The Future of the Hobby (Spring 1993)

edited by Stephen Agar

Hobby Advertising Campaign 

Things have been moving on the Hobby Advertising Campaign front.  I have circulated all editors that I am aware of who want to run Diplomacy games, asking them to fill in a basic Factsheet if they want to take part in the HAC.  To date I have only heard from Age of Reason,  Arfle Barfle Gloop, Backstabbers United Monthly, Lies, Smodnoc and Variable Title (not counting Hopscotch and Ode – both Alan and John replied but they didn’t want to take part).  Given that several editors have moaned that they are short of players it is surprising that more editors haven’t shown any interest yet.  I have just about finished my draft Introduction and the editors of the afore-mentioned zines will receive a copy for comments in the near future.  Will any other editors who want to take part in this scheme please fill in and return the factsheets I sent out, even if they have already expressed a general interest in correspondence.  It makes my life so much easier.  The Introduction will include descriptions of zines taking part in the HAC where the editor concerned has bothered to submit one (as yet no descriptions have been provided for Smodnoc and Lies). 

Fiona Campbell-Jack has raised the question of whether we should place an advertisement in a women’s magazine and has submitted a nicely worded provocative advert.  I will look into the costs involved and if it is not too exorbitant and the HDF is willing to fund it then I think we should have a go. 

I did suggest that all newcomers be asked to pay £8 up front – £5 returnable deposit and £3 initial subscription.  The feedback I have had is strongly against deposits, so I intend to ask newcomers for a cheque for £6, £5 of which will be passed on as an initial sub to a zine and the other £1 will be ploughed back into more adverts and to cover the costs of this service.  Newcomers entering the hobby by this route will not be charged gamefees for their first game (but I reckon that the need to find £6 will deter the not really interested).  Is everyone happy with this?  It will be very difficult to ask different newcomers to pay different sums in advance, because I won’t know in which zine they can be placed until after they send the cash.  Also, how can I justify putting newcomers in zines with gamefees and/or deposits, when there are other zines they could go to who don’t demand such things?  Feedback please.

The first of the advertisements appeared this week, in The Oldie and Q.  Rather irritatingly the Q advert had a typo in it, so apparently we are now looking for people who want to play “postal Diplomat” whatever that is.  The first reply from The Oldie advert landed on my doormat yesterday. 

Here are a few of the comments that people have made so far: 

Pete Sullivan 

The question as to which zines should be eligible to receive novices is a tricky one.  I would have thought a minimum of “n” issues (8? 10? 120?) and fairly regular production for at least a year or so would be a good starting point.  In addition, the zine should have been able to start at least one full game already from its own resources.  There is an argument that you shouldn’t publish the criteria you use, in order to prevent editors from deliberately trying to meet it.  But given the potential for controversy here, you’d probably want to publish them anyway, if openly to make public your reasons for saying no. 

SA:   I am not convinced that any such criteria really help, as they often discriminate against new zines who need novices against regular established ones who generally don’t.  I would prefer not to adopt any rigid criteria and point novices in the direction of those editors who display a real desire to have them.  I sent out 34 factsheet forms asking if editors wanted to register to receive novices, but only 6 have returned them to date, so presumably most editors aren’t bothered what I do.  It is the editors that return the forms that will inevitably receive any newcomers that come along.  I don’t see the point in coming up with criteria that point to zines such as Dolchstoß and Y Ddraig Goch when these zines don’t want novices at all, while excluding a zine such as The Assassins Handbook which is yet to get a regular gamestart off the ground. 

John Miller

I found your choice of magazines in which to advertise the hobby not to my taste.  Might I suggest, as alternatives, Fish Breeder’s Gazette, Health & Efficiency, Amateur Gardening and The Tablet.  Thank you.

Do We Need A Hobby Organisation? 

Chris Tringham 

I thought that the meeting was useful but rather aimless, and I was very frustrated at the way we seemed to go round and round in circles and avoid some of the key problems. 

