000. Fantasy Battle had factions like the High Elves, which included a sub-faction called the Sea Elves. 40,000 had the Space Marines, divided into Chapters like the Flesh Eaters, Ultramarines, Dark Angels, and Whitescars. Both Warhammers remain tabletop games, but even GW has ventured into the computer world with the game Warhammer 40,000: Rites of War. This game is about army management and very similar to the tabletop game. Another game is Final Liberation, which as the contents page demonstrates was simply an Imperium vs Orks game, the other factions only getting token coverage.

Regarding the analogue games, Warhammer 40,000 remained strong in 2004 and continued having an active and lively fanbase in 2007, some of whom are very vocal about their attitudes. This game is fluid and ongoing, with the tabletop game Warhammer lively and going strong today, even if the liveliness is not always positive and can easily become passionately dangerous. As evidence, consider the Matt Ward incident. This Games Workshop employee only managed ‘Hobby Selection’ in 2004. However, once Ward became a writer in 2007, he decided the Ultramarines were simply the best Space Marine Chapter (a supersoldier military force divided mainly into ‘Chapters’); other Marines are supposed to look up to their Primarch (founder) as their “spiritual liege.” This led to a major backlash against the Ultramarines and Ward (now also nicknamed “your/his spiritual liege”), with fans claiming that he made it seem that their Marine chapters were either desperate Ultramarine imitators or doomed yobs for not wanting to be Ultramarines. In 2004, the Ultramarines received a full-page spread in the rulebook, but other chapters had substantial coverage. The prime character was a Crimson Fist- so not an Ultramarine. Ultramarines were simply generic Marines, as shown in the Catalogue, when everyone except the Black Templars, Space Wolves, and Blood Angels are Ultramarines. Ward’s actions demonstrated the strong Warhammer community, one perhaps stronger than PBM’s and prepared to defend its interest against out-of-touch game designers trying to impose their will on the community.

Not only had tabletop gaming not declined but more people were entering the market. Infinity came out in 2005. It is another Sci-Fi tabletop game, but from Spain. Their manual however, comes from 2014. A cursory glance at the manual’s contents shows seven armies for players to use. Additionally, some people also just preferred live action to computer simulations. Dungeons and Dragons received an endorsement in 2006 from Conn and Hal Iggulden, the authors of The Dangerous Book For Boys (who also recommended Warhammer) where they even go into detail about the rules. The Igguldens appear to prefer tabletop RPG to computer games, as they say boys should not have the “corpse-like pallor of the computer programmer” (especially if they want meaningful interaction with girls), which would suggest they are opposed to excessive computer gaming.1 Again, more evidence of people, including prominent authors, preferring analogue methods, but not PBM. They did not even try advertising it to boys or anyone.

Another prominent gaming method was the gamebook, which experienced an interesting process of decline then resurrection within the period itself. A gamebook is a work of fiction that rather than simply say things like, ‘During holiday time, it was more open to outsiders, so Equona decided to see exactly what her Elf friend did,’ a gamebook will address the reader to make choices. For example, ‘If you want Equona to meet her Elf friend Mordred, knowing how dangerous that can be, turn to 123, or if she should go and visit Lady Raguel, turn to 87,’ and see the results of each choice. Jonathan Green differentiates gamebooks and simple interactive fiction by the necessity of additional mechanics, like dice rolling. These include ratings like SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK.100 Most importantly, gamebooks are just novels with an extra feature. The back cover of the Wizard series 1 (2002-2008) gamebooks like The Warlock of Firetop Mountain says, “‘Part story, part game‘, this is a book with a difference= one in which you become the hero! A pencil and an eraser are all you need to make your journey. YOU decide which route to take, which creatures to fight & which dangers to risk.” A gamebook is not complex in its nature- it is just a novel with multiple paths.

A sample again comes from Fighting Fantasy. Firstly, how do these work? What are these additional mechanics? In Stormslayer, the player, following the usual Fighting Fantasy rules, has to choose between visiting the city of Chalannabrad and travelling southwards to investigate the source of an Elemental attack on Vastarin. If they go to Chalannabrad, they soon become furious and frustrated at the High Council of Sorcerers, Spellcasters, and Sages for being stupid, obstructive, and awkward. If they go south, they end up near the Kingdom of Lendleland, a poorer and more dangerous kingdom. Gamebooks also have combat. An Undine Water Elemental has SKILL 7 STAMINA 7 and the player must roll dice against the Undine’s attributes and their own (the Undine being rather weak). This should be sufficient demonstration of how a gamebook works and how much complexity can fit into a small book.

Secondly, how did they decline and revive? According to Green, the fiftieth gamebook, Return to Firetop Mountain, was meant to end the series in 1992 by functioning as a sequel to the original gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. A 10th anniversary party had been planned, with guests like Roald Dahl, who thought interactive fiction was very powerful; this party being one of many publicity boosts for the series, something so big that the publishers, Puffin, decided to continue the series. By 1995 however, after the publication of Curse of the Mummy, Puffin was considering messing around with the series, shortening the books from 400 to 300 references and to include electronic dice. The overall argument is that Puffin simply disliked the series, the ‘posh types’ as author Paul Mason puts it and, that if they could not ruin it, they would just axe it. In 1997, Puffin told Green that his they would not publish his book Bloodbones and in 1999, full copyright returned to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Livingstone said that it was the wrong decision as there was still a strong market overseas, such as in France under the publisher Gallimard but Jamie Thomson believed that the whole gamebook genre was dead. Therefore, in 1999, the gamebook was over. By the end of the Puffin era, 17 million gamebooks were sold worldwide, 3 million of which were in France. Since there were 59 main books, this would be an average of around 288136 sales per book.

