Squeezing Premium Membership on Playdiplomacy

Playdiplomay has two tiers of membership. You can play for free there, which is great. Alternatively, you can pay for Premium membership or Premium credits.

Premium membership and credits give you more options than standard membership, as I guess you’d expect. I’ll come to what they are below. But first…

Why Premium membership?

For some reason, the webDiplomacy forum was very critical of Playdip’s Premium membership in the past. Today this isn’t quite as big a deal for webDip’s members. I say for some reason because, if you play your Diplomacy on webDip, why would you have such a problem with something on another site? Oh well, that’s for another post.

Playdiplomacy has been developed differently to webDip. Whereas webDip has always developed by members (I’m not sure this is currently the situation) it’s never required anything other than members’ time.

Playdip has always had some form of paid developers. Sometimes this has backfired. I know that the person who was greatly involved in developing Playdip recently, super_dipsy, who rewrote all the programming, was not impressed. The original coding was developed from a free programme; when developers added anything to it they simply add more strands. He described the coding he was working with as being like a bowl of spaghetti. If you tried to change something – anything! – you had to change so much.

In truth, Playdip has been maintained voluntarily for much of its life. However, on Playdip this has been restricted to authorised people, whereas webDip has been developed by anyone who had an interest.

However, Playdip has also spent a lot of money on updating servers and improving what they can get from a host. This is expensive. The site uses it’s Premium membership to support this maintenance. The money raised by Premium membership doesn’t cover the costs. Certainly, the idea that the site owner of Playdip is making – has ever made – money from Playdip is ridiculous.

What does Premium membership get you?

Currently, it lets you access all the variants Playdip offers. Given that this included rules variants, map variants, Live games, etc this is pretty good.

It also lets you play up to 100 games at a time. I’m really not sure why anyone would want to play this number of games, but there you go. I used to try to play multiple games, and I’ve occasionally played multiple Gunboat games. However, I’m not really a big fan of Gunboat, so this is rare. When I’m playing real Diplomacy, I now focus on one game and, if I’m getting to the end of one game, I might start a new one.

If you’re not a Premium member, and you don’t have a Premium credit to use, then you can play no more than three games at once. That means you cannot be active in more than three games. If you’ve been eliminated from one game, then you can enter another whether or not the game has ended.

However, over the years, Playdiplomacy has increased what non-Premium members can do on the site, and this makes getting Premium membership less attractive. As someone who has maintained Premium membership regularly, it makes me wonder what I’m getting from it that makes it worthwhile.

Non-Premium content

Well, I’ve already covered this above to some extent but I wanted to bring it together, as far as I can. I’m not 100% sure of what this is currently, because it has changed a lot since since I first joined. Still…

  • Be active in up to three concurrent games.
  • Play a standard game on the ‘classic’ board (here, classic means usual start-up rules rather than the colours used for each power being classic).
  • Play an anonymous standard game on the classic board.
  • Play Live games.
  • Play the site’s variants for the number of players in the game, including the 2-player challenge.

Now, this doesn’t look like much compared to what additional content Premium membership gets:

  • Be active in up to one hundred concurrent games.
  • Play on non-standard maps: Milan, Ancient Mediterranean, 1900, Versailles, Hundred, War in the Americas.
  • Play using non-classic rules: Winter 1900, Build Anywhere, Age of Empires, Chaos.
  • Play Gunboat and Public Press Only games.
  • Use add-ons such as Escalation, Fog of War, Stuff Happens.

The last on the list I’m not sure about. I get the feeling that Live games is now open to all, although I haven’t been able to confirm that. There is a page on the site detailing what you get for Premium membership – it includes Live games, but it also includes Anonymous games and I know both versions of anonymous play are available to non-Premium players.

Additionally, some sections of the Forum are restricted to Premium members, although very few. One of the parts of the Forum that was once Premium only was the Tournaments sub-forum. This seems to have been removed.

Reasons for Premium membership

The most obvious is to encourage people to pay for Premium membership or to buy Premium credits. As I said above, Playdip relies on Premium membership, and the odd donation, to cover some of the running costs.

Another reason, though, is to help prevent games being affected by cheating and quitting. The fact is that, certainly with cheating, the vast majority of incidents involves non-Premium members. Not surprising, really: why would anyone purchase Premium membership and then risk being banned from the site?

Frankly, quitting isn’t anything like as easily protected against. Some people just quit when things get tough, and there’ve been examples where someone has dropped from a high number of games. Usually, when a high number of games are affected by one player quitting, it’s usually because something unavoidable has come up – real life getting in the way.

More recent additions to non-Premium

There have been three changes that have moved some aspects of what were previously Premium only perks that have gone the way of being available to non-Premium members. I’m not thrilled by these changes, frankly.

Anonymous Games

The first to change was the availability of anonymous games to non-Premium, which happened after Playdip hosted the second World Online Diplomacy Championship.

Because the ODC was open to players from any site, and because the games really needed to be anonymous, it would mean that players from other sites had to purchase Premium membership to take part.

Rightly, in my opinion, that would be ridiculous, and therefore anonymous games were made available to anyone. After the ODC it seems this wasn’t revoked.

I think there must’ve been some degree of discussion behind the scenes about this: what would be the best way to allow players from other sites to access anonymous games? It could have been that players who weren’t Premium and who had joined the site simply to participate in the ODC were given Premium membership for the duration of the tournament. However, that would also have been unfair to non-Premium members of Playdip who wanted to participate, too. So it seems to have been sensible for Anonymous games to be available for all at least for the duration of the tournament.

