What is to Be Done with CSM 11?

The season is upon us again, the run up to the EVE Online Council of Stellar Management elections has begun.

CSM11_logo

The schedule of events looks like this:

  • January 15, 2016 – Candidacy period opens (Hey, that’s tomorrow!)
  • February 9, 2016 – Candidacy period closes, CCP validates potential candidates
  • February 29, 2016 – Voting begins
  • March 25, 2016 – Voting ends
  • April 21, 2016 – Results to be announced at Fanfest 2016

A new slate of candidates are already warming up their pitch… a new slate because a number of the veterans are declining to return.  For me the surprise isn’t that some people won’t run again, it is that some of them have run twice already.  From the outside being on the CSM looks like a bad middle management position: Too much work, not enough credit, scant control over your what tasks you get, and little chance your feedback will be heeded, all while reporting to a group likely a few time zones away that you will never truly be a part of.

I’ve had that job in real life, where it at least paid well and I got 6 weeks of vacation.  Doing it for free on top of my day job though, that seems like a bit much to ask.

And there is the institution itself, which I have considered a questionable tool for the job since its inception.  Having a consistently disinterested player base elect a slate of representatives is no way to ensure the right people are available to advise, not to mention that it favors well organized groups (read: Null Sec) so heavily that CCP had to re-rig the voting scheme so as to at least try and make it seem like they were doing something about it.

Then taking those elected and locking them into a year of working on topics for which they may have no practical experience all at the running hot and cold pace of product development and interacting with teams that may or may not care what they have to say or even trust them with details doesn’t seem like a great way to run a railroad.

And then there is the downside of having CSM members chosen by election, which is that it occasionally gives some of them the sense that they have a real mandate to do something.  The problem is that they only have the power that CCP allows them, unless they decide to go to the player base and publicly oppose CCP.

Admittedly, that worked once, with the Incarna and “Greed is Good” debacle. (Unless, of course, you were a fan of walking in stations.  Fans of space monocles, however, were spared any harm as the monocle of ill repute, which caused outsiders to deem this all “Monocle-gate,” is still available in the New Eden Store.)

That one moment during CSM6 gave people a sense that the CSM was perhaps not just a CCP publicity stunt, that it could be a force, a voice, to help set CCP straight when they started to stray from the fundamentals of the game.

Since then, however, that sense of mandate has been more likely to lead things like this.  I’m sure somebody at CCP did a spit-take when reading that, because in the midst of a dysfunctional relationship there is little they are less likely to do that try and depend more on the CSM.

CCP clearly needs to get feedback on ideas from players.  They have admitted in the past that the wisdom of the crowd can often see flaws and exploits in their plans long before they do.  Even the forums, as unwieldy as the can be, seem to offer a better chance of providing such feedback than a small elected body.  And short term focus groups seem like a much better alternative than either.

The main complaint I have heard about focus groups is that in a mix of conflicting opinions that such a group might bring, the developers are likely to only listen to the voices that agree with their preconceptions.  Unfortunately, while that can be true, it doesn’t seem less likely to be the case with the CSM either, the only difference being that CCP is likely to simply get less opinions to weigh.  That doesn’t feel like an off-setting benefit to me.  The wisdom of the crowd fades when the crowd dwindles to a little more than a dozen people.

If you look around to other companies running MMOs, the idea of selecting groups of players to offer feedback on aspects of the game for which they are qualified is pretty common.  SOE had their guild council running off and on for years.  Blizzard grabs players now and again for feedback.  And, while I would hardly endorse Turbine as an example that other companies ought to follow on most fronts, they do have their player councils for Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online.

That doesn’t even get into the whole Kickstarter and Early Access idea that is so popular these days and how that channels feedback to companies.

So what of the CSM then?

I always think back to when the idea came into being as a response to the T20 scandal. (Long version.)  It was somehow going to provide some oversight and transparency or some such to restore player confidence in CCP.  Has it done that yet?

I suspect that it will linger on for a few more seasons, despite my prediction.  I think it is telling that the CSM White Paper was firmed up this time around when it came to replacing members of the CSM.  That aspect of the CSM certainly got some exercise during CSM X, and it makes me wonder if the path to the exit will be shorter going forward.

But I am, by my own admission, quite the cynic at times, especially when it comes to sandbox politics.  I think reading the minutes of the Academic Senate at my university put me squarely in that spot.

Others are less cynical.  Some very earnest, hard working, and well meaning people will be running for CSM 11.  I am not for a boycott of the election, since I suspect that such an act would only cause the election to further favor the organized groups that will vote a full slate.   So I will not try to dissuade you from voting for the candidate of your choice, and all the more so if you believe they can do some good.

I even put together my own platform for a CSM run as a joke, then figured I had best not post it because once you start something like that, even in jest, some people will think you’re just being coy and really want the job.  I am sure there are people out there waiting for Gevlon to run despite his statements to the contrary.