However, in 2001, Icon Books wanted to enter the children’s book market and eventually decided that Fighting Fantasy would be a good start, especially as Simon Flynn, the Publishing Manager, was a fan. Soon, Wizard Books began republishing the series. As a result, Wizard published The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 2002, with the only sign of its prior incarnation being a single sentence: ‘First published by the Penguin Group in 1982’. As well as republishing old gamebooks, Wizard permitted new material, accepting Ian Livingstone’s Eye of the Dragon in 2005 with the cover reading ‘BRAND NEW ADVENTURE’. Note however that Eye of the Dragon was based on Dicing With Dragons: An Introduction to Role-Playing Games (1982). Eventually, Bloodbones came out in 2006, with the same label, and containing a clue to its original planned publication date in the form of a copyright notice for a map of the Port of Crabs. From then on to 2012, four completely new adventures came out: Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, Night of the Necromancer, and Blood of the Zombies. As of now, the only new Fighting Fantasy book is YOU ARE THE HERO itself, but in the period discussed for the dissertation, the gamebook had a clear revival and new lease of life, unlike PBM it seems.

Steve Jackson also developed F.I.S.T., a play-by-phone game, the main difference being that the game was audio rather than text based. Jackson elaborates that such a thing needed good sound effects and worked by reading the clicks of a rotary dial.120 Green says that F.I.S.T. was a colossal success, noting that there were 5000 daily callers before the phone lines ‘went ballistic’. However, there is little evidence of any other telephone game beyond those of the creators of Fighting Fantasy. As shown below with computer games, new digital multiplayer methods were soon available, one involving more than just sound, so it is possible that play-by-phone was simply redundant.

Computer gaming is sometimes blamed for the demise of some analogue games, such as gamebooks and PBM. In Flagship 109 (2004), Carol Mulholland, the editor, writes how someone asked her in 1992, “What effect will technology have on the years ahead?” She replied, “Computers have already had an enormous effect on postal gaming and this is certain to continue. Similarly, computer software is easier to handle and more powerful so that a game designer can work more quickly than was possible in the past. Both the appearance and scope of these games seem to benefit from these advances.” The counter- question was whether computer games will totally replace PBM. Mulholland, “foolishly said modems would be too expensive for players and moderators, so these games would be used by big business for internal simulations. However, this has proved untrue and Flagship now had to expand its scope. In the 1990s, it was ‘the magazine of postal gaming.'” To consider why this happened, remember that contemporary technologies included electronic mail and modems (using telephone lines or radio links).

As well as adaptions like Final Liberation, there were computer games available based on original titles. Populous (the original ‘god-sim’ as Bullfrog puts it), allowed reasonable single-player gaming and (unlike what Mulholland thought) multiplayer games via a modem. Populous gave two ways to play with others. First is to connect with a “datalink”, which needs a modem, or via “voice mode”, which needs a modem. This process was by no means error free, with problems like the “Incompatible Landscape Error” or echoes from modems. Nevertheless, it seems this was tolerable enough for Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods to come out in 1995 and keeping the same methods. Populous: The Beginning came out in 1998, set in a fully 3D world. Bullfrog no longer exists, but some of the fanbase have tried making their own sequels, such as Populous: Reincarnated and Populous: Tribal Conquest. This suggests a massive impact for just one series, especially one that no longer exists.

However, several games are relevant when it comes to comparing computer gaming with PBM, with the PBM sample being Prometheus. Hunky Monkey Games, also known as HKM (Flagship’s code) made Prometheus in 2001. The tagline was ‘Starting with only a tiny settlement, build your empire through experimentation, research, settlement, and conquest.’ It had a two-week turnaround and the game went from the ancient to modern eras. However, Microsoft and Big Huge Games Inc. introduced Rise of Nations in 2003, 2 years later, with a similar premise, but on a computer- advancing through ages, doing research, etc. Similarly, the game Empire Earth also did exactly the same thing, and launched in 2001. In this way, computer games had begun to overtake PBM. Why spend two weeks waiting around to find out how badly one did when one can just do the same thing but quicker and correct one’s mistakes more easily? Nevertheless, the game was popular amongst the Flagship community and the game eventually ended for reasons other than finance (GM Tom Fyfe had no more time to run games). However, the Flagship community were just one group out of many. The overall conclusion is that while some media was of interest to certain groups, it was not enough with such sophisticated competition.

Regarding sales figures, Ian Livingstone described his gamebook adaption game Deathtrap Dungeon’s 500000 sales as a success, though admits that this is not true in comparison to Tomb Raider’s 7000000- a game that apparently helped the launch of the PlayStation and made Eidos the ‘darling’ of the City of London. This also shows a larger customer base than PBM and a much higher margin for success. Most PBMs do not have anything above 100, much less 1000 and are a success to get 50, and need continuous play to earn any real money. Computer games that sell 500000 are only debatably successful. Overall, there are four other types of media. So what happened to PBM?

Decline of PBM

Where have all the PBMs gone?

In 2004, Carol Mulholland wrote of the declining number of PBM games. The most obvious answer is that most gamers now played via email or the ‘web’, but both Flagship and this dissertation consider PBeM to be PBM. Email is cheaper and prevents orders being lost in the post. A possible factor for actual decline was a lack of new blood. While there have been some PBM firms lasting years like KJC, Madhouse, and Harlequin in the UK and Flying Buffalo in the US, there was a lack of completely new games or firms. Exceptions included Total Conquest and Empires, but the lack of new material still means that PBM had to shift from PBM to other methods. Mulholland agreed with turn-based strategy, as it was an obvious supplement (often covered by Colin Forbes), while tabletop roleplaying was how Mulholland entered gaming and links with RPG (which also got into Flagship, often covered by Lisa Fordham). Everyone has apparently played board games, and Paul Evans and Eric Ridley are experts. Globetrotter covered computer games and everyone enjoyed them apparently. Online gaming was covered less- perhaps it was too time consuming, but may be fun to read about. There were no regular wargame or sports games coverage, but articles were accepted. Mulholland speculates that turn-based gaming would continue, as it offers greater depth than other methods and are suitable for Internet play, as it is easier ‘to contact other players if everyone’s on email.’ Mulholland expected other games like MMORPGs to flourish, as they are ‘entrancing’ and room for crossovers between them and turn-based adventure. Regarding MMORPG’s player-killing problem (players attacking other players for nefarious reasons), PBM had already solved that. Virtual reality will solve that too. Mulholland thinks that all games will survive, even with simple minded journalists blaming gaming for everything, though a revival of religious fundamentalism would make gaming harder due to reduced imaginations. Overall, gaming would survive, but PBM’s time was ending, to be supplanted by new methods.

