OngoingWorlds blog

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


PBEM? Play-by-post? Roleplay? RPG? play-by-email? We need to pick a name and stick with it!

Speech bubble saying "PBEM"Name your hobby. Go on. Because I can’t.

When I first started roleplaying I learned that the term to use was PBEM. Sometimes the agreement over capitalisation would alter like PbEM or PBeM, but it’s essentially the same. It stands for “play by email”, the way that I used to play. People would send emails to a newsgroup, to be distributed to the other members.

We played on a Yahoo group, which had a web interface, and over time I used that instead of emailing. It just seemed easier. So was it appropriate to still call it a PBEM if you never actually use email?

I think we’re using the wrong terminology

The internet’s changed in the last 15 years, and so has roleplaying. The number of roleplayers using email for their game has dropped, but roleplaying (I’m convinced) is still as popular as it has been (I’ll talk about this later). So is it still appropriate to call our games PBEM games?

I don’t think so.

I’ve written articles before about what terms we should use, including this one where I define the terms:

  • PBM (Play by Mail)
  • PBP (Play by Post)
  • Online Text-Based Role-Playing-Game
  • Play-by-wiki

Have a read of the article to see what these mean, there’s no point me explaining them again. The only one I missed off the list was “sim”, which is a popular term in Star Trek games, but a word I don’t use recently because of it can be so easily confused with those annoying addictive time-wasting so-called “social” games like Farmville that you play on Facebook.

Online Text-Based Role-Playing-Game has an article on Wikipedia which basically explains that it’s a catch-all term for many different types of games.

SEE ALSO: Play-by-post or Interactive storytelling? 

In a post I wrote a few years ago I described that I preferred to use the term “play-by-post” over PBEM purely by weighing up the amount of Google results returned by each term. Play-by-post has it’s own wikipedia page, which in my opinion better describes our games. However it uses the acronym PbP, which I barely ever see.

Google searches for “PBEM” have dropped by 97% since 2004

Now if we look at the amount of people searching for the term I chose, we can see it’s dropped dramatically over the years. This graph shows Google searches (as percentage) for the term “PBEM” since 2004.

Graph showing searches for PBEM drop 97% since 2004

Google searches for “PBEM”. Source: Google Trends

The graph for the term “play-by-post” looks similar to this. This seems disappointing, but I’m not worried.

New roleplaying games are created every day

On OngoingWorlds new games are created every week, and if you look over on, at least 10 new games are advertised every week. If you look over at, there’s loads of new games being created every week, check out their interest check thread too, where roleplayers put up ideas for new games, and there’s loads of those every week. Also, checkout where they’ve just added an area to add your game listing, to get new members to your game.

All these places are where you can advertise your new games, and there’s loads being created. The problem is, looking at the graph above, what are these games called? And what are people googling for to find them?

Boil the name down to the basics: RP

RPG-Directory is a community of roleplayers, teaming with activity. These are a very specific type of roleplayer however, who use skinned forums to build their game. The accepted terminology for this is simply RPG, or even more simply RP or “roleplay”. This makes sense to me, as we can abandon the word “game” and leave this to the tabletop roleplayers or the MMORPG crowd. Our games (dammit, I used it!) aren’t really games at all, instead are simply stories.

Problem is, still, there’s no widely accepted term. Simply “roleplay” seems like a stop-gap, and isn’t really that descriptive.

People roleplay in different ways

In stark contrast to the graph above, there’s been an increase in searches for “facebook roleplay” and “twitter roleplay” recently. The graph below shows searches for “Facebook roleplay” increasing since 2009. The graph for Twitter is very similar.

Graph showing Google searches for "Facebook roleplay"

Showing Google searches for “Facebook roleplay”. Source: Google trends

In summary

Well… erm… in summary I’m not sure what I can actually surmise. Roleplay still exists as always, but the terms “PBEM” and “play-by-post” aren’t used as much (or at least they aren’t being searched for). Instead people are using the more ambiguous word “roleplay”, and roleplay via Twitter and Facebook is on the rise.

Let me know what you think of all this. What do you call your game, do you call it “roleplay” or a “play-by-post game”?

I’ve created a poll on our Facebook page for you to vote on which term you use to describe your roleplay.