As I indicated on The Meta Show, the CSM has been further sidelined and marginalized. During the lead up to the next summit, I’m going to examine how the institution got to this point and what must be done if there is any hope to salvage it for the future.
What follows is the complete and unedited reform proposal I sent to CCP back in August that was subsequently discussed at the fall summit. It received near-unanimous support from the CSM, and was endorsed by CCP Seagull and CCP Falcon to be put into action during this term. Then it was killed. No other reform proposals have been offered:
The CSM is a fundamentally broken institution from which CCP, CSM members, and players as a whole derive little value. Player engagement with the CSM is at an all time low and the CSM is not well looped into CCP’s internal processes. The institution has not grown with the company or the players as the game has progressed. The needs it once filled are largely met, or at best are far diminished. The entire institution requires an overhaul to meet the new realities and the needs of both the players and the company. Though the institution is currently of dubious value, the idea behind the CSM holds immense potential if properly directed, managed, and harnessed. This document will outline the challenges facing the institution, analysis, as well as the solutions require to meet those challenges. Those conclusions will then be condensed down into an action plan that should be adopted to address both the needs of the company and of the players.
The CSM was formed in a time of crisis to fill a very specific need. It was also a pet project that allowed for greater experimentation on what it meant to inhabit and develop for the virtual world of New Eden, but the primary purpose of the institution was to give players a direct voice in the legislation of the game. This voice was absolutely necessary during that era, and indeed led to a more open company that today sees developers posting on reddit as well as eve-o, guesting on streams and podcasts, and generally being highly accessible to the playerbase. No longer is the CSM the only source of feedback for developers or the company, and though that is largely a positive development, it vastly diminishes the importance of the CSM’s action in that capacity.
The CSM has no agency whatsoever. While the CSM can suggest that the company take certain courses of action, the final call ultimately remains in CCP’s hands. Again, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this, it is instead representative of another area where the CSM suffers relevance issues.
The CSM has no clear purpose outlined anywhere.
We’re nearing single digit levels of CSM voter turnout. It is impossible to make the case the EVE community is engaged with the CSM process in any real sense.
The company has no real process structure in place to deal with the CSM in today’s release cadence, which makes it difficult to argue that CCP is engaged with the CSM.
The CSM has no real method to proactively engage with CCP, and no real measure for which the CSM is judged as to how it engages with the players.
The system has disengagement de-facto built into it from every possible vector, and it is therefore no surprise at all that these implicit processes have the results they do.
The CSM provides very little real utility to CCP, and particularly to the players. Players cannot see what the CSM does, how it’s members work, or what (if any) value that the CSM adds. CCP as often as not blocks out the CSM rather than implement procedures to loop in the CSM such that the CSM can add value.
Value of CSM Members
An elected set of players does not truly reflect the playerbase at the turnout levels we’re looking at, but more importantly, it means that CCP never has any real assurance that the people on the CSM know anything of value or can contribute intelligently to a discussion about the game. It also means that potential airtime is being given to non-specialist players in areas where feedback from other players would be far more useful. This is probably why developers are now reaching out more on Skype to non-NDA players instead of the CSM, the CSM simply does not have the expertise in some areas.
The NDA is a slim barrier to players telling their pals what is going on. It is repeatedly breached by the CSM. In addition, devs will often talk to people who they are close with or who are subject matter experts not bound by NDA. On top of all that, it is impossible for the CSM to track what each dev says in public, so often times information will be ostensibly NDA but functionally public. The whole system also blocks the CSM from communicating in any meaningful fashion with the rest of the playerbase, and makes it entirely to easy to hide behind.
There has been a marked uptick in both the hostility show by CCP to the CSM and to its customer base at large. This appears to be increasing in regularity, and indicates a development and managerial team that isolated from player feedback and engaging in a bunker mentality. This prevents the company from harnessing a plethora of good ideas or taking meaningful criticism seriously.
Despite the challenges posed above, there is a tremendous amount of value in the CSM, but only if it is altered to fit the reality as it exists. An elected space council with no power, no agency, and that provides little value is little more than a pricey PR front. In a game as complex and as open a sandbox as EVE is, this represents both a colossal waste and a huge missed opportunity.
The reason holds specifically true in EVE is that it appears to be that the company conceptualizes its customers as players. This is a huge mental distinction to make, and goes a long way to explaining many of the endemic cultural woes that I’ve witnessed. Players diminishes by one very important cognitive step the relationship between the company and the people who keep the company running–that is, that players can be more easily dismissed as playing wrong, causing issues, or generally being a hassle. Players can be much more easily marginalized, which is a huge risk. Players are customers. Ultimately CCP is tasked with delivering a product that customers wish to consume, and to pay you to keep doing. The lack of recognition of this nuance is major in its implications.
Essentially, the contention is that CCP is not well serving its customers. The intent is there, but there is no real organized effort to seek out customer needs, customer desires, and solicit the wisdom of the crowd in incorporating all of this into designing a product that customers want to play.
The people who know most about the EVE are not the designers. It’s the players. Players can devote more time to understanding the game than CCP ever could, and the crowd’s solutions will always be better than even the smartest single person could devise. This is because ideas tested off each other create better solutions, and this is what crowds will naturally do if properly managed.
CCP appears however to be threatened by this reality. “Our players are playing our game wrong” instead of “we should strive to deliver a play experience our customers enjoy” and “Our players are whiny” instead of “our customers are expressing dissatisfaction at the play experience we’ve delivered” and “We’re professional game designers, players aren’t and don’t understand how hard it is” instead of “Our customers are passionate and intelligent, perhaps we can harness some of this.”
This kind of subtle attitude shift is going to be required if CCP is to pull out of the apparent continued loss of subscribers and if EVE is to continue to be a flagship product. This is the purpose to which a revamped CSM is ideally suited.
