Let’s discuss the issue of lateness in online Diplomacy games.
I’ve been playing Diplomacy for four decades. Back then, moves were submitted by postal mail, as was diplomacy with other players. And, I might add, it was handwritten! As a consequence, turnaround time on games was long. We were lucky to get in one major season per month. There were few, if any, no-press games.
Lateness at that time was handled per the standard Diplomacy rules. No moves in by the deadline meant “NMR”; Your pieces were all ordered to hold and any dislodged units were retreated off-board. That is a pretty big penalty. For many years it worked. However, it can have a severe impact on the game — advantaging one player or the other, leading to apathy on the part of the late player. This was especially so if a particularly good position or ally rapport built up over many months of diplomacy was just destroyed, or if a particularly bad position made worse.
Diplomacy transitioned to email games, and this allowed the pace of games to quicken. Along the way rules for how lateness is handled changed, suddenly we had settings on the judges for late warnings if you missed a deadline (rather than NMR), pre-late warnings when you got close to a deadline, cross game on time scores so people could get a sense of your ability to do your part to keep the game rolling, etc.
Lateness is an issue. Why else would a hobby — centered around a game where you lie, stab and eliminate other players — form social groups whose primary criteria for joining the group isn’t your talent as a player but rather your punctuality? Oh yes, lateness is an issue, and it’s gotten worse over time. Everyone’s life is busier it seems, and things fall through the cracks. It seems like such a little thing to just miss a deadline here and there.
Of course if things were simple, there’d be a simple solution. But there are many types of late. You sign up for the game with a light moral commitment to the other players who similarly join your game: you’ll be honest in the context of playing by the game rules, of which is included the promise of being on time.
Let’s examine the nature of these forms of Late, how it impacts the game and the players, and what a potential solution could be.
Type 1: A Little Bit Late
Canonical example: You miss the deadline a bit but only because “the cat threw up on the carpet”. You fully intended to get to the moves right after dinner, but the cat trumped your plans with his own post-dinner moves. This is a one-off, minor event.
How it impacts the game: Yes, it’s a real life event, but it causes only the most minor of impact on the game. It’s a quick fix to the cat situation and your lateness may only be noticed by the Judge’s ontime ratio counter. Your delay of the game is likely measured in minutes or an hour.
How your fellow players feel about it: Neither you nor your fellow players really want to count something like this against you. Because this happens to all of us, and because there’s no way for you to control your cat’s carpet habits. We know that. Please just get your moves in ASAP — although a quick “I’m sorry” to the group via press or diary would show class.
Solution to consider: This is the easiest sort of lateness to cure. You’ve all heard the advice to fix this. As soon as a set of results comes in, write a set of preliminary moves and submit them. This way, when the cat does his thing, you’ve still submitted a set of moves in on time. Plus, at any moment you can write another set of moves! Coming up with the “perfect” set of moves is not a reason to be late. Often times writing an initial set of moves and then going on with real life will cause you to think of a better set of moves later before the deadline. So really, if you take this approach then you, yourself, are the beneficiary. Plus you’ll almost never be late on account of the cat.
Type #2: A Lot of Bit Late
Canonical example: You miss the deadline because “the dog drove my car off the road”. Yes, another real life event, but this one has a lot of real life impact, time-wise. There’s hours of work to be done, possibly the police and the doggie emergency room are involved. Who knows when you will get back to the game. This is a one-off, major event.
How it impacts the game: Yes, it’s a real life event and it can cause a large impact on the game. There really isn’t any sort of quick fix. Everyone in the game will notice this sort of lateness, although no one knows the reason at the time. Your lateness will definitely be dinged by by the judge’s ontime ratio counter, and you may even go abandoned which can impact your other games. Your delay of the game due to the dog is likely measured in hours or days.
How your fellow players feel about it: Again, neither you nor your fellow players really want to count something like this against you. Because this happens to all of us, and because there’s no way for you to control life’s big events. We want you to go take care of the dog and the car. We don’t need all the details, but what we do want is to know what’s up. If in any way humanly possibly you could shoot a message off the game’s moderator, even something as short as “real life event! Will fill in on details as soon as I can, please accept my apologies and bear with me”. That’s all we need to be forgiving and the GM will pass that on to us.
Solution to consider: This is the hardest sort of lateness to cure because, well, the "Dog Event" can’t be predicted. I’ll note, however, that doing a preliminary set of moves, as mentioned earlier, goes a long way. In this case you don’t end up being late for this game turn, so you’ve got tons of breathing room to take care of the car and the dog before the next deadline comes up.
Type #3: Serial Lateness
Canonical example: You miss the deadline, often. If asked you always have a reason but it’s never one of those one-off life events, it’s always a life event that you could reasonably have foreseen before you got in the game. Generally speaking, you don’t see it as a big deal.
