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Monday, March 18, 2013

Why the CSM Concept is Broken: Part 1

When I read about the Council of Stellar Management (CSM,) I can't help but wonder at how dysfunctional everyone thinks it is. There are lots of blogs, dev posts, forum threads and reddit diatribes about Eve Online's CSM. It's even had its own political scandal. And everywhere I look, everyone is unhappy with it it. The general impression seems to be it's broken. Why is that?

Let's start by examining how it's broken. That comes down to what people think the CSM does. Here is CCP's official reason the CSM exists:
"The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council to represent the views of the players to CCP."
But no one can really agree on what that means exactly. The definition works for everyone right up to the end of "player-elected council." Then all bets are off. It seems that "represent the views of the players" is wide open for interpretation.

As I see it, there are three basic categories of interpretation for that clause. Those three categories are CCP, the players who are running for CSM, and the players who elect the CSM. Here is my idea of how someone belonging to each of these categories would interpret that last section.

CCP
"The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council to represent how players might react to certain proposed game changes within Eve Online."
In CCP's view, the CSM is a sounding board for ideas. CCP's own internal decision processes have deemed these ideas possible. After groups of developers submit their "doable" lists within a feature framework CCP management crafted, CCP management picks the dozen or so they like most and presents them to the CSM. From CSM reactions, they then pick the four or six best received ideas - even if the CSM didn't really like any of them very much but thought a few were "okay." CCP soon is working hard on the next development cycle assured that their hard work will be well received because "players" didn't hate it.

CSM Candidate
"The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council to represent the views of the Eve Online players who elected it."
That's a bit of double-speak but that's how the candidates see it IMO. The CSM candidates feel they are the Don Quixotes of New Eden. There is much that does not work properly in Eve Online. Many players are subjected to less than optimal game play because of these shortcomings. Each CSM candidate campaigns on promises to fix those broken elements whether they be mining barge buffs, super-capital nerfs or POS management. They appeal to specific aspects of the game that "large" numbers of players feel need "fixed." If they are elected, these newly appointed CSM members will do everything possible to steer CCP in the "proper direction" according to the wishes of those who elected them. They assume they got elected based on the platform they ran on. Therefor, that is exactly what they will try and convince CCP to do.

Players who Elect the CSM
"The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council to tell CCP how Eve Online can be more fun for me."
The average elector just wants Eve Online to be more fun for them. That usually revolves around their favorite play style. PvPers want more pew-pew - in general. Carebears want less pew-pew - in general. All players want the stuff they don't like to be easier and less "painful" when they have to do it. For example, most players like the very passive income that comes from Planetary Interaction but all players hate the fact that you have to click a bazillion times to make it work. They want the CSM to tell CCP to give them their ISK for nothing and their clicks for free... ouch, that was a really, really bad pun. But you grok what I mean. The same feelings extend to POS management. And frankly, that's about as detailed as they get. When queried about how a POS should work exactly, they general have no idea. When pressed, they may present some general ideas, but it's really pie in the sky stuff for the most part. "Just make it easier," is a typical ending to that conversation.

Now, when you mix those three interpretations of what the CSM does, you get this little scenario.

CCP: Hey, time to elect the next CSM!
CSM Candidate: Vote for me and I'll make sure CCP follows through on their promise to make POS management modular! I also promise to have CCP revamp small ship balancing for better pew-pew in low-sec.
POS Owners: Modular POSes? That's awesome, I'm voting for you!

When the election is over, our POS candidate has a seat. He gets on an airplane and some hours later sits in a conference room in CCP headquarters.

CCP: We have this great idea on extending DUST 514 mercenaries into all low-sec systems; not just fac-war systems.
CSM Candidate: Before you do that, we need to get the POS problem resolved.
CCP: What problem is that?
CSM Candidate: They are too hard to manage. We need them modularized like you promised to do.
CCP: We promised to look into it; not do it. Here's the video. So we looked into it as promised. It's just not doable. There's too much legacy code involved  We'd have to completely rewrite Eve Online. We just can't do that. Now, about this extension of DUST 514.
CSM Candidate: Okay, I suppose that will make for more pew-pew in low-sec. Can you look at ship re-balancing while you do it?
CCP: That's already being looked into as part of our long term plans.
CSM Candidate: Cool.