On the Saturday morning, John [Dodds] and I had a very interesting chat with Xavier Blanchot, who seems to have achieved an enormous amount in France, and I would have liked him to have spent a few minutes at the start of the meeting explaining how they do things over there.  It convinced me that what we need is an organisation similar to what the old NGC became in its dying days.  Nothing grandiose, but something that could co-ordinate essential hobby services, and so develop the hobby.  It should have no more power than is absolutely necessary, and would let everyone get on with what they are doing at present, intervening only if things went wrong.  Its only real function would be to collect and distribute money. 

Technology these days makes it easier to produce a professional introductory package that could (at least in part) reflect the currently available choice of zines, upcoming conventions, hobbymeets etc. 

The great danger of the way things are at the moment is that most people who come into the hobby get to see only a small part of it, and if they don’t like what they see they probably won’t explore it further.  The classic case must be Springboard, which is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, even if it does suit a lot of newcomers very well. 

I am definitely not in favour of controlling where newcomers end up, and prefer a system where they get as wide a choice as possible of zines: this is the point where the editors who want subscribers can make some effort (by sending out sample copies). 

The only worry is that some people will end up in unreliable or very slow zines and possibly lose interest as a consequence.  All I can suggest is that editors ought to be obliged to publish details of frequency and turnaround, so that people have a reasonable idea of what they will get if they subscribe or play. 

I know that some people will object to any sort of organisation, but I must emphasise that its only role would be to monitor what was happening and to ensure that the money for advertising is (1) available and (2) spent wisely.  As you say, a little bit of accountability can’t be a bad thing. 

The problem with having an organisation is its membership and who runs it.  The objective must be that it should enjoy the respect of the hobby.  My suggestion would be that zine editors, con organisers and anyone running a hobby service would automatically be members and anyone else who was interested could join if they wanted. 

As for who runs it, I’m sure there are a few people around who would be willing – basically it ought to amount to only a small amount of extra work on top of other hobby commitments, probably little more than organizing meetings at Manorcon and Midcon.  Hobby News is, of course, the obvious vehicle for carrying any information that needs to be spread to the “members”. 

Why have an organisation that is going to do so little?  I think that it has benefits for advertising the hobby, and makes things look more professional to those who respond to the adverts.  It also facilitates the introduction of accountability, and democracy of a limited kind. 

Well, I think I’ll retire to my bunker and wait till the flak has died down! 

Michele Morris 

I have no violent disagreements with anything Chris says, although I’m not sure if creating some kind of “official” Hobby body to oversee things isn’t overkill, and it is potentially a route to developing yet another Hobby clique.  However, the Hobby could certainly do with more co-ordination and a Novice Committee might just do that.  It might also provide the necessary focus to get things done.  I’m not sure about Kris, but I’d be willing to serve in such a group and could usually come to meetings at Manorcon -I don’t often get to Midcon.  One possible bone of contention would be who would Chair such an organisation.  I feel enlisting the services of some Hobby elder statesman would lessen the chances of dissent.  Would either Richard Sharp or Richard Walkerdine be willing to act in this capacity? 

Richard Egan 

As for Chris Tringham’s letter, I have a gut hatred of “club culture” and organisational hierarchies – but found myself hard-pressed to object to much of what he said.  Just so long as we don’t end up with self-appointed “officers of the hobby” (and I’m not fooled by the inclusion of words like “accountability” and “democracy”: who draws up the constitution, and who decides who draws up the constitution?  It’s easy to say “we’ll put it to the vote”, but who decides who can vote?  And what right to they have to do so? etc. etc. etc.). 

Such an organisation should be limited to recruitment only.  Leave other services out of it: Chris suggests it could embrace “essential” services, but who decides what is “essential”?  No, no, no.  The crisis in the hobby is with recruitment nothing else.  We should concentrate our efforts on attracting new blood, not silly little feuds over who has the right to run which services etc. etc.  At most the CGS, Hobby Recruitment, Novice Package and Novice Zine should be the limit of its responsibility.  At best, it should have no role beyond Hobby Recruitment. 