One of the most difficult tasks in gathering developer feedback and not costing vital time and resources is sifting through the noise of feedback for the signal. The CSM itself is not well suited to providing signal either, it can sometimes, but it as often can advocate in terms of self-interest rather than for the overall interest of the game. Furthermore, it’s too small to possibly cover all of the required specialist areas in the game.
Instead, what is required is a vast expansion of the concepts and intent behind the CSM. CCP requires not a democratically elected council of 14, but a vast player specialist army.
Here’s how this works. CCP spins up a proper customer specialist focus group. Active subscribers apply for a limited number of slots on specialist focus group teams. Some examples of these groups could be ship fittings, third party development, industry, logistics, fleet combat, nullsec, wormholes, or whatever is deemed desirable. CCP then sends the application list to the CSM members in that specialist area to vet via some form of voting matrix to winnow down the number of people. The CSM vetted list is then submitted to CCP for final approval, with CCP being able to retain veto rights or automatic addition rights if there is someone the company believes should be part of a specialized group. This accomplishes a couple goals: It gives the CSM real agency, and vastly reduces the administrative overhead of a larger specialist group on CCP’s end. In addition, CSM members are far more likely able to identify talented individuals in the community that CCP is unaware of but who would add a great deal to discussions.
For communication, specialist groups will require a new (and locked) forum area. This will have to be created, and moderated. However, again in order to reduce administrative overhead on CCP and grant agency to the CSM, these groups will be moderated and led by CSM members. This serves the additional purpose of creating a much cleaner location for developers and management to sift ideas outside of the noise of reddit or eve-o. It will be direct access to the best minds in the game on a given topic in a moderated environment, which reduces the time required to look for ideas and sift elsewhere.
This would also provide a very easy venue for CSM members to provide backing for their statements, look for new ideas themselves, and call developer attention to good ideas. Furthermore, it creates a feedback channel with the game’s most influential opinion leaders, helps bridge the communication gap, and would serve to help solicit and seduce community sentiment.
A set of CSM-led specialist groups gives huge new meaning to the CSM while delivering time savings in the form of noise filtration and moderated feedback channels. It also ensures that CSM members are very accountable to whom they represent, and that they are an engaged part of the community. There’s also the obvious option to expand permanent attendees from two to four–the two highest vote recipients, and two picked by aggregate vote between by the specialist groups come summit time.
To go point by point as to how this solves the challenges posed:
Relevance: This gives the CSM a much clearer and defined purpose as the elected body that is responsible for channeling and managing player feedback. It gives each player a personal stake in which CSM member is elected due to the CSM vetting candidates for the specialized feedback groups. It provides and immediate hierarchy for players to recognize and invest in.
Engagement: This necessarily solves a lot of the engagement issue vectors simply by clearly defining them. It will also almost certainly drive up voter engagement due to the personal stake people will now have in seeing their candidate elected. It provides clear measure by which a CSM member may be judged, and a method by which other players can do so, rather than CCP.
Utility: By essentially running specialized focus groups, CCP derives huge time-cost savings in trying to filter out the noise when attempting to locate or solicit feedback in open forums due to a lack of CSM expertise in a given area, or perhaps just to get other expertise opinions. This directly translates from money spent for just PR to time savings and real value added.
Value for CSM Members: By being voted in by their peers to the top of a social hierarchy with a very clearly defined purpose, CSM members will be better able to contribute in a productive fashion and thus derive enjoyment from the endeavor even if CCP is mired in a massive patch or launch at the time. CSM members will have to communicate with players as well as CCP, and will see new value in being able to harness community sentiment to bring to and to explain to CCP.
NDA: A more simplified NDA process can be implement for members of these groups. Though this will be at least as leaky as the CSM and devs are now, it also means there will be more noise leaking out rather than signal, and will provide a place for CSM members (with a more strict NDA) and devs to use as a sounding board for ideas and concepts. Many of these concepts will never be released, eventually leading to a more blasé attitude about what’s being discussed behind closed doors. There’s no way to solve for this, but this mitigates many of the current NDA issues.
Attitudinal Inertia: By interacting with CSM members with clearly defined goals and clear (or not clear, but either way obvious by discussion in the specialist forums) mandate, CCP will have much of the suspicion of player meta-gaming removed from dialogs with the CSM. In addition, the moderated format will mean that the toxic unproductive nature of unmoderated areas can be avoided, making it far easier to understand EVE subscribers as passionate customers rather than whiny players.
Using the CSM in this fashion while creating this vast new feedback area has a huge set of potential rewards, including the real gains to be made by looping in customers on this and the goodwill that generates but also in terms of time savings and using the CSM for something more than a PR thing.
The highlight is, it lets you harness your customers’ passion in an organized fashion that is authentic to the EVE universe. In terms of overall cost, it would take a matter of hours (or days, depending on your forum architecture) to spin up. Then you would require one highly talented and capable employee to manage the CSM and the focus groups full time and to nail down the finer policy points. You already pay for that. Then the players will do the rest.
Clearly there are a lot of policy areas I’ve skimmed over and omitted. The crux of it is that you need the CSM, and this is what you need the CSM to do. EVE is too complex to not harness the wisdom of the crowds, and not attempting to harness that collective intelligence in a systematic way is why your players will always be more than one step ahead of you. This co-opts that.
- Create specialized forum area for specialist groups
- Create policies, process flows, and best practices for the CSM and specialist groups
- Solicit applications for specialist groups
- Create forum tools for CSM members to moderate specialist groups
This is how CCP fixes the CSM institutionally and delivers an extensive amount of additional value on top of it all. There is no other reasonable way to accomplish this.
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Sion Kumitomo.