These are the key factors: new technology, expense, and lack of new material.

Technology

The argument regarding technology is that progress made PBM more difficult to sustain and that it created an atmosphere increasingly unsuitable for a gaming medium that takes a long time to do anything. As shown through the Book of Answers and Get Online, there were huge technological leaps from the 1980s to the end of this dissertation’s period. Emails could carry more content; games could be played on a browser using Java. As stated, both Flagship and this dissertation consider PBeM to be PBM, though for different reasons (Mulholland for convenience, this to make it consider things beyond a simple ’emails took over’), and as stated, many PBM games embraced new technology to become PBeM or in the case of Total Conquest, morphed into an entirely new entity. As stated in Chapter 2, analogue methods such as tabletop survived intact (e.g. both Warhammers) and that new games emerged using that method (e.g. Infinity). Gamebooks died and returned, with not only Fighting Fantasy but also new books. For example, the Doctor Who: Decide Your Destiny gamebook The Time Crocodile has the player travelling with the titular Doctor after wandering into the TARDIS and having to cooperate with the Doctor and Martha. So why did these games survive or even thrive on technical advances yet PBM reduced dramatically?

Tresca suggests that this was a natural evolution, ‘from postal to email, from email to web, from web to persistent browser games.’ Asynchronous multiplayer games originated with PBM, such as John Boardman’s running of Diplomacy in 1970. The direct successors of these were apparently bulletin board games, run via modem or computer bulletin boards in real time, by players dialling in, though at considerable cost. Tresca also suggests that play-by-post (another name for PBM) RPG then went into forums after the creation of the Internet and the World Wide Web. The overall conclusion is that bulletin board games are the next step in PBM evolution, after the tradition of MMORPGs and Computer RPGs. CRPGS are ‘in an endless race to take advantage of faster processors with more advanced graphics,’ whereas bulletin boards are simpler.’

Does this make sense? Certainly, Mulholland points to evolving technology, and many of the things Tresca suggested are covered- an evolution to email and web. It is also true that there were bulletin boards (computer-linked databases for holding messages and information). This seems fine and indirectly covers Fighting Fantasy’s transition from actual books to digital apps, a change so profound even Steve Jackson supported it. However, there are still plenty of surviving PBM games and at least 94 still supported postal play in 2016 (though that does not necessarily exclude other methods of communication). Nor does it explain tabletop gaming franchises like Warhammer 40,000 not being dominated by their computer games– they are still strong in their own right as seen in Chapter 2.

One claim is that PBM games should have received a boost from lowered costs, with email and computer programs being cheaper than employing someone to go through piles of paperwork and to send off a huge number of letters at regular intervals. However, not everyone was happy with the changeover and some simply preferred paper, running costs aside. The most important thing to remember is that PBM was a collection of small firms with a few larger ones, so not everyone had to do what others did. As early as 1986, Tony Bath said that he would prefer to sift through immense paperwork rather than use a computer, adding that while a computer can be a great aid, it can only do what the user asks it to do. Sam Roads of Harlequin Games and Paul Appleby wrote two letters to Flagship paired under the heading Problems with the Internet. Roads claimed that AOL’s spam filter was interfering with PBeM as it was overzealous in blocking malware and spam (the only solution being setting up a separate email account), while Appleby simply expressed a dislike of email and web-based gaming, especially with ‘ludicrous’ security measures in force. Therefore, some gamers were not enthusiastic about new technology and so were more likely to abandon PBM once PBeM dominated.

There was also the concern raised by Globetrotter that computers are too impersonal, in that, they do not permit special circumstances unless programmed to do so, and even these would not make these special then. However, it was enough for others, which is how computer gaming is now more prominent than PBM and used more- it may give less freedom, but it is easier, faster, and as discussed in the next section, cheaper, so PBM declining is partially down to retaining its strengths. Combined with this is creating new features of a game, with the example being Cuthpawl’ use of the Kharijites in Delenda and World of Vengeance. In fact, Cuthpawl elaborates in the interview that World of Vengeance demanded customisation by players, with Cuthpawl consulting a survival handbook for blueprints to various equipment. He could add anything he liked to the game provided he could justify it. Cuthpawl said that the game Age of Lords is boring compared to PBM, the implied meaning being that it allows less multiplayer scheming, as a PBM would have allowed more interaction with the enemy faction La Legion Francaise. However, another issue with Age of Lords and many other games is that customisation is limited. As shown on their website, at least one feature is fixed- troop types. Even if it would be inappropriate to have cavalry called Templars (e.g. the faction calls itself Kharijites), they have to have them. All computer games have this as a problem- the rules are circumstances that are only what the programmers anticipate (or what players discover if there are bugs), whereas analogue games are always not fixed. Warhammer has always allowed leeway in the rules. In 1988, Warhammer Armies suggested that Fantasy players could create their own units, negotiate hero rules, and do anything provided all players agreed. In 2008, the core Warhammer 40,000 Rulebook stated outright that the rules did not matter that much, that players could invent their own house rules (e.g. anyone who misses the table when throwing a die fails the roll), create new factions, and even new miniatures (helped by the fact Warhammer miniatures are painted by the player). There is perhaps also the fact that GW cannot control player activity in private games, only tournaments. If players dislike or even hate a game designer like Matt Ward (which, as highlighted in Chapter 2, they did), then they can pretend he (or she) never influenced the game. This does not apply to computer games. Some games are moddable, like Rome: Total War, as shown by the modified game Europa Barbarorum. Even that game has the same problem- the modders fix the rules. Combine this with that some people just did not like the new technology and there is a clear indication that new technology did not help, with reduced running costs being too hard a bargain.

