Sunday, 14 April 2013

Keeping the Players Happy

The latest phase of my 1813 PBEM Campaign is only one month old, and already I have lost two of the six players.   Fortunately there were three reserve players, and the two posts have already been filled.   But it has made me consider whether it is something I am doing, or perhaps not doing.  In effect “Is it me?”

The campaign has run nonstop for four years.   During that time we have had six phases, or mini campaigns, and a total of 48 players have taken part.

I have kept a list of who has taken part, why and how they left.

15 left the campaign without reason or explanation
15 left at the end and did not want to take part in another campaign
5 left because of accidents or personal reasons
4 left because they did not enjoy the campaign
3 were removed because I did not want them in the campaign

6 are still playing

I try very hard to explain what is involved before inviting anyone to join the campaign.
I send everyone a written description of the role of the corps commander, and ask them to confirm that they still want to take part.   Experience has made me wonder whether some actually read the description.

The players are a very important part of the campaign, and I work hard at making it as interesting and enjoyable as I can.   But the campaign always comes first.   No one is allowed to ruin the campaign, either for me or for the other players.

The big problem with PBEM is that I don’t know the players, and they don’t know me.   I always start by taking a new player at face value, and accept what he wants to tell me.   But given the large number who have left the campaign without warning or explanation, I have to assume the worse as soon as they fail to respond to mail.   To do anything else would result in long delays which would put the whole campaign at risk.

It would be great if I could find a small group of like minded players who would take part in campaign after campaign.  

But life is not like that.  
People change.  
Circumstances change
“Real Life” just gets in the way.

So on consideration I don’t really see what more I can do to keep players in the campaign.   I get very little feedback from any of the players, so I can only assume that most have a very limited commitment to it.   I don’t mind that.  I certainly don’t expect any great commitment as a requirement to take part.

The two that just left do pose an interesting comparison.

One was new to campaigning, and I suspect also to Wargaming.  He made that clear at the start.  I helped him all I could with orders and reports, but he was clearly struggling.   Eventually he failed to reply to my mail, and I removed him.   A few days later he wrote to apologise, explaining that he was having problems with his computer.   I don’t know whether it was true or not.  It doesn’t really matter.  The important thing is that he could not keep to the campaign time table.

The other was a very experienced wargamer.  I had read his comments on forum, and he clearly had a lot of experience.  I was sure that he would be a great addition to the campaign.   However within weeks he was putting his command in a position where he was almost certain to lose it.   This in turn would have meant an early end to the whole campaign.  Despite my attempt to get him to adopt a different strategy, he refused to do so on historical grounds.  Pointing out that this was not a historical campaign, but a wargame one, did not help.  Eventually he decided to leave.   Very sad, but no doubt for the best.

So here you have two opposite types of player.  One left because it was too complicated.  The other because it was too simple.   I guess the only answer is to please myself and hope that I can continue to find sufficient like minded people to take part in future campaigns.


  1. In the end I guess that the PBEM has worked very well in that your prime aim - the generation of exciting battles for you and Jan to play in the framework of a campaign has been consistently achieved. With absolutely no criticism intended - since you make the situation absolutely clear - I imagine if that the aim of the campaign was to be a PBEM campaign with the focus on the the campaigning exploits of the players, you would design a rather different game, rather more like Paddy Griffith's generalship campaign or the type of complex campaign suggested in Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature. With that in mind, perhaps it is not surprising that players (such as myself) take part in a campaign, have a fun and interesting game, but then call it a day, so increasing the high turnover rate of players between and during campaigns?



  2. If you're running this campaign for your enjoyment, you ought to be enjoying yourself! If not, then changes need to be implemented.

    When participants are about to throw caution to the wind and not heed your advice, perhaps, the "invisible hand" ought to intercede.

    This intervention could include one of the player's subordinate non-player actors acting on his own initiative to rectify the problem.

    Or, provide the player will additional intelligence that would further clarify the operational situation and help him see the folly in his plan.


  3. Hi John

    You are quite right that the campaign has been a great success from our point of view.

    I suspect that this type of campaign can only have a very limited appeal to prospective players. By its nature their options will always be limited

    But for it to continue it needs to attract at least six players each four months or so.

    So it is, perhaps, understandable why I should give a lot of thought to how to improve the playing experience.



  4. Hi Jonathan

    You are quite right that it has to be enjoyable to keep doing it. Particularly for the organiser.

    The problem is that its very easy for one "rogue" player to ruin an entire campaign by insisting on doing things his own way. He can then just disappear leaving the campaign in ruins.

    In the recent case I did try to explain the reasons why I could not accept what he was doing. I even justified it within the context of the campaign. However these restrictions ruined the campaign for him. In effect it was just not his type of campaign.

    I can well understand this point of view. And I believe we parted on good terms. But it did make me ponder whether there might have been a better way to handle it so as to keep a talented wargamer on board.

    I suspect that the answer is no.



  5. As one of the substituted corps commanders in the Linz campaign I initially found the restriction placed on my geographical area of operation frustrating, but then had problems enough with working within that area.
    In this type of campaign, communication up, down and sudeways is paramount.

    One suggestion I would make is for the commanders of the corps involved in the battles to receive the full action report without the two "day" delay. This would rely on trusting the players not to share or disseminate the report and thus spoil the fog of war for the others.

  6. Hi Wiskers

    I feel that the delay of the campaign diary for the Linz campaign was necessary to maintain the "fog of war".

    I appreciate that it loses impact if it is not published for a week or two, but to post sooner would have given away too much too soon

    In earlier campaigns players have complained because I did so.

    I guess you can't please all the people all the time.

    Good news is that in the new campaign it will not be necessary to delay contact or battle reports. With only one commander from each side in each campaign area they will be aware that they have had a contact or are fighting a battle!

    Also much more troops under command and much bigger campaign area will all add to command difficulties and hopefully make for a more enjoyable campaign.


I have set the settings for comments to come to me before posting so that I will not miss any