Should story posts be private?
Edit: At the end of the post I say that OngoingWorlds doesn’t have a feature to make games private. This changed in September 2014 when private games were introduced.
Play-by-email and play-by-post games have in the past been either private or public, and in this article we’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of each, and see why people might want their games to be public or private.
What is public or private?
Traditional play-by-email games (PBEM) were stories told by users who sent emails to each other, always keeping every member in the group cc’d into the email, or every member was part of a “newsgroup”, where emailing one email address distributed the email to all members of the group. Doing this meant that the posts that you sent to each other were only ever seen by other members of the group.
Games played on a public forum, or Yahoo groups are often public. This means they can be seen by anyone who has navigated to the website, and doesn’t have to be a member to view all posts in the story so far. In both forums and a Yahoo group, you have the option to make all posts private if you need to. This means that only members will be able to see the posts, retaining your privacy.
Some members might prefer the game’s story posts to be private because they’re embarrassed of their own writing skills. Not everyone is comfortable with their writing, and don’t want their friends or family finding the game posts they’ve written by easily googling their name. Other people are the opposite and will proudly link as many people as possible to see their story.
Another reason why people might be embarrassed about their posts, is perhaps the genre is one that is taboo – or “uncool” to their friends. Many people throughout the world frown upon science fiction or fantasy, and this could cause embarrassment to the writer if their friends know they write in this setting.
Many people when they like to live vicariously through their character, and make the character act in ways that the writer wants to behave, but doesn’t. For example a shy writer might write about a very confident chatty character, or they might use their characters to act out their fantasies. This can be as simple as owning a spaceship, having special magical powers, or some dirty sexual fantasy. Many people take part in adult play-by-post games, where they write about their characters acting out their sexual fantasies, it’s easy to understand why the writer might be embarrassed about letting many people see these posts, and retain their anonymity.
If you make a game’s story posts public, then there’s a chance that they could be copied from the site and displayed elsewhere, even published or sold for money. Some writers prefer for their stories to remain private so that the general public can’t see then for this reason.
Often this is not the case, unless the writer is exceptionally good or is a well-renowned writer.
Some play-by-post games keep the game posts private, and only visible to members for the sake of exclusivity. Well-written stories are great sources of entertainment, and not everyone wants to provide that for free. If the game charges an entrance fee they might want to keep the stories exclusive for paying members only.
Drawbacks of a private game
If a game’s story posts are set to private then there can be disadvantages, these are:
You can’t tell how long it has been since a post was written – Sometimes you will find a website for a PBEM game which looks great, but hasn’t been posted to in many years, meaning the game has been abandoned.
You can’t tell the quality of the writing – You might be a good writer and want to join a game where all members share your level of skill and enthusiasm of writing, but when you join the game you might see that the quality of writing is terrible. Or vice-versa, you might want a game which is just a bit of fun and the focus is on fast storytelling and not writing skill, but might join up for a game that demands high quality writing which takes too long for you to produce.
Poor Search Engine Optimisation – Search Engines are usually the easiest way to find a website you’re looking for. Websites with lots of well written content usually appear highest in google. If your website only has a few pages which are publically accessible, it might appear in search engines underneath websites with many pages of well-written story posts.
Might not like the theme of the game – It might not be obvious what your PBP/PBEM game is about, and so allowing potential members to read the story so far will let them know if they like the game enough to want to join.
What OngoingWorlds does
When creating the OngoingWorlds website for hosting play-by-post games, I’ve set all games to show their story posts as public.
Currently there’s no setting to make the posts private, and I have no plans to add this setting in unless I get some feedback by someone who really wants their game to be private.