Simon Szykman

to the

The subject of dedication and dedication ratings in PBEM Diplomacy is one that makes regular rounds through the newsgroup. Since it's always of concern to me (it being one of my pet peeves and me being one who likes to share my peeves with others even when they don't particularly care), I decided to write a column on player dedication for The Diplomatic Pouch.

Coincidentally, it seems to have come up a few times over the past couple of weeks, so I'll use a couple of messages that were posted as springboards into a discussion. People who are less interested in the introductory discussion might want to skip down to a discussion of my proposed Dedicated Player House Rules (DPHRs)

On March 1st, a new player asked:

What are dedication points?
It seems to me that one of the problems with lack of dedication is lack of awareness about dedication ratings. So, this question seems like a good place to start. Dedication ratings are the judge's way of keeping track of how dedicated players are by rewarding players who submit moves on time and penalizing players who are late. The judge's rating system is as follows:

+3 points for getting your orders in on time.
-1 point for each "deadline missed" reminder which the judge sends you.
-50 points for becoming abandoned.
-100 points for missing the grace period and going CD.

More information can be found in the judge information file deadlines.

So, why should a player care about his or her dedication rating? Games have a default minimum dedication rating of -10. If your dedication rating is below that, you won't be able to SIGNON to games unless they have been created specifically with a lower minimum dedication rating. A majority of the games run under the default setting, so it will be hard for players who have lacked dedication to find games.

Is dedication really a problem? I'd say yes. At the time of this writing, more than half of the games I'm in are held up due to late moves or abandonments. Of the games that aren't stalled, two of them have just recently undergone abandonments, followed by replacements, and in both of the cases the player changes have significantly altered the course of the game. In neither game is the original alliance intact. In one case, it is very likely that a power who was to share in a draw will be eliminated instead. If this frustrates me, I can't imagine the player of the soon-to-be-eliminated power is pleased about the turn of events. I would guess that if you looked at all the games on all the judges (except for games with high minimum dedication requirements), you would probably find that over 3/4 of the phases do not process on time.

I don't seem to be the only one bothered by low dedication. As a second data point, consider another recent message posted to

Hello. A small group of players have been talking about trying
to put together an invitational game just for players who
have been playing EP Diplomacy for a while, and are tired
of waiting for players who miss deadlines.

So if the judge rates players' dedications, why is poor dedication still a problem? My answer is that it is too easy for undedicated players to stay above the -10 point minimum that lets them into every newly forming game except the occasional high-dedication game. Consider this: you have a dedication of +10 and SIGNON to three games. Say there are an average of three phases per year requiring orders. If you submit moves on time, you will get 9 dedication points per year per game, or 81 points in three game-years. After three years, you are doing badly in one game and submit one last set of moves (3 more points!) and just resign, taking your -100 penalty from the judge. Play out a couple of more years in the remaining two games and you now have more dedication points than you started with, even though you resigned from (quit) a game.

Here's an experiment: pick 10 games at random from the Hall of Fame and look at all the replaced players. How many of those players are still active in current games? I'd bet a good number of them are. I know that there are other reasons for going abandoned other than quitting, but isn't it funny how it's always the bad positions that end up needing replacements?

Here's another experiment: set up a script to retrieve the openings list every 4 hours (that's how often its updated) over the course of a week. Then look at every single replacement opening. What percentage of them are mercy positions that have virtually no hope of leading to a win or draw?

Don't think people quit? Here's a message posted to by a self-proclaimed newbie recently:

Let's say i am sick of playing a power in one game because there
is no way that i can win or even take another SC. Instead of
resigning and holding up the game for everyone why can't i just
disband ALL my units?

You can tell he's a newbie because he asked. I'm sure there are more experienced quitters out there who are well past the asking stage. I'm not trying to pick on this individual. I've had positions I would have liked to walk away from for the same reason. But signing on to a game is an obligation, and one should be committed to playing it out.

