Monday, 23 January 2012

PBEM Player Commitment

Thanks for the feedback on my last post. Its always interesting to read the experience of others, and their suggestions to improve my PBEM campaign.

Campaigns seem to be like Napoleonic Wargame Rules. Everyone has a different view of what makes a good game/campaign. Even worse with campaigns because there are so many different types and objectives. And most of us are just doing the best we can. Unlike wargame rules there are no real guidelines, or suggestions on how to run the perfect campaign.

I have a very firm idea of what I want from my campaign. It must produce good wargames for Jan and I to fight. That is easy to achieve with a solo campaign, but much more difficult that I had anticipated in a PBEM campaign.

The real problem is player commitment.

I try to achieve this by explaining what is required of any player. There is only one rule. They must be able to respond to my emails within 48 hours, or let me know if they are unable to do so.

In return I try really hard to produce the sort of campaign which I would love to take part in. The problem is that what I would like from a campaign is not necessarily what someone else would want.

I try never to expect more than I have asked for. In general terms a player in my campaign should be able to commit for about four months. He should be prepared to spend half an hour a week writing his orders. He must answer my mail within 48 hours. Not a lot of commitment in my opinion.

In return I run a campaign forum and a campaign diary blog. I respond to every email I get within 24 hours. I try to keep the momentum of the campaign going by publishing something on the forum, on the diary blog or send reports or messages every day. Certainly at least once a week each player will receive a complete update on his performance and any messages due. The turn around for a campaign move is never more than one week, often slightly less.

Yet I seem to have never ending problems due to lack of player commitment. The most common one is not responding to my mail within 48 hours. Every week I have to send a reminder to at least one, and often two or three, players.

Fortunately I don't lose players very often. But when I do the problems really start.

Just over a week ago one of my long term players, who has taken part in three campaigns, told me he had to quite due to work commitments. This is perfectly understandable, and we parted on good terms with my assurrance that he would always be welcome to take part in a future campaign.

At that time I had four reserve players. Two were filling the role of Chief of Staff. This is a non playing role in the campaign. There is one for the allied army and one for the French. They receive copies of all reports, updates, orders and messages for each of their four corps commanders. This is so that they can keep up to date with each of their corps. If a corps commander is unable to write orders, or has to drop out of the campaign, they are asked to fill his post.

In addition I had a further two reserves. They had asked to join the campaign, but I did not have a role for them at present.

In those circumstances you would think replacing my French commander would be easy.

I offered it to the French chief of staff. He could not do it for very good personal reasons.

I then offered it to the Spanish chief of staff. He did not want to take it on, as he had spent a lot of time under studying the Spanish corps commanders

I then offered it to the first of the non committed reserves. He agreed to take it on. I spent two days sending him a mass of reports, maps, orders and a brief on what had happened since the start of the campaign.

Two days later I asked him to write orders for the next move. I also explained how to do it. He replied that it might be better if I did it, as he had not received critical documents. I sent the documents again, and explained that it defeated the whole object if I wrote the orders. He then told me that he could not open the attachments I had sent him. I asked him to confirm that he has been unable to read any of the documents I had sent. He replied that in the cirucmstances he did not want to take part!

Why I wonder did he ask to join in the first place? Why did he not tell me he could not open attachments as soon as he received the first one? Had he done so I would have printed the documents on the email rather than send them as an attachment. But who would ask to take part in a PBEM if they could not open email attachments?

PBEM wargaming should be the answer to the army of solo wargamers who can not find an opponent near them. Its so easy, and so much fun. Before I took on PBEM I could not understand why it was not more widely used. Now I understand all too well.

Over the past two years I have communicated with a lot of organisers of PBEM campaigns and this player commitment seems to be the main reason for them abandoning their campaign. Sometimes it is an abusive player. Sometimes it is lack of response from one or more players. Sometimes it just all proves to be more trouble than it is worth.

I have been fortunate that my own experience has, on balance, been much more positive than negative. PBEM adds greatly to my enjoyment of my campaign. Given the choice I would prefer to have nine neighbours who all wanted to take part in the campaign as corps commanders. But that is not going to happen. PBEM is a very good alternative. But it can be VERY frustrating.

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