There is also the question whether a PBM firm would need to upgrade or whether it would be worth it. Whatever the results, the claim that technology should have cheapened running costs is unsustainable, as it clearly did not. First, usage of computers and the Internet automatically opens the firm to malware. On another level, the entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne highlighted several key issues when it comes to technology. Bannatyne claims that is important for businesses to anticipate change, giving examples like small family hotels suffering, as they did not have an online presence, and Marks & Spencer, which did not accept credit cards in the 1990s, so suffered. However, change costs money, so businesses should think carefully about whether to invest in it. It is better to imagine technical effects on customers than the business, but the problem is that any upgrade will lead to old assets becoming redundant and retraining required. Since trends can constantly change (Bannatyne Fitness having to cope over 15 years with changes from yoga to Zumba). However, whatever the change, it is not just about acquiring new equipment but informing staff and customers, which will lead to glitches. Meanwhile, some companies refuse to take on new technology and they suffer in profits. As shown above, the answer is that some PBM firms decided to upgrade and some did not. The third section of this chapter shows that there was a decline of games and it is clear that some refused to change and suffered.

There is also the question of how far PBM could go. PBM requires post. PBeM requires email. However, some games required specific software. This means some PBM games, rather than be accessible to anyone with Internet connection or a regular postal service, became as restrictive as computer gaming. The game Neutral Zone used Windows based software in 2004. In 2002, there is an advert asking for playtesters for On Stellar Seas that needs ‘MS Windows or emulator’. Interestingly, the former was around in 2002 and in 2004, whereas the latter did not appear in 109’s Galactic View. Both of these imply that if one uses another operating system, one could not play the game. Meanwhile, Massive Assault Network, described by Mark Gordon as the future of the hobby (turn-based, client software, takes 10 minutes a day), but this requires downloading of software and so cannot be played everywhere, only where it is installed (so no more playing at work). On a lesser note, Austerlitz did not require software just to play it, but did require Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Works, or Lotus 1-2-3 if one needed a spreadsheet to help with complicated calculations.

Cuthpawl suggested in the interview that growing impatience in society might also have influenced PBM and this links to technology by assessing waiting times. It is true that there are reports of growing impatience in society. A study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project (specialists in science and technology research) found that many under-35s, such as the barista Melissa Francis, get impatient easily with computer loading times, buy passes to skip Disney World queues, or even go straight to Netflix rather than wait for movies to download, like Cambridge graduate Valla Fatemi. In 2014, a technology site added that the millennial generation is too used to being the centre of attention and to getting things done fast with technology, like booking taxis and making payments, so speed is a necessity and not even Internet page loading can be too slow. Also, PBMs must be turn-based and therefore cannot perform fluid actions; whereas other media can or at least perform the turns relatively quickly (i.e. a tabletop game does not normally take months to play except for the 18-month one Jafl once played), with Jafl suggesting that such conditions may be putting potential new players off. It seems Cuthpawl’s statement has basis in fact.

Ultimately, perhaps looking at the other factors will shed more light.

Expense

(Again, this was legible in the original dissertation)

The argument here is that PBM was too precarious a market to work effectively in compared to other gaming media and too niche. According to Madoc, nobody was in PBM to make a profit. In the 1990s when he was a GM, a turn could cost £1+ 10 orders, with orders 10p each. Combine that with the cost of post (1st class 19-22p) and the danger of postal strikes: even 1990s PBM was in a precarious position. In addition, any dropouts would mean less income.166 According to The Eagle’s Cry 54, Delenda turn fees in 1990 earned £8562, while other income earned £477, totalling £8979. Expenditure equalled £8119, which included wage (£461), conventions and meets (£251), National Insurance (£474), and WWF donations (£246). Profit was £860 and labelled as “wages for [REDACTED],” though if that was the case, does that mean they did not get the initial wages despite being GMs or are these bonuses? Not accounted for are the products Speculate! and Trivia, though the sale of Trivia helped Delenda by funding a new computer and printer. Otherwise, they would have had to raise fees.

According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, which gives approximate estimates of the value of the pound sterling from 1750 to 2015 (at time of usage), the Delenda profit was £1763.21 in 2016 money, with the income being £18409.20 and the expenditure being £16645.98.168 Even the total income without anything subtracted would not be enough to go over the 2015 Student Loan Company repayment threshold of £21000.169 In 2003, the computer games company Firefly Studios made £467729 profit, a sum equivalent to £678,638.68 today,170 much more for a company who had started submitting documents to Companies House 2 years before. A computer gaming start-up managed to earn nearly 26 more than a famous PBM firm in one year. Waveny games may have been small, but it was typical. In addition, as profits were taken as a salary rather than money for reinvestment, this would suggest that Delenda technically did not make a profit at all according to the entrepreneur and investor James Caan.

This matches with what Madoc said. Also, note that Mulholland said that Internet technology was cheaper. Hiyiros suggested that minimum wage legislation might have damaged some PBM companies, as they had to pay the GMs more. As stated above, GMs were often paid little and many lived residentially with the boss- some Delenda GMs lived in the owner’s house. Hiyiros adds that the cost of hardware was also problematic: when Delenda upgraded to 2 GMs, this needed 2 computers. This was still before the dissertation’s period.

By the time of the period, as shown by Mulholland’s article, PBM had some serious competition and while gaming methods were by no means mutually exclusive, there were increasingly fewer PBMs. Selyas thinks PBM is used less because of cost issues and that it is not profitable. Additionally, PBM was not always sustainable and even named companies like Hunky Monkey Games may become subordinate to other jobs. To highlight this, Patrick Gleeson wrote in following a rather nasty set of comments by Patrick Thornhill in 92, saying that Thornhill had damaged his case (something about new game startups) by going straight to Flagship to complain and not going straight to the GM. Apparently, the HKM GM (apparently ‘unfailingly polite and professional’) had started a ‘real’ job and so would not be able to start a new game until a game of Karadon had finished.

