Prompted by an enquiry by Jim Burgess about the current state of USAK, a Diplomacy Judge developed and maintained by Chris and funded in part by Jim-Bob, Chris took the opportunity to update his vision on the state and future of Internet Diplomacy, a subject he had written about extensively back in 2009 in the Fall issue of Diplomacy World.
The launch of USAK as a player-supported service in 2009 was accompanied by the web wrapper which has prolonged the life of nJudge as a platform. If you want to compare the state of judge Diplomacy - from that day to this - then I will tell you that we are in a similar position with waning game starts, crumbling infrastructure, poor community morale, and a general perception of Diplomacy in general and judge Diplomacy in particular as being "slow" and "old-fashioned."
There's no doubt that email is a troubled delivery channel as push notifications become more reliable and accepted through other technologies, but your question illustrates two other dangers to the continued availability of Diplomacy as a free and ad free game on the internet. PlayDiplomacy.com is often cited as the state of art in online Diplomacy, and portrays a subconscious expectation that pay for play is to be an accepted and expected part of Diplomacy's online future and is highlighted by the fact that the most popular Diplomacy platform today is once again based on technology that is decades out of date.
Yes, Diplomacy communities need to pay their way. It's ludicrous to expect that the only people who can run Diplomacy servers are those who have both time and money as well as both technical ability and personal relationship skills. I hope you folks don't mind me saying, too, that the skills involved and the time spent exercising those skills deserve compensation also, over and above hosting costs. The reality of the Diplomacy hobby has been that player communities believe they are doing administrators and developers a favor by paying for hosting costs.
Few players make donations in the absence of new features or visible intervention. This is a hobbywide issue that needs to be addressed in the culture, but without surrendering to the false expectation that we will only be able to fund the hobby through exploitive commercial monetization methods that would create an adversarial relationship between players and service providers. We don't need pay for play, premium features, or ad supported apps to pay for the infrastructure, talent and time that Diplomacy needs to be the world class hobby option that it deserves to be. We need a free flow of information and goodwill, facilitated by relevant current technologies. That's why I'll be using the crowd funding site GoFundMe.com to raise hosting costs for 2016 for both the USAK/Pouch server and the droidippy server.
For those who don't know, droidippy is an Android Phone app for playing Diplomacy. The map has some idiosyncrasies deliberately introduced to distance itself from Hasbro intellectual property because it was originally marketed under a freemium model, where players payed for additional features. Despite my health, the difficulties inherent in changing community funding models, and platform growth requiring increased hardware expense, droidippy produced a $100 surplus for 2015. This surplus is being used to fund a service change to the same provider I'll be using for the USAK/Pouch machine. More important than the finances and the growth in the size of the player community, there is better community engagement, volunteer moderators for the service, and no increase in complaints despite the growth. You can see the droidippy GoFundMe here. There will be a similar fundraiser for USAK and The Pouch.
For myself, I'll be using the Patreon site across communities to raise money. I need a measure of independence from disability benefits for a number of reasons, including a likely cut in benefits this year. I will not have time to put into Diplomacy development unless I am able to raise money. My profile is here.
It's not just fundraising technology that needs to be implemented in the hobby. That's just a first step in implementing and maintaining a modern hobby infrastructure so that Diplomacy can compete effectively with other online games for continuing mindshare. The PHPdiplomacy platform, including PlayDiplomacy.com, falls short of being thoroughly modern by lagging in push notifications and lacking a presence in mobile platforms. Additionally, community features are minimal and social network integration is non-existing. This threatens the continued viability of the online hobby.
I believe that acknowledging this state is an important initial step in developing solutions. The work I did in 2009 was important in prolonging the life of the judge community and providing for continuity of culture from the Ken Lowe judge to the future. The next step is to make sure that NoNMR play is available on future online services. NMR games are important for casual play, especially real time games, but NoNMR is important in online play to be able to accurately measure player ability. This is crucial to attract and maintain players with competitive personalities who are going to spend time and money at events.
The life cycle of a Diplomacy player is introduction to the game as a late teen or young adult, online play and attempts to coerce friends into participating in live games at college age, drifting away from the hobby while starting a career and a family, returning to play as children enter adolescence, and actively investing in the hobby as a mature adult. Few players fit this mold exactly, but it's not a bad aggregation of the stories players tell me. The important thing is that not all players contribute the same amount of time, energy, and money through the stages of involvement. I'm convinced that a healthy hobby will have a diversity of community and monetization models, but the cornerstone of that is the free hobby.
I have a specific vision for the services a free community server should provide and I'm actively acquiring the skills and personal networks to implement that. The situation now is startlingly similar to 2009, and that might be a good thing.
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