My idea was to distill down the game to its most essential element, which I considered to be explosions.  My platform was solely based on explosions.  Explosions are exciting, give a great sense of satisfaction, are pretty, generate kill mails, and stimulate the economy.  I would be in favor of any plan that would increase the number of explosions in the game over the long term and against anything that reduced explosions in the long run, and would evaluate any idea based solely on that idea.

So, for example, I would have been against the Entosis link module idea, since explosions were reduced by that in my experience, something that seemed likely before it went into the game.  I would also be against being able to build a big red button that would cause everything in the game to explode because, while explosions would go up in the short term, the long term prospect for explosions would be dim.

I would likely have been for citadels, as those seem likely to increase the net explosion count, though I might be against the extremely small vulnerability window of the medium citadels,

So if you are just dying to run for the CSM and need a platform, feel free to steal that, or some variation on it.  As far as I can tell, it is as meaningful a platform as any I have seen laid out there, at least relative to what CCP will let you do in the end.

There go a thousand or so words on a topic in which I allegedly have little interest.  I doth protest a bit much or something, I think.

Of course, this being the CSM season, others are trotting out their own news and views on the institution.  We shall see what the election brings us.

 

8 thoughts on “What is to Be Done with CSM 11?

  1. evehermit

    Your analogy of a bad middle management position is excellent – and likely accurate.

    There have been some excellent CSM members – those level headed and knowledgeable who can provide direct and valuable feedback, and those who have been able to engage the players and collate and deftly summarise their wishes. Through them I see the value in the institution.

    There have been those who through various real life circumstances have not been able to contribute, or simply did not have the communication and personal skills required. While unfortunate, I don’t think they invalidate the concept of the CSM.

    Then you have those playing politics and games, or trolling, or crooks, or simply insolent and immature when they don’t get their way, who deliberately sabotage and destabilise the platform. Through the damage they do, I’m left wondering if CCP can’t do better by hand picked focus groups and paid professionals to summarise their forum feedback and the like.

    In the long term I think the CSM will fold – to the gleeful clapping of those who would then claim the scalp. The game will be worse for it – so I hope CCP take the good aspects and continue with some formal feedback loop with its players.

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  2. Mynxee (@Mynxee)

    (I originally posted this comment in reply to yours on Kirith’s “Poisoned Well” post but it probably more rightly belongs here so please forgive my cross-posting)

    Why does no one ever stop to ask how in the world a player-elected group could ever be held responsible for oversight and transparency of a game development studio to prevent the likes of the T20 scandal? CCP would be insane to give the CSM the kind of behind-the-scenes access necessary to really do that and the power to actually have it mean something. So let’s call the oft-stated original reason for forming the CSM what it really was: poorly thought-out PR b.s. coupled with a pie-in-the-sky social experiment related to CCP Xhagen’s PhD thesis.

    That’s why the CSM evolved as it did into a focus group with a (hopefully) panoramic perspective on the game from which to provide CCP with insights on development work in progress. There was nothing else for it to do. In that evolved role, it turns out that the CSM has been and could still be useful. Its usefulness however is largely dependent on cards being dealt from CCP’s side of the table. Given what is observable (through the lens of the White Paper, CSM member and CCP dev public statements, Summit minutes) about how the CSM is managed and comparing it to business best practices, I’m not sure they’re playing with a full deck.

    Bad behavior by a very limited group of CSM members over the past 10 terms is not the reason the institution is broken. It’s just one symptom of a poorly defined and poorly managed program.

    Thanks for the link to my recent blog post. I’m not all that interested in whether the CSM lives or dies but I think the reasons for its failings are frustratingly obvious to those of us who’ve served on the CSM.

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  3. Rob Kaichin

    Remove any mentions or suggestions of lobbying or influence. Remove ‘playstyle advocation’ and anything that could be interpreted as “we’ll tell you what to do”. Strip even the vaguest impressions of power from the White Paper.

    When you’ve done that, start talking about subject matter experts: people who have long-term, deep experience of living in a certain area of space. Running as ‘a politician’ should be banned in the same way that a ‘joke candidacy’ like Xenuria’s should be banned, because it would be a joke. A ‘doesn’t log in’ candidate isn’t what CCP would be looking for.

    I think a proportional representation system would also be good: Not a direct per capita system, but a 4:4:3:3 system, with the highest amount of votes being the ‘permanent attendee’ from that area of space.

    And most desirably, a “One Player: One Vote” system. No more ‘money = voting power’ relationship. You identify (or are identified) as a HS/LS/NS/WH player, and cast your vote for the expert of your choice.

    This makes the CSM a ‘focus’ group, which can talk with some experience how prospective changes will affect their area of space. Quality CSM members like Sugar and Ripard can be picked out because of their experience: Sugar is notorious for her markets, Ripard was PvPing with R&K in NPC Null before it was cool.*

    Advocacy does have a place in this new system, but it isn’t the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ which it is at the moment. Advocacy will be limited to minimising the effects of changes, not substituting wholesale the CSM’s own ideas.