Another issue is that most PBMs were small business where most bosses needed existing jobs for support. As already stated, Danny McConnell of Ab Initio Games warned anyone planning to enter the PBM business not to give up their day job unless the PBM is very successful and the job is obstructing the game rather than the opposite. Hiyiros notes that she had two babies at once, giving her less time to be involved in Delenda– but being a GM was ideal job to run from home, with many female GMs. In the 1990s, women were not necessarily financially independent or considered by salesmen to be able to make big financial decisions without their husband’s input (though the husband was confident in Hiyiros’ abilities so would not conform to bigoted salesmen’s demands to speak to him instead).

McConnell notes that there were two types of ‘GMing’, professional and hobbyist, with hobbyists being cheaper and more flexible (as they’re doing it to fill up spare time rather than run a business), but less regular than professionals as they had a regular job to do, whereas professionals did not. McConnell’s viewpoint has supporters from outside the PBM industry. James Caan says that while there is such a thing as a commercial hobby, such as small online antique businesses, giving up a day job to focus on that fully is suicidal.An enjoyable activity will soon turn ‘sour’ once one becomes dependant on the ‘relatively meagre earnings’ to play off a mortgage.Ultimately, Caan says that if one can turn their lifestyle into a business, then they should go ahead, but not expect to become a multimillionaire or they will set themselves unattainable goals thanks to unrealistic expectations.Therefore, most PBM companies were people doing something for the art rather than expecting to make lots of money and had existing work commitments, which could interfere with gaming.

An issue to consider is that other competitors like tabletop roleplaying firms had greater resources than most PBM games, and worked on them in a non-causal manner. Meanwhile, PBM had vastly smaller profits in comparison. It could not bring out too many new products as PBM firms actually had to run their games for their games to continue to exist, and had to cover its costs with a much smaller customer base. For example, TSR was earning $10 million annually since 1981 according to a 1993 encyclopedia, thanks to it producing accessory material, something essential to prevent a company failing. By 1999, TSR had produced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which supplemented Dungeons & Dragons, and used its base rulebooks as gateway material, so keeping up sales and avoiding bankruptcy.

Another significant issue was that PBM was more expensive than the competition with a much smaller market. As a result, other methods undercut PBM. By its very nature, PBM’s prices have to reflect the very limited customer base, so players had to do more work to play than other games. As seen, other formats had much greater customers per product. A letter in Flagship 93 highlighted the issue of turn fees. Chris Morris points out that while PBM can often produce as much content and paperwork as a book, books are mass market and the costs of production are not compensated for by 10-15 people.

Meanwhile, the inside cover for the XPlosive edition of the PC game Blitzkrieg in 2003 promotes several other games amongst ‘over one hundred titles’ that all cost ‘from £4.99’, such as Freelancer and American Conquest. The only other costs would be electricity and Internet connection if using multiplayer. This is cheap compared to PBM, where even starting the game and acquiring the rulebook- simply trying to see what the fuss is about- can cost more (there are more games in Flagship 108’s Galactic View with start-ups costing more than £4.99 than less) and there is of course the additional turn fees. In other words, PBM cost much more than computer gaming generally- and yet some still considered it too cheap. Chris Miller added that most gamers go for low cost games due to budget constraints. Note also that due to the customisation features as shown in Chapter 2 in PBM, and the amount of research involved, there were more likely to be greater sums of money spend on third-party material. On top of that, customisation leads to player responsibility in ensuring material is suitable, something computer games & gamebooks do not have to do

Lack of new material

Another factor is that PBM gaming declined due to there simply was not that much enthusiasm for a low profit business venture. Compared to PBM, other games had more material and therefore a lot more available. As stated before, Flagship had to expand to keep up its size. The above factors may link into this- if it is near impossible to make a decent profit and there are other methods of gaming available, then PBM may not have been as attractive to entrepreneurs and so remained solely amongst hobbyists (covered below). Therefore, PBM was stuck with whatever was already there most of the time. That is not to say that there were no new releases- quite the opposite. For example, the firm Agema placed an ad in Flagship advertising The Thumping of Ground 8, a new Sci-Fi wargame in 2002. This required actual post to enter and get a £5 rulebook, had £6 turn price, and a 3-week turnaround. It allowed many types of positions, like pirates and IRS inspectors. The game was still going in 2004, with 109’s Galactic View listing it with no price changes and revealing it to be email playable.

Similarly, Prometheus was released around the same time major computer game companies were releasing similar games like Rise of Nations and Empire Earth. In fact, a lot of the material mentioned above can just as easily apply here. Even when new material did emerge, that did not necessarily save the genre. Also, note that some PBM games were finite- they ran for a certain period then ended. If there was no replacement, then PBM has lost a game completely. For example, Allan Stagg notes that HKM’s Kings of Karadon’s fourth game just ended. It appears games 2 and 3 remained as open-ended, but 4 did not. Confirmation that Kings of Karadon ended comes from 100’s Galactic View, which does not mention the game. However, Prometheus and Hunky Monkey Games‘ final demise was not due to money, but because the GM, Tom Fyfe, no longer had time to run the business, so neither the game nor the business lasted until 2004. Two things stand out. First, some PBM ideas were similar to other media.

Second, the sources of ideas, people, may simply no longer have been available. This shortfall has also happened with non-PBM companies. 3DO filed for bankruptcy after lacklustre sales and its high profile project Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was abandoned, while Electronic Arts was in serious trouble as all it was doing in 2002 was publishing sequels and spin-offs (the only original title was Command & Conquer: Generals, which Globetrotter points out could itself be just a sequel). As it happened, Electronic Arts did create a new game, The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle Earth, so by 2004 had avoided the danger Globetrotter had highlighted- at the very least, it survived.