Indeed, if the “organisation” can be presented as a self-help group, in which editors and interested parties may voluntarily collaborate in recruiting novices for themselves and other members of the group, then how can anyone object?  So long as there is not a whiff of exclusivity, so long as it claims no authority beyond its very limited role, and so long as the organisation does not have any role other than recruitment for its own members, I for one would be happy to sign up.  And pay up: why not have an annual subscription, in return for which editors can be included in the organisation’s recruitment campaigns (with the monies used as a “war chest” for advertising).  Let’s face it, Stephen, you’re going to need as much funding as we can generate)? 

As a “self-help” group, with no claim to a Greater Hobby Authority, such an organisation would have every right to (help us!) make its own rules.  And if it were to extend an invitation to sports-gamers, En Garders et al. to join in, I for one would be applauding loudly. 

Well, that’s my two-penneth worth. 

Alan Parr 

I do think Chris’s point about newcomers getting a reasonably full view of what the hobby has to offer is valid and important.  If (and it’s a big if) newcomers get to see a decent range of zines (at least half a dozen) then they will automatically receive a good picture of the various services and events, types of games available, and so on. 

John Marsden 

I don’t feel as though Ode is a particularly good zine for novices (although I never turn anyone away), as the old-timers tend to dominate.  So, consequently, I’d prefer not to participate in your scheme, but rather try to recruit those who’ve already made a start. 

Chris Tringham is at least consistent – he’s been expressing much the same views for 15 years.  Richard Bairstow used to imply on the fliers he produced that an organisation existed; that seems sufficient to me to answer the objection. 

My recollection of the NGC is that no one wanted to serve on the committee, because it had meetings they didn’t want to go to, yet no one would organise anything independently for fear of treading on the (non-existent) committee’s toes. 

The British hobby has always been organised differently from the French; no reason to copy them. 

In any case, I’m not convinced there is a problem.  i reckon that any relative lack of recruitment to the hobby has more to do with the recession, which affects the younger generation disproportionately, then with any organisational failings in the hobby.  By all means seek new recruitment avenues if you wish, but don’t start messing about with a hobby structure that is fundamentally sound.

SA:   I think the lack of recruitment has far more to do with home computers than the recession.  Board games are old fashioned and in a computer you are never short of a ready-made opponent. 

Richard Walkerdine 

About 90% of what Chris is suggesting has been done by the Hobby Development Fund and is still being done.  The only new thing he suggests is a formal organisation – which the hobby hasn’t wanted for a decade!  I hope his bunker is a strong one… 

So what are we to make of all this?  I think Richard Egan had it about right when he talked about a “self-help” group, comprising of the editors who want to recruit novices with whatever support the hobby at large is willing to give.  This is effectively what we’ve now got anyway, the participants being those editors who have indicated a desire to have people who reply to the adverts pointed in their direction. 

The Target Audience? 

Doug Rood 

Firstly may I boldly congratulate Esme on getting engaged in the ongoing crusade in favour of better English standards… 

I was taught Diplomacy many years ago by a friend whilst at college.  At the time it was something to do whilst the beer flowed late in the morning.  After I left I never played again until I was intrigued by an ad. placed by Andrew Moss in a magazine advertising a postal game.  This ad. was vital because without it I for one would never have got involved.  Nobody I know locally plays so I would never have bothered to go out and buy a set (and hence find the flyer) and this logic must apply to many others too.  Most of us (6 out of 7?) probably learnt the game from a friend who already had a set and who had thrown the flyer out with the wrapping long ago. 

Having written off I promptly received a copy of Andrew’s impressive zine and was rapidly enrolled in a game.  The speed in getting me started was also important.  Having taken the plunge I was rared up and ready to go, and if I’d had to wait weeks to get started I would quickly have lost interest and given up.  Reviews and discussions in Age of Reason led me to other zines including your own. 

I feel that my experience cannot be an isolated one and would suggest that other newcomers might like to pass on to you how they feel about the way they were pulled into the cerebral black hole of postal Diplomacy.  This would at very least give some data for the arguments on hobby recruitment to revolve around. 

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 8