Why Richard Was Almost Right

by Stephen Agar

Well, it is five years since Richard Egan wrote that article and we are all (mostly) still here. Not that the Hobby isn’t in slow decline, I think that’s beyond doubt. The steady decline in the number of Diplomacy gamestarts since the mid-80’s is there for all to see. As it happens I do not think it is primarily the fault of the commercial PBM games that have reduced our numbers, in my opinion the main reasons are: 

1.      Diplomacy is an old-fashioned board game and nowhere as near as exciting as multi-player Doom or Sid Meier’s Civilisation. The teenagers and students who got into boardgaming in the 70’s and early 80’s are now into computers. 

2.    Even if someone wanted to buy Diplomacy, it is increasingly difficult to actually buy it. It is no longer stocked by general toy shops or WH Smiths, even the Virgin games stores don’t always have a copy. OK, if you hunt around you will find a copy, but Diplomacy is no longer going to be a mainstream impulse buy. 

3.    As we all know, because it’s been hyped to distraction, the Internet is where it’s at. If there is a future for zine culture it lies in the World Wide Web in (say) five years time when sufficient people have the hardware. 

4.    And of course, there’s the commercial PBM games (but even they’ll have difficulty competing with on-line games). 

All of these things (especially 1 and 2) mean that postal Diplomacy is doomed in the long run. That is not necessarily a bad thing as everything must run its course and be replaced with whatever comes next. Postal Diplomacy is a bit like the old fashioned LP, the refuge of cranky thirtysomethings and fortysomethings unable to come to terms with a changing world. 

But am I depressed? Not a bit of it. The old game has a bit of life in it yet and provided those of us who want the hobby to have the opportunity to flourish for up to another ten years take action now, then I think we can prolong the shelf-life of postal Diplomacy. What we really need is sufficient new blood each year to put off the evil day when we are all playing games on computers. But we need to recognise that, by and large, people buying the game and sending off a flyer for details on PBM Diplomacy is not the answer it once was. The hobby needs to reach out to those who are already familiar with Diplomacy, who maybe played it at college 15 years ago or at their local games group 20 years ago. Such men (lets be real, they will be men) in their thirties and early forties are probably now (mainly) settled down and financially stable and if they’re into games they are probably into wargaming (of one sort or another), RPG, computer games and increasingly on-line. 

Therefore, that is where we must look. We must target these areas with advertisements and (if possible) articles to reach out to the large number who once liked Diplomacy, played it a few times (perhaps even postally) and then drifted on. Some areas of gaming can be approached through classified advertising (e.g. wargaming magazines, RPG magazines), – for instance the article on Diplomacy I had published in Games & Puzzles has (so far) brought in over 25 enquiries. The on-line community can at least be introduced to the idea of PBM as well as PBEM by those of us on-line constantly singing the praises of PBM and helping to get over the idea that PBM and PBEM can work well together and are not alternatives. The recent formation of uk.games.board at least gives us a UK forum where we can try and interest domestic players and, maybe, try and form uk.games.diplomacy. Though this is not the goldmine (or the threat) that some suggest – my best guess is a maximum 100 UK players playing Diplomacy on the Internet, with probably a quarter of those already in the PBM hobby anyway. 

The multi-games PBM crowd should bear in mind that the same fate awaits them as well, and that the Diplomacy hobby has served other postal games players well by introducing people to the concept of PBM, many of who then branch out into other games. So we should all hang together (unfortunate expression that…). 

There is a lot that can be done – my only question would be, is there a willingness to do it? Well, here is one suggestion…

Reprinted from Spring Offensive 36