How it impacts the game: This sort of problem causes a large impact on the game, most especially because you don’t think it does. A player who is regularly late shows disrespect to the other players, and he often causes them to be late too. This is particularly true when the GM isn’t the sort to really dig into habitual lateness. Everyone in the game will notice this sort of lateness, although few may realize that it’s you. The judges don’t always report who is late (e.g. in a tournament) so that the other players do not divine precisely your involvement in other games. It doesn’t take much of a repeat of this before the pattern will become clear. If you’re in a tourney with a bunch of games going on, and you notice that everytime Germany is late in game 1, Russia is late in game 3, and Turkey is late in game 29, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to guess who the person is. That may have quite an impact!
How your fellow players feel about it: Pretty much, they are pissed off at you. Early they may not notice for reasons given above. As you get later in the game, however — especially if the ending is somewhat known and the turns just have to be played out, or if you’re a small fry and have apparently lost interest in the game — every one of those other players is being penalized because of your lateness. They signed up to play, and you didn’t show up as promised. Try that regularly with a round of golf or tennis or a dinner party and see how quickly you drop from the guest list. So when you’re regularly late by 5-6 hours, you’ve cost all the other player’s 5-6 hours, your impact is multiplied. Also your delay may push the next turn into next week, so now you have delayed the game a week by your habitual lateness.
Solution to consider: I would like to think that habitually late players — especially those who attempt to defend their being late — would, having read the above, think to themselves, “Oh, no. I never thought of it that way! I certainly don’t want to be that ass!” This might well be all that is needed to try the “write a preliminary set of moves as soon as the results come in”, which solves habitual lateness too.
The problem, though, is that as everyone's life has become more hectic, the increase in lateness is due, I assert, almost entirely to serial lateness. Let me relate a recent incident as anecdotal evidence. It’s actually the impetus to writing this article, so I think it’s a fair example:
In a recently completed game, the end was fairly clear to all (or some) and a power was in a position where there was no way to prevent his solo, barring incompetent mistakes on the soloist to be. One of the other powers started being late, a lot. In what was supposed to be a fast deadline game, we slowed to 1-1.5 turns a week. It was noticeable who it was because, when you’re down to just 2-4 players and there’s a retreat or a build or etc by only one or two players, it’s not too hard to figure out who is late. There were a few diary comments made about this, which we all got to see as soon as the game ended.
Sure enough… we finish up, everyone sees the diary entries and the serial late player chides the diarist to “get off your high horse”, that he has “a job and kids” and “it’s called real life”. At this point the GM pipes in commenting that the late player’s lateness ratio was not within the parameters for being ejected (implying, it seemed to read, that being late was “ok”). As far as I recall, no one had brought up the topic of ejecting someone, particularly since the game was over anyway, and didn’t have a different outcome had the lateness not occurred. The GM also commented that an earlier eliminated player who had real life problems of Type #2 and who had been replaced was late far more often than the current fellow.
Here’s my take on this, after 40+ years of Diplomacy games:
First off, everyone, everyone, has a “real life” and “a job” (and often kids). If real life didn’t cause your lateness, that means you did it intentionally and wow, is that a problem. I know you don’t want to walk down that path. So don’t try to hide behind generic real life. “Oh, I’m sorry for running over that old woman, officer, but I was occupied trying to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide”. Your real life is not my concern, and I didn’t sign up for a game of Diplomacy to tether my free hobby time to your real life lateness. The solution when real life, your job, and your kids are using up a lot of your time, is to get into fewer Diplomacy games or pick games that have a longer deadline. When you signed up for the game you committed to doing your best to make the deadline.
Second, I reject the premise of the statement, as if somehow that, if someone is on-time regularly, it implies she has no life, real or otherwise. Don’t blame the victim of your lateness for your lateness. The fact that a player got her moves in on time doesn’t devalue her real life; it shows an ability to keep commitments. Even small ones about Diplomacy games.
Third, absolving someone who is late by comparing them to someone else who is later, misses the point! “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?” The point is not to protect the late players, it is to respect the non-late players. A simple “I’m sorry” on the part of the late player would have been sufficient to recognize that certain things prevented him from doing his best to meet his obligations. And avoiding a “everything is ok up until the moment you do something that causes expulsion from the game” mindset on the part of the GM is better served by a very light touch during the game gentling reminding players to try their best to be on time. So the next time you’re late, for good reason or not, please keep in mind there are upwards of 6 other people whose free time you are impacting. A simple “I’m sorry” will cover virtually all such cases, and submitting preliminary orders will go a long way towards reducing lateness before it even occurs.
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