Faster. Faster! FASTER!!!

In some ways it’s a little unfair to drop this on Playdiplomacy because it’s a feature on many online sites and apps. But, as I play most of my Diplomacy on Playdip, and for the other reasons I mention below, it is something I associate with Playdip especially.

The issue, to make it clear, is the pressure to play your game FASTER!!! On the Playdip, the people who push for this are common in games, and increasingly represented on the Forum. I call them Pussycats, because I’ve indelibly linked them in my mind to the terrible film Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Deadlines

Deadlines are there for a reason. The person who started (set-up, created, whatever you choose to call it) the game chooses the deadlines. Presumably they chose them because those deadlines work well for them.

I have a busy life. I work. I have family. I sleep every once in a while. I don’t enter games with deadlines that are less then two days for the Negotiations phase. I can cope with shorted deadlines for Retreats and Builds, but still not less than 24 hours… and then that’s pushing it.

My deadline of choice is 3 days. Why? Because the game is Diplomacy. It isn’t Risk (boy, am I tired of seeing Diplomacy likened to Risk!) where I can roll the dice, make my moves and get on with things. Diplomacy involves interaction, thought, discussion.

What I find particularly idiotic is when a player joins a game with longer deadlines and then whines on and on about people not entering their orders and not finalising. If the deadlines are too long, why are you in a game with those deadlines? Go play whatever you think is Diplomacy in a game with deadlines you can live with.

Now, here’s the thing: finalising orders on Playdip, and the like on webDiplomacy and Backstabbr, is an option. It isn’t an expectation. If I’m happy that I’ve discussed things with everyone I need to discuss things with; if I’m happy that my orders are right, and if I’m therefore happy for the turn to resolve, then I’ll finalise my orders. That’s why the option is there.

When you join a game with deadlines, that’s the length of the turns and phases you should expect to be playing towards and time you should expect the other players to play towards. Just because you’re ready doesn’t mean that other players are ready.

There is another side to this, of course. If you join a game where the finalisation option has been selected, then you should be using it when you’re ready. If you aren’t finalising simply because you’re too lazy to do so, then join or create a game without the option in place.

There is a caveat to this last statement. I admit to deliberately stretching out deadlines occasionally… but only when I’m tired of a Pussycat in the game constantly posting about the game being too slow and people not finalising. This is gamesmanship, of course, and it’s not something I’m proud of, but if you’re going to be a pain in my ass, then I’m going to respond appropriately.

Time to play the game?

I realised the other day one of the reasons I don’t like the apps: the deadlines. I visited Conspiracy and Diplicity the other day, and had a look at Primacy (a comparatively new app) and it occurred to me that the deadlines on these apps were all woefully short.

Primacy is different. I noticed that the games tend to have deadlines of 2 days, which is good. Unfortunately, because you need to pay to create a game, I wasn’t able to see what deadlines are available there.

Conspiracy, though, appears to only provide limited deadlines, the longest being one day. On Diplicity you can change the deadline length but, when you go to create a game, the 1 day length is there by default so how many people are going to change that?

Playdiplomacy deadlines are from 12 hours, 24 hours, 2 days, 3 days, 5 days or a week. They offer the same options for each phase. You can, though, play a “Live” game where the deadlines are set as 15 minutes, 5 minutes and 5 minutes. On Playdip, the initial deadline is twice as long as that selected by default.

webDiplomacy’s deadlines are a little ridiculous in the range they offer, I feel. They have 5, 7, 10, 15, 20, and 30 minute deadlines; 1, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, and 24 hour deadlines; they have 1 day and 1 hour, 36 hours, 2 days, 50 hours, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 day deadlines. There are no options to have different deadline lengths for different phases and I believe the initial phase is the same length as every other phase.

Backstabbr deadlines are 5 mins, 15 mins, hourly, every 8 hours, every 12 hours, daily, every other day, every third day, and weekly. Short phase deadlines can be set to match the Negotiation phase deadlines, or be 50%, 33%, 25% or 20% of the usual deadline. The first turn length can be set at the same length as the usual length, except that the 8 hour option is missing and a 2 week option included.

Now I think a choice of deadline lengths is brilliant, especially when all three sites offer Gunboat games where there is no communication involved. For those games you don’t need the time you do in proper Diplomacy games.

[Is “proper” the right word? I think so. I don’t particularly like Gunboat Dip because I like the communication side of the game. And, let’s face it, Diplomacy without diplomacy isn’t really Diplomacy. With apologies to those of you who love Gunboat… just my opinion.]

What I think the apps and these sites are doing, though, is encouraging Pussycat players. I can’t speak for all these sites but I look in horror at the number of 12 hour, full communication games on Playdiplomacy.

If you’re playing with friends, fine. Perhaps you’re all online at the same time. Perhaps you can discuss your strategy, tactics, moves, etc in a 12 hour period. If you’re playing with people around the world, though, there’s no conceivable way that you’re playing Diplomacy in that time. Imagine playing in the UK and trying to communicate effectively with a player in Australia with 12 hour deadlines!

I’ve said 2 days is the absolute minimum for me, and preferably longer. Of course, my tastes aren’t everybody’s, but surely, if you’re going to communicate with a degree of meaning, is a shorter game really allowing that?

The wrong message

What I have found most discouraging, however, is the attitude of at least one of the developer mods on Playdip, which is to pander – in my view – to the Pussycats.