If one compares the Galactic Views of 93 and 107, one notices that there are substantially fewer PBM games available: 208 vs 165 (approximately), while the former’s Galactic View took up 2 pages, the latter’s one. This is outright confirmation that there was a lack of new PBM games. Meanwhile, 93’s has an additions and deletions guide, informing the player that one game, Polaris, is out, and that seven more are in: Delon En Garde!, King & Cardinal En Garde!, Moonbiter, Orc En Garde!, Slumbers En Garde!, Time of Honour En Garde, and 1914. It is interesting that out of these seven additions, five are variants of the same game– if only counted as En Garde!, then there were only three real new releases.

Nevertheless, there was still new material that Flagship could work with. With 107 though, there was no guide- if readers wanted numbers, they would have to do it themselves. Note that 100’s Galactic View had 292 games, with one game out (Horse Riding) and another in (Destiny), and had a guide informing readers on game numbers and changes. Therefore, numbers went from 208-292-161, mirrored by guide-guide-no guide. This means that there genuinely was a shortfall of games. If the magazine dedicated to PBM had to go outside PBM to make up the deficit, then this was not a good sign.

Overall, there is clear, solid proof that whatever the reasons, less people were involved in PBM and so the claim that there was not enough material to compete is sustainable

Conclusion

It is clear from various sources that PBM is still around and this chapter explains why before finally concluding the dissertation.

The following is a good analogy for PBM. When writing a manual for Windows 8.1 in 2013, David Pogue spoke about the command prompt program. This existed pre-Windows, with the big Windows breakthrough being the graphical user interface (GUI). ‘Many non-geeks sighed with relief, delighted that they’d never have to memorise hundreds of commands again.’ Nonetheless, Windows retains the command line, with universities and corporations ‘appreciating the efficiency and power direct computer control afforded them.’ Its use is unlikely, but possible as it is faster and more efficient than GUIs. Some commands only exist in the command line- ping and netstat. Overall, this is a method of computing that is not as prominent, but is still around and is in some ways better than technological improvements, but is just too hard for the mainstream.

Some PBM games look like a command prompt, with Star Fleet Warlord’s map, order sheet, and turn sheet (in 2013) being monochrome drawings, lines to give orders, and responses in code. In 2004, a GameSpot user called armyman_22 asked if gamers overrated graphics and got many responses to his claims that graphics, while not the most important aspect of a game, can still affect quality. ‘… Gamers have a certain expectation. When those expectations are not filled, consumers may feel duped. Texture problems; pop up, shading, collision detection, and… design can… ruin the experience…..’ Also, Enterprise feels that many games focus on visual effects, but this can cause depth and complexity to be sacrificed (which is similar to the command line analogy). Therefore, this is a gaming method that is lines of text vs one that is anything but that, in an age where customers increasingly want more. Still, even if a majority want good graphics, whether a game or a graphical user interface, some people will still stick to lines of text, whether a game or a command line. Some of these issues are discussed below

In 2016, there were several PBM websites available, such as Shadow Island Games, which kept a list of PBM games. Some are dead; others are live. In December 2016, there were 2161 games, with 633 dead. In addition, the links show the numbers of certain types of games– human moderation being almost three times more common than computer or mixed moderation combined, while there were a few German, French, and Spanish language games, and with more games added in November and December, such as Eden Fleet. The overwhelming use of pure human moderation shows that the classic PBM described at the start of the dissertation has revived. Meanwhile, PlayByMail.Net – PBM Gaming HQ serves as a forum and promotion site. The forum was still in use by 2016, with 587 users on March 15 being the most ever online at one time. The site also has an index of Flagship back issues, last updated in 2013, showing somebody had an interest in Flagship and had many issues to upload. The same issues were first uploaded onto Flagship’s website, which appeared to have been inactive since 2011; the last post asking for material for 131, while the last issue was 130, indicating Flagship ended around 2011 with 130.

There have been some other alleged PBM continuation methods. In 2004, Colin Forbes, beginning with the quote, “If I could have a pound for every time I have heard someone say ‘PBM is dead’ then I would be a very rich man,” analysed several web-based turn-based games and said that these count as PBM, especially as most players use email anyway. Examples included Eressea (German, free, 1700 players after 6 years and growing) and Fatdog Exchange (free or $5 monthly for premium), amongst 16.228 Therefore, any games out there that fit this description can be described as a PBM, even if it does not describe itself that way.

Nonetheless, it is not well known- the public opinion website YouGov records many activities wargamers play: e.g. video games, board games, Warhammer 40,000, and snorkelling, but not PBM (the page does not exist at the time of writing). Still, the hobby continues today, and though it is harder to use than other means, it is still viable.

It is clear that while PBM is not dead, the overall use of it as a method has declined in popularity since the last century. Whereas other gaming methods had the support of large companies, PBM was mostly small businesses who were extremely vulnerable even when PBM was strong. Perhaps computer-based PBMs stripped PBM of its human element. The key factor in decline was expense, as it allowed alternatives to become more economical, especially as computer-moderated PBeM ended up similar to computer games anyway, even down to having system requirements and so effectively made themselves obsolete. Therefore, it has gone from being the key multiplayer game method to being unknown and without major publicity is likely to stay that way. Since The Dangerous Book For Boys highlighted tabletop and computer games, yet not PBM just two years after the Flagships used as primary sources came out, this is unlikely. Regarding the other methods, tabletop gaming is a key alternative to computer gaming, as one that does not require staring at a screen, and authorities like the Igguldens recommend it as a healthier and more impressive alternative. It is more flexible than computing, and does not normally take a long time to play. Gamebooks are not a major commitment, just something to read and can be adapted for digital apps with the full approval of Steve Jackson. Of course, this would make it a form of digital gaming, but that seems to be the way things are going. Even tabletop games like Warhammer have computer adaptions, so computer gaming is the method of the future, as long as there is enough electricity to keep it going, though analogue methods will survive and keep going, even PBM.

