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Discussion on Future PBEM Style Gaming
#21
(03-10-2019, 11:53 AM)unclemike Wrote: Maybe this was missed but the account sign up page has links for what you were asking above...(see pic)

Didn't miss that, but all it does is link back to the service level page, which has lots of information but nowhere I can actually modify my service level or sign up for payment.  There is an indication that accounts are serviced using PayPal, but nothing beyond that.

How do I actually set this up?
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#22
(03-10-2019, 12:32 PM)mwigdahl Wrote:
(03-10-2019, 11:53 AM)unclemike Wrote: Maybe this was missed but the account sign up page has links for what you were asking above...(see pic)

Didn't miss that, but all it does is link back to the service level page, which has lots of information but nowhere I can actually modify my service level or sign up for payment.  There is an indication that accounts are serviced using PayPal, but nothing beyond that.

How do I actually set this up?

I have to admit that I have now been playing for 2 years and I do not know how I would go about increasing my service, decreasing it, canceling, etc... I just figured I would have to send an Email to Support for each. Having this automated would absolutely be a big step.
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#23
(03-10-2019, 12:43 PM)Calidor Wrote:
(03-10-2019, 12:32 PM)mwigdahl Wrote:
(03-10-2019, 11:53 AM)unclemike Wrote: Maybe this was missed but the account sign up page has links for what you were asking above...(see pic)

Didn't miss that, but all it does is link back to the service level page, which has lots of information but nowhere I can actually modify my service level or sign up for payment.  There is an indication that accounts are serviced using PayPal, but nothing beyond that.

How do I actually set this up?

I have to admit that I have now been playing for 2 years and I do not know how I would go about increasing my service, decreasing it, canceling, etc...  I just figured I would have to send an Email to Support for each.  Having this automated would absolutely be a big step.
My service level goes up and down all the time based on number of games/kingdoms I am currently playing.   Admin takes care of the.
For starting I believe signup and when you start a game that requires a service level/fee to pay the bill will come.
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#24
Thanks M Wigdahl (and all who have posted) for that thoughtful post.  All points on target and well taken.

Yes, I agree with what was written.  But the question remains, how do we get those groups of players even after we have a polished message on how great Alamaze is?

Back in the day, it was relatively easy.  There was Flagship, Paper Mayhem, White Wolf, and smaller mags dedicated to the hobby.  I advertised in all of them, they all gave Alamaze their Game of the Year Award, some more than once.  We had regular press, as in about every issue, in Paper Mayhem and Flagship.  I met the Paper Mayhem publisher David Weber in person (shortly before he died), and spoke on the phone with Flagship editor Nicky Palmer several times.  Michael Gray was the game designer for the also Game of the Year Award winner Shogun (board game by MB, successor to Axis and Allies) at Origins when Alamaze won the Origins and GAMA Game of the Year, and it was Michael that wrote that Dragon Magazine review everyone seems to know about.  At that convention I also met Sid Meier who was winning for Pirates in the computer game category, and is best known for the outstanding Civilization series.  He later astutely labeled Alamaze "An Electronic Board Game", which I agree with.  And unlike getting bogged down in constant rules references when actually playing complicated Avalon Hill or SSI wargames, Alamaze handled all the calculations. 

While I admit the GSI game Earthwood was my introduction to PBM, and my inspiration as in, "I had no idea there were games of this type.  And it is so cool in concept, but the game is put generously, mediocre.  I can do better."  So as simply a personal challenge, I set about Alamaze, just to see if I could do it.  It was two years of working evenings and getting Symphony to do things its support staff said it couldn't do.  When I met "The Godfather" of PBM, Rick Loomis of Flying Buffalo at that Origins convention with his programmer at his side then in 1988, they were sure I was goshing them when their main question was "what language did you program in" and I replied Symphony.  They walked away shaking their heads and mumbling, "No way.  Symphony can't do that."

It was at that convention where I also met Paul Brown and his crew, that were running the successful Duelmasters at RSI, and had just released Hyborian War, which would win the Award Alamaze was winning then, the next year.  Paul, Michael Gray and I went out for a long lunch and Paul asked two things: for me to design their next game for their newly acquired license for AD&D Forgotten Realms, and for a license to run Alamaze. 