So if dedication is a problem, why not make the penalties stiffer, you ask? My thoughts exactly! I was pretty vocal on the subject of dedication reform and, unless I'm mistaken, the default minimum dedication rating of -10 was my idea. I think I've seen an improvement in dedication in the games I play. This may or may not be due to the -10 minimum keeping out undedicated players; it's hard to tell. Despite this improvement, constant delays from late orders are still a nuisance. Since the judge gives +3 points for being on time, a player can break even by being late 75% of the time.

So, just to see what would happen, I started a game which ran under what I called the Dedicated Player House Rules (DPHRs) - my own version of stiffer penalties. The rules appeared in the game listing, and all announcements of the game when it first started up required players to read the listing before signing on. (The game also had some non-standard rules so all players had to read the listing to find out the rules of the game.) Because these rules are not coded into the judge, I arranged with the judge keeper for me to keep track of all additional penalties which would be applied manually in a lump-sum by the judge keeper at the end of the game.

Dedicated Player House Rules

  1. The normal penalty for being late is -1 point per late message from the judge. Under the DPHRs, there is a -9 point penalty for being late.

  2. The normal penalties for becoming abandoned and going CD are -50 and -100 points respectively. Under the DPHRs, these penalties are doubled.

  3. If a player has to leave the game for any reason, I expect the player to make an attempt to find a replacement. At the very least, I would like to be notified with as much warning as possible so that I can try to get a replacement. If for some reason a player must resign without much notice, I still expect to be told. A player who resigns without a word to me will receive a -100 point penalty in addition to any judge penalties that are applied.

The only exception to rule 1 is judge problems. If you know you'll be late, ask me for a deadline extension. The penalties in rules 2 and 3 will not be imposed if caused by judge problems. I will also not impose those penalties if you have a good reason for going abandoned or CD. I am not out to ruin dedication ratings. If you have access problems, get sick, etc., I'll be reasonable. What I am trying to do is prevent undedicated players from disappearing or otherwise ruining the game for others.

The motivation for the first rule is to reduce the number of late orders. It requires players to be on time 75% of the time to break even instead of 25% of the time. The second rule is to discourage people from being very late with orders (leading to abandonment and civil disorder) as well as quitting. The third rule is to discourage people from leaving the game without giving any notice. There is nothing worse than seeing a BROADCAST message saying "Sorry everyone, but I have to resign from this game. Thanks for the game. It's been fun.".

Sometimes people who send such notes are quitting, other times they have a good reason. Either way, it disrupts the game and finding a replacement always causes a delay. If the master is given notice, replacements can be found quickly (preferably before the player resigns), reducing the disruption and frustration.

In my judgement, the DPHRs have made a significant difference in game play. The game I'm running under DPHRs has a much better than average dedication among players. The game has been moving at a much faster rate than any of the games I'm playing in with similar deadlines, because of the higher dedication among players. Here are some statistics:

I'd be interested to see what these same statistics are for games run using the standard dedication penalties, but I'm get the feeling that these are much better -- I am a player in games that started much earlier (in real time) and have not progressed as far in terms of game-years.

One thing to note is that it's hard to tell if the high player dedication is due to the DPHRs discouraging "undedicated" behavior among the players or if the DPHRs acted as a filter earlier on by discouraging undedicated players from signing on in the first place. The point is somewhat academic; either way the frustration associated with undedicated players was noticably reduced, both for the players as well as for the Master.

Perhaps when the next round of judge software updates comes around, some thought will be given to stiffer penalties. (In particular, I can't see the logic behind the idea of being late 75% of the time and breaking even with dedication points.) Until then, I'd encourage Masters to improve the quality of the games that they run by trying out stiffer penalties (if you can find a judge keeper to agree to implement them manually). If anyone tries running a game under the Dedicated Player House Rules or some similar idea, please let me know. I'd like to hear about how it works out.

Simon Szykman
Carnegie Mellon University

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