People have a range of strong to weak opinions on this. The key theme here is that herding cats works best when rules and contractual expectations are clearly defined. Often in this community things are left unsaid or unspoken, which hurts you guys more often than you realize.
You can't expect ad-hoc game organization to happen with the pragmatic efficiency of the Japanese train system.
I sort of giggled when I read Brian's contractual definition of "in", mainly because this game has hordes of under 25s who can still barely tie their shoes, let alone schedule themselves weeks ahead of time. Thing is, Brian is one of the more unambiguous communicators on the board and communicates in a way that commands attention and respect. If we could clone his style, things might go more smoothly. Not all games and personalities posted on this board have that level of clarity.
I think game organizers should stop fighting the natural impulses of the market and instead roll with it. Interest in a given game isn't a binary state. Want to hedge risk? Design a system that handles it. Krap101 just gave us a big hint above.
Consider the various states of interest and types of people involved in the runup to a game:
1) 100% "in" - will come no matter what.
2) 100% "in" - will come if they can get a ride.
3) 50/50 "in" - wishes to express their interest in the game but will know better closer to the date. This person is not evil, and not a contract-breaker. The system should allow for them to exist.
4) Flaker - not intending to come but ins anyway (this is probably a small group). A community should systematically shun these folks, but with the right payment/event system, they won't even be a problem.
5) Someone who is willing to pay in full weeks ahead of time and is willing to lose some or all of their fee if they can't make it.
6) Someone who is willing to pre-register and pay a small fee to do so but would like to pay the rest on the day-of to hedge their risk
7) Someone who has a truck/bus/van and can provide rides from a rallying point. These people should be rewarded with a discount or VIP status if they successfully provide a ride to others because they bring more business and/or stability to YOU.
9) Someone who has guns and/or batteries to rent - these people can help solidify the "in"-ness of other people. How many friends have you invited to airsoft who said "but I don't have a gun/mask/goggles/camo/etc" ?
10) Vendors who are able to provide BBs or retailer support and bring more marketing to you (and vice versa)
11) People who would love to show up but refuse to go through the rigamarole of signing up on some "forum"
12) 100% "in" unless bad weather. Some people run external LiPos and/or trigger computers that won't handle rain well. Some people just don't consider it fun.
etc.. etc.. If you don't want some of these types of people in your game, be clear and state it. That should be a theme actually: If you don't want people who can't handle a 2-date requirement, etc, then be clear "we can go on and play without you but don't sign up. No hard feelings". Etc.
But of particular interest is case #4, the outright flaker. Wouldn't it be nice for your event organizer method/system/whatever to not be so brittle as to be brought down, or at least not have your day ruined by a flaker?... Yet why do people continue to design situations in which they get terrorized by these types of participants?
It's no surprise that lots of people are having this issue though, we're not allowing the lessons of one organizer permeate to the next, there's really no guiding force here, no software assistance, no nothing. Bulletin board software written in PHP would be my "worst of class" exemplar in nearly every social category except the sharing of cat pictures, and it even blows at that task. We should stop shoe-horning it into every single role imaginable.
Out there on the web, event hosting is a partially solved problem. We're in the age of free and infinite software on the web for every purpose imaginable... The tools are out there, eventbrite.com , meetup.com , etc.. Eventbrite even handles discounting and early-bird fees, etc. These aren't expensive tools. We're charging more money for Airsoft games than most business networking nights in Downtown Toronto and they use these tools.. Don't see why we can't.
Since the biggest risk involved is money, this problem needs first and foremost to be solved as a payment issue. So to sum up:
1) Create the right incentives and penalties for people to put their money where their mouth is. Discounts, pre-registration, flakeouts, non-refundable portions.
2) Stop hitting the reset button every time and start codifying best practices and helping each other do this well. Improve "the system" over time.
3) Stop trying to do all the work yourselves and stop using forum posts as an event signup tool. Use the tools out there, eventbrite, meetup, etc. The forum can instead become a place to discuss the scenario, post pictures and maps, and get suggestions, trash-talk etc.
4) Stop mixing different systems. A signup list on 2 forums and 1 facebook page is a great way to make it too much work for yourself and turn any organizer into a whiny bitch instead of a happy organizer.
5) Stop being so inflexible and allow for some customer segmentation. Categorize and your players according to their seriousness ..
The market works two ways. We come together to produce these games as a group, players and organizers. So above all, reward loyalty and reliability.
Heck, have a loyalty program -- That's what Trev and Dave (gfh) have been doing in Hamilton and it is beginning to pay dividends. All they had to do was decide not to run a sloppy game series and presto, it's working.
Now you know