Appendix

These are the notes from the interviews:

22/10/2016: Hiyiros : First GMs residential- not paid enough to live properly. One lived with their mother. Minimum wage legislation may have damaged some PBM companies. Cost of hardware also problematic. 2 GMs= 2 computers. Computer costs reduced- Moore’s Law in reverse. Some used Ataris and Amigas- Global Supremacy ran on non-PCs. PCs originally a box connected to a TV. Hex map almost as big as a person. [REDACTED]= first GM marrying a player. The two best men were [REDACTED] (player) and [REDACTED] (ex-GM). Frequent abuse & complaints in PBM. Hiyiros had two babies at once- less time involved- but ideal job to run from home- therefore many female GMs. Also wanting a mental challenge- from office to home, so less social contacts. Still a period where most salesmen talk direct to husbands- less financially independent women. After stopped working, got cavity wall insulation, salesman demanded husband makes the financial decisions. Did see Hiyiros alone, but the husband had returned and salesman tried engaging the husband, but got ignored- he knew Hiyiros could manage. Not the best builder anyway. PBM creates respect- important in 1980s/1990s. Met the husband via board games. Leaving work- played there- challenge to not get brain dead, so start a business- jobs & intelligence. Creative games wanted- power games demanding political strength and RPGs. Tribes of Crane. Simulator RPG. Delenda started medieval- Jerusalem, but an early player liked the Ottoman Empire, but early players liked Ottomans, a better decision. First British PBM Convention 1986. {No written notes} Diplomacy was adaptable for PBM as the board game required long negotiations. These negotiations could take hours, resulting in the game taking ages. Since PBM takes a long time to play, it was a perfect medium to play a full Diplomacy game with the technology of the 1970s.

Madoc: GM of Knights of Avalon, Chronicle of Kings, and Serim Ral. Convention. Nobody worked and claimed benefits. Don’t run to make money. Turn £1+ 10 orders, orders 10p. Payment, staff, and willingness. Online gaming– no money to run for a profit. Cost of post and danger of postal strikes: 1st class 19-22p. Dropouts: less money, more turns, lower income. 1990- Keys of Madoc had a program cock-up. Generate spells by combining gemstones, but misunderstanding led to large numbers of spells giving spells. Flagship quarterly, PBM Scroll more often. Needed adverts. Serim Ral International had military players- unknown if there were prisoners, but possible. Prisoners smuggling secret messages. Diplos original messaging system, but CompuServe led to more Internet use. Possibility of sockpuppetry- transfer resources- need action to stop cheats. Star Trek & other sci-fi impact led to other PBM genres. Star Trek & Doctor Who biggest sci-fi. Blake’s 7 not repeated. Fantasy- Tolkien & Dune– limited source material. {No written notes} One PBM company failed when they lost the hard drive- they were ‘fucked’. He said Flagship had declined since it stopped focusing mainly on PBM and it was amazing it lasted until 2010.

Selyas: Joined Delenda at an unknown date. Knew Cuthpawl- called up during wedding for diplomacy. Reason for leaving- games shutting down anyway. Still plays En Garde! LPBS once, Retains many Delenda material. Played du Main family- Selyan nobles. Thinks PBM is used less- cost issues and not profitable. Slower than Internet. {No written notes} Agrees that it could be possible to novelise Delenda.

This comes from a different session: 23/12/2016:

Cuthpawl: First started in PBM with KJC Games with Earthwood. KJC based in Lancashire- professionals with several games. Earthwood computerised fantasy- city building, conquest, recruitment. Last player wins. Delenda finished in 1997 for 8 years. Waveny Games run by GM, the husband, and one assistant. World of Vengeance on & off. Used Kharijis for Delenda first, then World of Vengeance. Last PBM in 2006-2007, with Gunboat Diplomacy (nothing to do with Diplomacy). Developed a Roman game taken over, but only done for fun. This is common- not everyone is in it for money, but payment is required to be taken seriously. Research- World of Vengeance used atlases and historical books. Military, warfare, fantasy books. Delenda– Islamic, Wiccan, occult. Al-Hoda was Charing Cross station bookshop. Claimed not to have heard of Kharijis, but they had a book. The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were, SAS Survival Handbook (for World of Vengeance), History of the Ottomans (Delenda), and Usborne Roman books. Knights & Castles for computer games, but could have been used for Delenda. Warhammer used for fantasy warfare games. Boris Vajello- famous artist popped up and could have been used in PBM. Age of Lords boring compared to average PBM- doesn’t compare. But it’s there. In a PBM, they’d have researched La Legion Francaise and contacted them. Have never been to bosses’ house. Did for Delenda, but others were rarer. Ranks form amateur handwriting to glossy, laminated printouts. Doesn’t know about computers affecting running costs, but cheaper made often worse. Maximum Delenda players estimate- 50+. Biggest PBM- Tribes of Crane– hundreds. Mid 1990s. Preferred PBM due to presence of players- much time to plot. Can tolerate real-time strategy. Preferred original Populous– can’t remember why he chose it. Elite had a reputation- same for Delenda and slightly with World of Vengeance, with players actively recruiting. Elite could have been a PBM, everyone in different roles. Theme Hospital free and Red Baron someone else’s decision. Never did play-by-phone, tabletop, card, or gamebooks. Bought Fighting Fantasy to educate son in 2002 but never realised how old it was. Market size- lots of games advertised, lot of games though exact size impossible. Some ended when GM realised how hard it actually was. Intercompany competition not sure, but Serim Ral had multiple companies. PBM- game using post where GM sends out rulebooks, maps. Player sends turn to GM who moderates & returns. Sports another breed. No golf- newspapers for fantasy game in mainstream- golf probably impossible. Computer games need onscreen graphics, PBM imagination. Modern computer players different to PBM & worse. PBM not always concerned about winning now- long vs short. Modern wants it yesterday, PBM waits a long time. Hard core- small scale community. Computer gaming too big. Computer gamers terrified by Internet blackout, PBM just waits for postal strikes to end. Postal reputation- 1980s good, 2007 good, 2016, not so good. Good game called Post Office run into the ground. Non-gaming friends & colleagues aware of PBM and he often researches & able to understand more, like the Kharijites. Could jump straight back into Delenda immediately- even after 38 years have passed- new position. Could be adapted- World of Vengeance good or TV & film (apocalyptic), Delenda (religion). To interested parties- played fanatics & Assyrians- so why should he care? As for reputation, that’s their opinion, but he’s a role-player could do worse. Mouse based torture. Co-workers already know. Have I roleplayed the interview? I could be dismissive or upset by them. Computer games can’t RPGs, can. Take an individual- lie detector & questions. Ask about life. the role-player main character asked the same. The role-player is still telling the truth. Cuthpawl killed anybody? No. Rab-Shakeh? Yes & I enjoyed every minute of it. Multiple personalities. Also no place in Delenda Est Carthago called Carthage. SAS book for blueprints.