Slight digressions I suppose, but to the point that even though PBM was always a little niche, at best a cottage industry but with avid partisan players numbering not likely 10,000 globally, there was a network of designers, developers, critics, and media.  That seems to have completely disappeared.  As best I know, I'm the only one in that circle still around.  There are no magazines covering PBEM style games, despite Rick Loomis efforts, there is no PBM Award anymore.  And despite my efforts, the few surviving PBM companies and supporters refuse to give up the moniker of "PBM" because it (admittedly) strikes a chord, but it is one of nostalgia, not forward looking.

During the beginning of the Alamaze Resurgence, so around 2013, Charles Mosteller, friend to the hobby and myself (as well as literary sparring partner) attempted an internet magazine dedicated to the hobby he called Suspense and Decision. It ran about a dozen issues on a spotty schedule and I had ads and article submissions in each I believe, except when he would have an unannounced early deadline. He gave it a legitimate go, offering free ads and free subscription to the online mag, so he definitely was doing it for the hobby. But I believe S&D didn't add to the player base for anyone and ultimately was just publishers playing to their existing base and players not notably trying anything new.

I did the two most promising national conventions, Origins and Gen Con together for Alamaze, and Origins when Fall of Rome, my second design also won Game of the Year.  At both we made big splashes - we ended up with the space Microsoft was suppose to take when Fall of Rome won, spent $10,000 on props, displays, thousands of flyers, demonstrations and speakers, walked the halls handing out four color glossy flyers over the three days, meeting and greeting, getting pictures taken, etc.  Nothing from it.  With Fall of Rome, I spent probably $20k over a year on Google Ads, that attracted traffic, and kids signing up for a Free Trial but never playing, and ultimately no what they call "conversions".  I got Fall of Rome with great reviews in Armchair General among others, where the nationally renowned reviewer Will Trotter was uncharacteristically kind while having a reputation as a nasty critic, and it also did nothing even while accompanied by a very expensive print Fall of Rome advertisement.  It was the reviews of Alamaze and other articles and the Game of the Year recognition's and most importantly, word of mouth that got us to that player base.  Its not going to be me showing up at a local game club that turns it around.

I just don't see how other than word of mouth and more email campaigns to former players how to get through.  And I don't know what's holding the former players back now with the huge improvements in the interface that Mike has done.
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#25
I just popped onto the Paizo forums as I used to have an account there for an ill-fated Pathfinder Online MMORPG. It seems like they have a ton of Play By Message Board games running various campaigns. I do not know how to introduce Alamaze there but if anyone has an active account maybe they would know. (Just advertising for another company on their forums would be poor form).

Other than that the only idea I have would be the aforementioned Kickstarter. Even if the monetary goal fails, it would generate tens of thousands of eyeballs on the game. That said, you can't just throw up a 5 minute concept page and expect success. Companies spend months preparing for the launch on there, but when done properly it can really be a boon.

I have backed board games, RPGs, single player video games, MMORPGs, science projects, crafts, technology products...

Think about what a realistic campaign goal and end product might be. Say... if we raised $10k,$20k, whatever... this would be the end result for upgrades to the website, forums, Order Checker, and most importantly... the game. Then you add "Stretch Goals" and say, for every $5k over the goal we can add a new Kingdom type. For every $30k we add a new map. Just ideas, but be creative. You can have physical add-ons such as hard copies of the map. Maybe add a few limited offerings of signed physical copies of the rulebook to higher tiers for backers. A set of pins, string, whatever to plot out the war on the map. Maybe some figurines that can represent various characters or PC upgrades. Just an observation that the high quality physical stuff for Boardgames goes like hotcakes.

Those are my only 2 ideas. I just do not have anyone in my circle anymore that enjoys boardgames. Even the Kickstarted ones I backed just sit in a closet. But from what I have seen, there are people who regularly frequent Kickstarter looking for gaming concepts to back. If it's positioned as an asynchronous boardgame that can be played with up to 12 people via the Order Checker I think it would have success. If the problem with Alamaze is simply exposure, Kickstarter would go a long way to relieving that.

Edit to add: Then you should eventually take a good long look at the monetization. Maybe you actually sell Alamaze as a physical boardgame and then an optional monthly subscription to play online. Dunno, just tossing stuff at the wall at this point.
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#26
Sorry, wall of text incoming... Smile

The question of whether Alamaze can attract new players and whether it can be a self-sustaining business are two different things. I keep going back to another gaming industry I was heavily involved with that has had to adapt to the modern environment: interactive fiction.