After the CSM Candidate goes home and writes the minutes (that's called ownership BTW,) CCP publishes the "official" version a month later.

CCP: The CSM agreed that DUST 514 is so awesome we are going to make all low-sec planets conquerable!
POS Owner: But you promised to fix the POS problem first!
CSM Candidate: They actually only promised to look into it. Here's the video. They did that, but there's too much legacy code they'd have to rewrite and they wouldn't have any time to work on the awesome new DUST 514 expansion. Pew-pew in low-sec will go through the roof!
CCP: We are re-balancing ship types to enhance capsuleer interactions in the newly expanded conflict zones too!

CCP goes forward with their decisions though they are a bit perturbed with the pushy CSM candidate and resolve to make the CSM function better. The CSM candidate feels like one win is better than no wins and at least he got a free trip to Iceland. The player who voted for modular POSes feels betrayed. He may quit or he may not, but he's certainly one step closer to becoming a bitter vet.

And that, in my view, is how the CSM concept is broken. In Part 2, I'll discuss why I think it is broken. I'll give you a hint. It's not because of something someone has done.

Fly Careful

11 comments:

  1. Interesting read so far. Look forward to part 2

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  2. yup, i'm looking forward to,good story so far :-)

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  3. Since some of the CSM candidates are within the leadership and supported by the largest power blocks in the game their viewpoint isn't one of serving their voters specifically but supporting the meta-gaming of their leadership positions more generally.

    As evidence of that you might look at the minutes in the first sessions of CSM 7 when Hans talked about cyno jammers in FW systems and such and the PL representative basically said any such inclusion in the game would bring PL into lowsec in force to prevent anyone using them. Just an example of how the CSM is now seen not as a agent for change but an agent against change. Blue Donut stagnation is going beyond null-sec to those institutions they have control over.

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  4. I'm with DSJ, the politics of the CSM favour the interests of the established older player over the newbies.

    Most new players don't even vote - why would you? Do you care about the player council for Solitaire or Minesweeper? When you start Eve it's just some casual game and there's no doubt a huge portion of the electorate who not only don't vote but think it would be daft to vote - like voting for some random meaningless thing like a karaoke talent TV show.

    However when people get really invested in the game they perceive that they can advantage themselves relative to the rest of the population. Eve is a zero sum game in which for the most part one section of the community getting buffed causes a knock-on impoverishment to everyone else (cf Faction Warfare and 670 mill plexes).

    That becomes even more true when communities organise as the null blocs do. A Goon grunt will get a list of recommended candidates. A random high sec player will probably just pick someone they've heard of or worse pick a "high sec candidate" like James315 then wonder why their hulk gets blown up.

    The cvs of the older richer candidates tend to be better. Take Selene - a storied alliance leader, ex-CCP developer, seen it done it etc etc. However his preoccupation is restoring the good old days when he could solo 200 other players in his titan - good for one person but shit for 200 others.

    I don't think the CSM is good for Eve. It turns into the loud aggressive chicks elbowing the small quiet chicks out of the nest.

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  5. You know... that sounds an awful lot like exactly how it works IRL except for the lack of cronyism, pork barrels and Secrets of State...

    Though, cronyism could = CFC/HBC political manuverings...
    and pork barrels = An all paid Holiday in Iceland!!
    and Secrets of State = NDAs...

    so yea... politics is politics IRL or IVL (In Virtual Life)...

    And as for "...the CSM is now seen not as a agent for change but an agent against change..."

    Working as an agent against change is as much a part of standard politics as working for change. If you work 'for' change until you get what you want, then obviously you are going to work as hard 'against' change to keep what you got... that's just an oxymoron.

