OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


PBEM or Play-by-post

I’ve been questioning for a while what to call the games that people will run on the OngoingWorlds site, and have been disputing between calling them PBEM games, or play-by-post games.

I’ve recorded a short audio comment for this article:

What are people searching for?

As a website owner, I have to think about what people are typing into a search engine to try and find my site. So they would type in “PBEM” or “play-by-post”, often they would be more specific and want to find a “Startrek PBEM” or a “fantasy play-by-post”. It’s important that I get the wording correct on the OngoingWorlds website, so that it appears in the correct search results.

When Google and other search engines show you the results of your search query, they want to show you the most relevant websites. Which means that the wording I use on my website has to match up with the wording that people are expected to be searching for.

I’ve wondered for a while which is the most popular term for the type of game that OngoingWorlds allows you to play. Most people call them either PBEM games, or Play-by-post games.

I’ve done a simple comparison test by searching for these terms on Google.


Google search results

Results for a Google search for "PBEM" and a search for "Play-by-post"


Google has returned 353,000 websites for the term “PBEM”, and a whopping “250,000,000” for the term “play-by-post”. This of course could contain the same website appearing twice in this list, and some inaccurate results, but the difference is clear. There are more websites mentioning the phrase “play-by-post”.


I’m going to change the terminology which I’m using, and use the phrase “play-by-post” to describe the types of games that you can create and play on OngoingWorlds.

  • I do think its wrong 🙂 But on the other hand I understand what you are saying: play-by-email is not appropriate anymore now that email is taking a back seat to forums and other websites.

    I actually spent some time thinking about it a while ago, and just like you are saying there are many ways of getting a post to the yahoo groups for example. So instead of describing the way a post is _distributed_, it would make more sense to describe the way the game is played. “Ongoing story gaming”, “Collaborative storytelling” or something along those lines are really better descriptions.

    But then again, if “everyone” else is using “pbem” or “pbp” I suppose that’s the way to go.

    btw, nice with the audio comment! 🙂

  • Hi Janus, yes I agree there is still some meaning in the word PBEM, but I just don’t think it’s got much of a future. Also if you’re trying to explain it to someone who doesnt know what it means, you sound like a moron saying “it means play-by-email, but we don’t actually use email anymore to play”.

    Also it’s very hard to say out loud. Do you say “PBEM” or “play-by-email”?

    I would like to use a word like “Ongoing story gaming” but it just isn’t the buzzword that people instantly recognise. Maybe we could invent a word between us and force everyone else to use it?! Problem is, we’d always have to follow the word with an explanation of what it is until it becomes universally recognised!

    “Collaborative storytelling” is a good phrase to use, because it is quite descriptive of what a play-by-post game is all about. But I’ve often found that unless you call it a game, a lot of people will just think it’s too much hard work and not bother. If you call it a game then people know they’ll get some kind of enjoyment out of it, and more people seem to be interested. What do you think about that? Am I maybe targetting the wrong people?

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