In the early 80's, Infocom and a number of lesser companies did very well selling text adventure games that delivered a narrative experience beyond anything that had been done to date. During the whole decade of the 80s, interactive fiction did very well as a genre, and Infocom in particular was highly successful, with titles selling for $50+. New works were eagerly awaited, developers got star billing on their titles -- times were good.

In the 90s the bottom dropped out, partly because of bad decisions on the part of Infocom, and in part due to advances in computer graphics that allowed for multimedia gaming experiences that, although narratively inferior, provided a sense of visual immersion that the text-only titles lacked.

Commercial interactive fiction pretty much ceased to exist at that point. Infocom went out of business, etc. In the late 90s and early 2000s, a hobbyist community emerged around two authoring products that allowed individual developers to create their own titles: TADS and Inform. Neither of these really made much money -- Inform has always been free and TADS, although a paid project to start with, went open source after a while. There's a vibrant (if niche) community around free interactive fiction development to this day, but there's precious little money being made in the space.

David Cornelson tried to relaunch commercial interactive fiction in 2007 with his company Textfyre. They commissioned works and experimented with targeting the youth and educational markets. He worked tirelessly to carve out a niche for interactive fiction profitable enough to survive, but eventually decided in 2015 that it was not commercially viable.

There have been some limited successes in the space since then -- noted interactive fiction author Andrew Plotkin ran a Kickstarter campaign for his game Hadean Lands. The Kickstarter was successful and the game was top-flight, but I'm not sure Andrew really netted anything out of his efforts. From what I understand his mobile game work has been far more profitable.

Bob Bates, an interactive fiction author from the early days, recently ran a similar Kickstarter for a text adventure game (Thaumistry) and was also successful. Again, not sure how much profit he earned, but at least the Kickstarter provided development capital.

I don't know whether even a premier PBM game in the old-school style, such as Alamaze, can self-sustain at full fare in today's market. The gaming landscape is just different today, with different capabilities, constraints, and economics, and the same factors that led to the decline of interactive fiction are in play with PBM as well. Online, there are amazing free-to-play titles like Fortnite and Magic Arena where you can get a full play experience without any expenditure, but can pay for various types of augmentations, and they are super successful. Paradox Interactive has made a name for themselves with complex computer strategy titles like Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron -- they monetize by offering tons of fresh downloadable content to keep stretching their investment in a given engine and genre, and they have cultivated a dedicated audience that will pay for it.

If any PBM game has a chance I'd say Alamaze is it, but you'd need to really think through the approach. If it were me, I'd try to leverage Kickstarter as Calidor initially suggested. In both of the above cases the authors had a lot of industry cred and could trade on their reputation for quality. You would be in a similar position as the designer of the top title in the industry.

Kickstarter is nice for a couple of different reasons: it gives you development capital up front, and it gets you a ready-made list of people interested enough to commit to support you (particularly if you offer a free or $1 tier, which I would recommend). And assuming the Kickstarter is publicized well, you'll know if the paying audience is there _before_ you commit funds to development.

With the development capital from a Kickstarter, you could invest not only in making Maelstrom (or whatever the next stage is) exactly what you want from a game mechanics perspective, but could allocate some of the funds to really tightening up the user acquisition / new player experience / payment / hosting / turn running so that it runs super cheaply. I would think that with cloud hosting options and some web development that this could be made able to run at very low cost (easier said than done, I know -- I've written software for 30+ years so I realize there are major challenges).

With low enough overhead, you could explore other funding options such as being ad-supported, Patreon-supported, etc. At that point, if the Kickstarter covered development expenses, you'd be in a position that every new player makes you money and you would have a lot more options to hit a pricing model that was stable (whatever that ultimately is).

Just some thoughts that I hope are helpful!
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#27
I played Alamaze back in 1991. A few years ago I decided to google it and was surprised it was still going. Ive played a lot of computer strategy games. A lot of them have a forum that goes along with them. Dominions 5. Civ 6, Endless legend, Etc. Find those forums. People who like those games will like Alamaze.
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#28
Wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a forum turn into a reddit. After all, reddit is pretty much a spiffed up forum. I’m in the r/wargames r/boardgames and r/diplomacy subreddits. Having an r/alamaze with crossposting to some of these might be good- with plenty of screenshots of turns and explanations.
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#29
I think a lot of people here have hit on the solution. Don't market Alamaze as a PBEM game. Market it as a computer assisted Electronic Board Game. Create more player aids, and an app that will allow people to play this on their phones. You could also change your pricing model to allow "free" versions of the game that allow players to buy in game content, like extra wizards or emissaries.
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