    Finally, CCP reserves any and all rights to do whatever they want to do in Eve. Its CCP’s game, not the players’. If CCP decides that a ‘spaceship politician’ isn’t who they want on the CSM, then they can deny his candidacy at will. Ironically, CCP already set a precedent for this with the unilateral ending of Gevlon’s campaign.*

    Would these measures solve the problem? I think they’d solve some part of it. That’s how you deal with big problems, by breaking them down into manageable parts.

    *That isn’t to say that such expertise is what made them great CSMs. However, it certainly helped improve the quality of their feedback, and the legitimacy of their representation. I just think it’s a shame I never had the chance to vote for Ripard.

    *When a Neo-Nazi campaign was allowed to continue whilst being under investigation, but Gevlon’s wasn’t, then you have problems.

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  4. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Mynxee – I must admit my actual investment in the CSM and its future is fairly low. I just enjoying bringing up the T20 aspect of the whole CSM history because it is, as you point out, nonsensical to the point of humorous, and because I am just one of those people who enjoy dredging up that sort of thing for laughs.

    My main problem with the CSM is that the expectations are always grand beyond reason.

    @Rob Kaichin – I see a couple flaws with your plan, the first being essentially the requirement that human beings stop acting like human beings. Politics is pretty much guaranteed when more than two people are involved, and no amount of banning it will make is cease. That is just the road to rule lawyering and pissing people off even more so.

    Second, in the end, for a focus group to have value it has to meet a critical mass of view points. The CSM, at 14 people, is too small and too diverse, even with the null sec bloc voting power, to get enough points of view in play. As much as I might respect somebody like Jester, I am not enthusiastic about him and maybe two other people being the sole SME’s on the CSM for all topics involving low sec PvP. And expanding the CSM beyond 14 people, each with a year long commitment, would probably put too much of a burden on poor CCP Leeloo. Having 14 people on the hook with whatever plans and expectations they showed up with is probably trouble enough.

    What CCP is doing with the capitals focus group feels like the best choice to me. The CSM can be a sanity check before CCP moves out to a larger audience with new ideas.

    Also, as an aside, I actually think Xenuria would end up being anything but a joke candidate. He can be scary insightful when he focuses on a topic. And he logs in. I’ve even been on a fleet op with him. He even speaks on fleet coms, with is more than I do most days.

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  5. Gevlon

    “I am not for a boycott of the election, since I suspect that such an act would only cause the election to further favor the organized groups that will vote a full slate. ” This is weird considering you are member of the most organized group and can be explained only one way: you believe your own group is harmful to EVE, therefore should get no more power. Otherwise you’d campaign for a full slate.

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  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Gevlon – But if I did join your call for a boycott you could easily say that Goons want to suppress other people from voting. Goons will get some seats no matter what.

    And no, that is not the only way that my attitude can be explained. The real message, which is pretty easy to detect through almost every post I have ever done about the CSM, posts that long predate my time in null sec, is that I doubt the efficacy of the institution.

    There were Goons on the CSM between Phoebe and Aegis complaining about the plan, yet CCP did it anyway. (BTW, that series of releases also pretty much refutes the Dinsdale Pirannha theory that CCP takes its orders from Goons.) A few more Goons either way wouldn’t have changed anything. Packing the CSM with Goons would probably make the CSM even less effective in working with CCP and even less legitimate in the eyes of the players.

    So no, your “only” explanation is no explanation at all.

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  7. Rob Kaichin

    @Wihelm’s response to Gevlon:

    If the purpose of GSF is to RMT (Dinsdale’s first rule), therefore any change which makes it easier to RMT is good. Since Phoebe->Aegis added two NS income buffs (not including the whole ‘Blopsing is bad now’ change), I’m sure he’d define it as a GSF success :P

    @ Your response to me:

    I think your pessimistic view of ‘civil’ society is overstated, but in a game with this many egos, it’s probably accurate!

    The ‘CSM as a sanity check’ idea is what I was driving towards. The CSM should be experts enough to point out how this/that change will effect their space. I don’t want people to be picked because of their PvP experience, their followers or their networking abilities. The CSM should be about the space. The focus groups should be about the activities in that space.

    As for Xenuria, I don’t know. He gives a certain impression of, well, irrational focus. Shoes are, in the grand scheme of things, irrelevant. That his supporters consider him a ‘punishment’ for CCP tells me a lot about what his friends think of him, and the CSM as a whole.

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  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Rob Kaichin – Well, the hallmark of any decent conspiracy theory is its ability to incorporate or deflect any contrary evidence. I am a long time fan of Dave Emory, a master of the craft. Literally any evidence that “Goons won” in any way can be turned into evidence that Goons run CCP.

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