    CFC/HBC have 'won' EvE and now they want to hold on to their hard won peace/place/income etc... same as you would in their shoes. It is nether right nor wrong and they will use any and all methods at their disposal... including the CSM, threats from PL etc., etc. ...but it IS so damn boring for the rest of us.

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    1. Actually I wouldn't argue to keep my advantage if I were in the CSM. Statesmanship is knowing that your interests don't align with the greater good and having the courage to fight for the interests of all against the interest of a few.

      If the CSM members aren't capable of that then there is little incentive to see the entire exercise as anything other than a cynical meta-game. It may be that RL politics has come to that point --- but that is ultimately the voters fault in democratic countries and it's our fault in Eve depending on who we vote for and why.

      Of all the candidates Ripard Teg strikes me as the only one wanting the opportunity to understand the greater picture and actually side with what is the greater interests of the players.

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  6. CSM isn't broken, the only "problem" is CSM candidates that run making promises of change and voters who believe them.

    "represent the views of the players to CCP."

    Explain 100% what the CSM is about quite succinctly, the CSM has no power they're just an advocate. The "problem" is when people try to equate this to government elections (where those who are elected actually have decision making power) and with those who foolishly or naively believe them.

    If you see a candidate who promises to make a change to the game, my suggestion is that you seriously question sending your vote their way. Its a big red flag that when they're hit with the reality of what the CSM really is there's a high likelihood that they'll just sit and pout in their corner for their term and not provide a real service to the game.

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    1. You have understandingly misinterpreted what I wrote. I did not say the CSM is broken. I asked why the CSM ***Concept*** is broken. The CSM as it stands today functions precisely the way I expect it to function. Stay tuned for more clarification.

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    2. cool, looking forward to it.

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  7. To me, the CSM very much is like good 'ole Don Quixote. CCP has them running around tilting at windmills while they cherry pick a few suggested items and mainly concentrate on their priorities right now, which are World of Darkness and Dust. Eve is a steady little cash cow to the tune of a little over $7 million a month. The most vocal players, and CSM members, will complain about the POS and sov situations, but neither of those represent more income for CCP, which CCP needs right now for its other two projects. Any time CCP says it's too hard to fix sov or the POS, what they really mean is that the time and effort is better spent on things that will get them more bang for their buck. Sov won't get them new players or more money from the nex store. POSs are the same. If they devoted primary effort to fixing either sov or POS, that minimizes resources for other things that THEY think are important to them, not to the players.

    Next, they decide they aren't going to throw all their weight behind fixing major problems, like sov and POSs, and instead, will do tiny updates to a bunch of things, over multiple updates. This lets them go after things that will get them more money, and after all, as much as the current customers whine about POSs and sov, even if they aren't logging in, they're still paying for their accounts. Any time a player questions the new paradigm from CCP, they say it's "too hard!" What it really is, is pure bullshit. Eve has stagnated, after ten years, at a 160,000 player base, which is a level of customer that is associated with other dying MMOs. Eve is broken and CCP is too lazy, too incompetent or too preoccupied to fix it. With WOD on closed beta (you know, game they said they WEREN'T working on after the 20% layoff?) and Dust in beta with over a million players, they'll keep the lights on in Eve until I either stops paying for itself, or it's too much of a pain in the ass for CCP to maintain - likely the latter. In the mean time, the loyal but predominantly gullible customer base of Eve can be easily distracted with CSM high jinks and the "HEY, COME TO ICELAND FOR THE BIRTHDAY PARTY!!"

    PS - Seleene actually let slip the real player number in a June podcast on Voices from the Void.

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  8. I read this and it echoed much of what I myself felt. I vote for Roc everytime, because I believe he's the only one that understands the concept of player representation, and not the republic kind of way it has become for others to use their experience in Eve and debate through their own opinion of what a change can/should bring. vov. We'll see. Good writing. Your expressions are like water, clear and clean. The pictures are too •••damn funny though. Take them off or I fear I might die... :(

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Be civil, be responsible and most of all be kind. I will not tolerate poor form. There will be no James Hooks here. We are all better than that.