  • Hindley, J. (1993). The Time Traveller Book of Knights and Castles. London: Usborne Publishing Ltd
  • Marks, A. & Tingay, G. (1990). The Romans. London: Usborne Publishing Ltd
  • Millard, A. (1987). Ancient Rome. London: Usborne Publishing Ltd
  • Page, M. & Ingpen, R (1985). Encyclopaedia of Things That Never Were: Creatures, Places, and People. Limpsfield: Book Club Associates, Dragon World Limited
  • Priestley, R. (1988). Warhammer Siege. Nottingham: Games Workshop Ltd • Shaw, S. (1991). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Stillman, N., Priestley, R., Cornell, M., Halliwell, R., & Ansell, B. (1988). Warhammer Armies. Games Workshop Ltd: Nottingham • Vallejo, B. (1985). Fantasy Art Techniques. Limpsfield: Dragon World Limited
  • Wiseman, J. (1986). The SAS Survival Handbook. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd

Further, Cuthpawl undertook a similar questionnaire to Enterprise earlier (which is how he got involved with the ethics committee). The full questions are below, but Cuthpawl’s answers indicate that he started in 1985 to play games at the age of 31. It was his standard gaming method. PBM & PBeM are equally good. The longest he spent in one game is 5 years and he feels that mixed moderation is best. Regarding similarity to other media, he feels that other games lack human moderation. Web-based turnbased strategy are PBM. PBM is best for strategy, roleplaying, power, war, and city-building/economic games. It’s worst for sports games. He no longer plays PBM and thinks the reasons it is used less is running costs and growing impatience in society, with players not willing to wait so long between turns. {No written notes} Played the game Winterworld where he played a policeman who tortured suspects, sometimes using a rat down the subject’s ear. The Eagle’s Cry not always regular. No longer plays Age of Lords as it is too much like work- get up to put up Shield, get on computer after 12 hours to carry out task. Much less flexible game anyway. SAS book for creating blueprints for various items, like a shelter or trap. Also designed blueprints for golf club & ball missile weapons.

  • Coulson, N.J. (1991). A History of Islamic Law. Wiltshire: Redwood Press Ltd
  • Dedeoğlu, A. (1982). The Ottomans. Istanbul: Osmanli Publishing House • Glassé, C. (1989). The Concise Encyclopaedia of Islam. London: Stacey International
  • Hitti, P.K. (1970). History of the Arabs tenth edition. Hampshire: Macmillan Education Ltd
  • Kendrick, R. (1990). Islam. Oxford: Heinemann Education • Pickthall, M.M. (1930 [first printing by different publisher]) The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an. Suffolk: Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd (printer)
  • S.A.A (1988). Towards Understanding of the Qur’an Volume I Surahs 1-3. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation
  • Mawdudi, S.A.A (1989). Towards Understanding of the Qur’an Volume II Surahs 4-6. Leicester: The Islamic Foundation
  • Nigosian, S. (1987). Islam: The Way of Submission. Great Britain: The Aquarian Press
  • Shad, A.R. (1990). Do’s and Do Not’s in Islam. Delhi: Adam Publishers
  • Schacht, J. (1986). An Introduction to Islamic Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Shaw, J.S. (1991). History of the Ottoman Empire: 1280-1808. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Enterprise & Jafl

Around what years did you start gaming via play-by-mail? 1970 or so. 1981.

Why did you choose PBM? Wanted a multiplayer experience and PBM was the only real method at the time ;Wanted a multiplayer experience that was not a MMORPG or similar ;Other: Liked the games on offer Other: Wanted a game with a lot more people than just my friends. {Other answers included Wanted to meet people}

How old were you when you first started? 20. 16.

Is/Was PBM your standard gaming method (most likely to use)? Yes. Yes.

What was your average yearly income when you first started? Below £5000. Question deleted.

For those with experience in both standard PBM and PBeM, which do you find better? Play-by-email. Both equal.

Regarding length of game participation, what was the longest amount of time you spent playing one PBM game? Do you mean total duration? Perhaps 2 years. 20 years.

Do you prefer computer or human moderation? Mixed – I like a structured game, but some human element to add flavour and variety. Computer. {Other answers included Computer, Human, Don’t know/don’t care}

How similar to PBMs you’ve played/are playing are games in other media (e.g. tabletop, computer, card, etc)? Similar to some, but the depth and complexity of moderation by the computer tended to be much greater. Nowadays, PC computer games are of course comparable, but they tend to focus more on visual effects. I once played one huge tabletop game that took 18 months of real time, that’s a lot harder to organize than the equivalent PBM!

Would you consider web-based turn-based strategy games PBM? Yes. Yes.

What sort of games are PBM best for? Strategy; Role-playing; Power; Wargaming. Strategy; Power; Wargaming; Really long board games; City-building/economic.

What sort of games are PBM worst for? Really long board games; City-building/economic. Role-playing.

Do you still play PBM? No, just PBEM. Yes.

What do you think are the reasons PBM is now used less?

Other: PBEM – a clearly superior replacement allowing exactly the same games more conveniently.. Growing impatience in society- players not willing to wait a long time between turns {Other answers include: Internet gaming (does not include PBeM, but does include all web-based games), Amount of writing required}

This is the article from Flagship 109. 109 is not available online.

(Yes, once again, this was readable originally.)

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