For me, after the tournament, Anonymous games should have gone back to being made a Premium feature. Again, I assume there was some discussion about this: Why would Anonymous games be kept as a non-Premium feature?

Well, I would assume that something along the lines of encouraging more people to remain on the site would have something to do with it. If players had entered a lot of anonymous games without being Premium, that would have indicated that it was a popular feature. And I can understand why.

If you’re playing games, and you’re known within the game you’re playing, and the other players can see that you’re a good player (by looking at your rating) then you’re a target. This can often mean that other players will build an alliance to attack you. Which can arguably mean that they are metagaming: your rating isn’t a part of the game.

However, this has been something that has been around in the Hobby for a long time and is something that can’t be helped. It is a regular occurence in FTF tournaments where you know the people you’re playing against and you know who are the better players. Well, pretty much: there’s always a newbie who comes along who is good!

The question is more about whether this is something that should be removed from the online game, where anonymity can be enforced. I suppose that the answer is why not? After all, it doesn’t diminish the game.

The issue, then, comes down to whether you think people should have to pay to access the protection from being targeted. This was always the case on Playdip before the ODC; why shouldn’t it be the case after the ODC?

I can understand the reasoning behind it but it becomes more of a question of whether Premium membership is diminished by the removal of Anonymous games as a Premium feature. For me it is. People have had a chance to taste Anonymous games: if they like them, they can pay for them.

Access to the Tournaments section of the Forum

This one is another change probably introduced by the practicalities of ODC. Tournaments are organised via this sub-Forum, and non-Premium members were allowed to view it but not post in it. Effectively, this meant that only Premium members were allowed to take part in a tournament.

This was never a formal restriction and it doesn’t affect anything on the games site. However, it meant that Premium membership had an unofficial perk.

Now, in reality, a number of tournaments are still Premium-only. For instance, if the tournament involves variants, then only Premium members can take part. For instance, Gunboat tournaments require people to purchase Premium membership to take part because the Gunboat variant remains a Premium feature.

Effectively, then, the only impact opening this sub-forum up to non-Premium members is that they can take part in tournaments featuring only classic, standard Diplomacy tournaments. Given that things like the Diplomacy League are organised outside of the Tournaments sub-forum, this isn’t really an issue.

Live games

Live games on Playdip are games with published deadlines. This means that S01 lasts for 30 minutes, other Movement phases last for 15 minutes, Retreat and Build phases for 5 minutes. This requires players to be able to remain onsite for the duration of the game or, at least, the Live period.

The problem is that it is difficult to set-up a Live game. The reason for this should be clear: above anything else, if you want people to be onsite, then they have to be in a similar time period (or else give up sleeping!)

There is, however, another issue in that the Live game has to have enough interest in the options taken when creating it. If the game is a variant, then you’re preventing non-Premium players from taking part and reducing the number of Premium players who will want to play that variant.

Another issue with Live games is what happens when the Live period ends. At one time, that was it: the game was over. However, the option has been given for players to continue the game in non-Live mode. This means that deadlines are set and, if you can’t make those deadlines, then you can’t join the game if it isn’t completed in the Live period.

Effectively, then, the choices you make with the Live game reduces the number of people who can play it.

It was decided that, to help this feature thrive, it would become a non-Premium feature. This opened it to a larger number of potential players.

In practice this hasn’t helped. A lot of Live games feature a reduced number of players. They are still very difficult to organise. The impact has been negligible. Still, there are, at least, more attempts to create Live games so there must be interest out there.

Is Premium membership still worth it?

This is the big question. Given that previously Premium aspects of Playdip have been given away, is it still worth it?

The answer is a resounding YES – especially if you enjoy variants! For me and people like me, who would really rather play standard, classic Dip principally, this is less so… but then again I don’t have to pay to play those games so why would I buy a Premium membership?

Personally, I continue to buy Premium membership because I want to have the option of playing other games and because I think it’s worth it to give something back to Playdip. I have no problem doing something as small as this (it costs £25 a year) to say thanks for having the site. And, for me, Playdip’s the best site out there (with apologies to webDip which is also an excellent site).

With the exception of Anonymous games, I really don’t think that the changes have diminished Premium membership notably. The problem with anonymous games being non-Premium is that it opens a lot of tournaments up to non-Premium players and they are still the ones who are guilty of most cheating (even if not in the tournament) and the ones who are more likely to quit games. This isn’t good for tournaments. Unfortunately, once it’s been given away, it’s difficult to take it back.

Actually, I would suggest that Playdip tried offering other Premium features to non-Premiums on a rotating basis. For instance, opening Gunboat games up to non-Premiums for a limited period, then a certain map variant, etc. This would give non-Premiums the option to have a taste and give them another reason to buy Premium membership.

This is the thinking behind Premium credits, I know. You get three Premium credits when you create an account and you can use these to enter Premium-only games. You can then purchase more credits if you wish, although they are more expensive than buying Premium membership if you’re going to keep buying them.

Published by Mal Arky

I'm a Diplomacy nut... if you haven't guessed. I write about the game Diplomacy, mainly as played online on websites, such as Playdiplomacy, webDiplomacy and Backstabbr. I write books on Diplomacy, too. First one to be published soon!

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