There has been a history of moderators on Playdip trying to encourage more involved play. What Playdip calls ‘surrendering’ – quitting games – is heavily discouraged, as it should be. They have put things in place when a game is deadlocked and one or more players refuse to end the game through obstinacy or spite. They’ve provided the option for deadlines to be extended if a player fails to get orders in on time but don’t allow this more than once, which I think is a good balance.

But one of the mods seems to think that the reason people aren’t more involved on Playdip is because games take too long. They’ve pushed even shorted deadlines, which I’m sure you know by now I think is ridiculous. They’ve discussed having a system whereby players can sign up to a auto-start game, which is a game players can join by default.

Now, initially I liked the idea of an auto-start game. The player base on Playdip is big and there really shouldn’t be any reason players who create or join a game should be waiting overly long for it to start. However, there are those who want games to start much more quickly.

One issue is that there are so many options on these sites that, if you go for a game which has a variant map, or variant rules, and not everyone wants to play to the deadlines you choose, you can be waiting a while. So, you know, patience.

Impatience, however, seems to be what drives some people. Diplomacy, though, isn’t one of the many crappy games offered on Google Play, for instance, where you sign up and get started straight away. It’s a multi-player game that requires interaction. If you can’t be bothered to understand that, then you’re not going to be sticking around anyway!

The idea of an auto-start game, where you can sign up to what the site considers a standard game would solve this issue. The question, though, is what constitutes a ‘standard’ game.

  • What length of deadline is standard? For me, the choice – given that this idea is for people who just want to play asap – would be too short, and this would encourage lower-quality play.
  • What power selection system would be standard? Playdip offers three options here: ‘Random’, which speaks for itself; ‘First come – first served’, where players can select from the remaining powers in a game; and ‘Preferences’, where players can enter the powers they’d like to play in order. Random is the default process… but some people would like one of the other options.
  • Playdip allows to draw options – DIAS draws or draws where survivors can be voted out of draws. The latter is the default, which some people hate. For me, it doesn’t really matter but the choice does define what Playdip considers their norm.
  • How should people vote for draws? Again, two options: an open ballot, where you know how people have voted, and a secret ballot, where you don’t. For me, again, who cares? But some people have very defined views on this.
  • Should the standard game be Ranked (scored) or No Rank? Given that a lot of new players would join this type of game, it would seem that the game not involving any scoring would be best. New players tend to not understand the rules, not bother to read the site’s rules, and don’t know the interface. They also tend to drop from games when things don’t go well. And yet, there are a lot of players who really don’t want to play a game that doesn’t contribute to the site ratings.

The problem is, if the standard game wasn’t what you want to play, then it means joining a game that is being formed or creating your own. Now, that isn’t a problem as things stand. However, as the idea of the standard, auto-join game, is that these games fill quickly and start quickly, then it means that if you create or join a non-standard game you’re going to be waiting even longer for it to start. That doesn’t seem right to me.

The idea of options is that you can play however it best suits you. If you don’t want to play in a way that I think is effective, then you can choose not to. I don’t have to join your game, after all… and you don’t have to join mine!

But when a developer comes along that wants to pander to the lowest common denominator, then the quality of the play drops… and, frankly, the quality of Webplay can be hit and miss anyway. Let’s not lower it further.

To summarise…

I know, you don’t need it, but I’m going to put it there anyway.

Diplomacy was designed to be played in a certain way. You can see that when you read Allan B Calhamer’s articles. Webplay changes the way Dip is played because it can’t be played as the game was designed when it’s played remotely.

There are some things that remain, however, and aren’t changed by playing the game remotely. Not everybody agrees on some aspects, of course, and they have the freedom to play how they like, whether I or anyone else thinks they should be playing that way.

But, when you join a game, you’re agreeing to play the type of game you’ve joined. That means you haven’t a right to moan and whine if things aren’t going as you want them to, especially when you’re demanding that others play more quickly. Leave. As much as I hate people who join a game and quit through choice because things aren’t going their way, I’d rather you pissed off or grew up.

If you want to play Diplomacy without the diplomacy, play Gunboat. Of course, you could just be more efficient in your communications, which is great. But don’t hassle everyone else to hurry up. You chose to join the game.

I’m also not demanding that any site should encourage games of the type I like to play… but really they shouldn’t be discouraging it, either. webDip’s vast range of deadlines seems to make no sense at all. Does anybody really need to choose to the hour or, even more ridiculously, the minute?

Diplomacy is a game and you’re going to stick to playing it when you enjoy it. It’s a game where you’re going to lose more than you’ll win, usually. If you’re winning more than you’re losing, then you’re playing below your quality – challenge yourself! If you don’t like it when things aren’t going your way, we’re all better off if you quit the game and played something less challenging.

All I want from Diplomacy is to enjoy a game that provides a challenge. I’m not going to pretend that I enjoy losing as much as I enjoy winning but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy losing a good game. If you all gang up on me and destroy me, that’s fine; it’s part of the challenge. Don’t expect me to quit because of that, though – I go down fighting!

But I’m not going to stick with a site that makes it hard to get into a quality game. I may not be able to do much to control the quality of the players in a game but if a site goes out of its way to pander to low quality play, then I’ll stop playing there until something comes along that I can enjoy.

Which is my choice. But if I’m thinking that way, so are other people who want good quality games, too. It makes more sense to make quality play a priority, surely?

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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