Dust 514: CPM – An Open Address to the Community


The first Council of Planetary Management (CPM0) recently posted a joint statement on the DUST 514 forums concerning the state of the game and the communication (or lack thereof) between CCP, the CPM, and the community. Their thought-out and detailed address echoed many sentiments of the DUST community.

CPM is the DUST equivalent of the CSM. CPM0 was hand-picked by CCP, choosing the more active members of the community for the positions before instituting a truly democratic method of selection. They have served as liason between the DUST community and CCP for several months now, and are doing their best to improve the game.

Their full address is as follows:

The first Council of Planetary Management would like to take a moment to acknowledge the reality that most in the community are already painfully aware of – that now, more than ever, we stand at another turning point for Dust 514. With the release of 1.3 having just landed and the finishing touches being put on 1.4, everyone anxiously awaits evidence that either the game will start rising to the potential we’ve seen all along, or continue to struggle with some of the same issues that have frustrated many of us since early beta.

1.4 is the first “normal” monthly release since CCP restructured their development process following Uprising’s troubled launch. This restructuring also comes in the wake of their acknowledgement that Dust is in a very unhealthy state and needs serious work in order to get back on track. No one can say that CCP hasn’t realized that they need to step up their game in order for Dust 514 to stay competitive in today’s market. Since Uprising, CCP has been making obvious changes in the right direction, and they’ve done a pretty fair job so far at revamping their internal goals in order to tackle the most pressing problems with the time they have available. That said, the fact remains that they’re using both time and money to resolve avoidable issues that crept up over the past year, and have led to the current unhealthy state of core gameplay elements.

However, the most dangerous problems have not been fully recognized nor appreciated, despite constant calls for improvement from the community for almost two years. A lack of trust between the developers and the community continues to stand between Dust 514 and its full potential. A lack of communication also persists, and has at least been briefly acknowledged as ‘something to improve on’ multiple times by everyone we’ve approached in management. Sadly though, these acknowledgements come with only with the faintest hint of understanding pertaining to the severity of these problems.

The trust issue is not primarily reflected in communication frequency, although the two are directly related. Too many times across IRC, dev blogs, and forum posts, we’ve heard designers cite their own preferences when describing their work instead of acknowledging what they’ve been hearing from the community. And without enough trust that early player input is an essential part of examining a designed element for potential problems, CCP potentially risks that they’ll have to revisit a system again later. We’ve often seen them ask for feedback much too late in the process, after a design is finished, and well past the time when a community-spotted problem could potentially be addressed and resolved before becoming an issue on the live servers.

This cycle of releasing content, receiving negative feedback, and revising in subsequent patches is both inefficient and carries a heavy cost in community goodwill. At the same time, we don’t expect CCP’s designers to adopt a “Customer is alway right” mindset either. The proper proverb to apply here should really be “Two heads are better than one”. Instead, the failure to seek community input early in the process becomes harmful, making a vice out of a virtue. There have been cases when CCP requests that players trust their changes will be positive and not over-react prematurely…. the history of Dust has shown that requests for such trust are misplaced and undeserved in the eyes of the community, and it is too unhealthy to allow it to continue any longer.

The lack of structured communication, on the other hand, is an even easier issue to resolve….and yet we continue to receive strange and aggressive resistance to it despite many examples of success elsewhere within the company. When pressed for the reason we don’t see consistent communication from the design teams throughout the development process, we hear responses along the lines that they are simply “too busy”, or we’re asked in return if we’d prefer to have fewer improvements to the game, accompanied by greater amounts of explanation. But we all know this is a false choice that we should never have to make, as greater amounts of communication can only lead to an improved product in the end.

The peer review process is a crucial stage of design of any kind. Without seeking input from others in the design field AND the end user, no product will ever be as good as it could be. The solution here is simple – the public (or at the very least; The CPM) needs to be considered a peer, for the purposes of design review. We’re not asking for designers to write extra material and take extra time, we’re asking them to share the same proposals they have to pitch to their team internally, and asking for our input as well. This isn’t a request for additional labor, it is a request for transparency.

While the resistance here may be that community discussion “slows the process down”, it’s a simple fact that any communication upfront necessary to bring a feature to a healthy place will displace many times its own weight down the road should a design need to be fixed because of a preventable problem. Efficiency demands that community engagement shouldn’t seen as taking a designer away from his daily duties, but as an essential part of them. Small amounts of time spent communicating with the community each day can save CCP weeks, possibly months worth of work down the line.

No one can deny that CCP is repeating work on game systems they’ve previously designed, released, and found problems with – problems that in most cases were quickly identified and repeatedly brought up by the community throughout the beta period. There’s also no denying that the need to rework any part of a product usually means that time and manpower was wasted initially. We’re now seeing CCP fix many of these gameplay issues, but if they do not fix the core community engagement problems that allowed those issues to take root in the first place, we’ll find ourselves back in the same unhealthy place time and time again.

This isn’t to say there aren’t a few shining examples of teams working to improve this situation. A few have stepped forward and taken full advantage of the feedback process, and have shown marked improvements in their area of the game. As a result, they become instantly beloved by the community. A few have worked with the CPM and taken feedback from our meetings to heart, coming back to us with massively improved results. However, we simply cannot afford to leave this up to individual efforts. Communication needs to be both standardized and endorsed by management as a “standard operating practice”, and applied consistently across the entire development structure..

A proper, standardized communication platform should consist of the following minimum critical elements: Patch notes no later than a week in advance of a release, dev blogs for the major feature changes that require the most explanation, and stickied forum posts with follow-up participation from devs for upcoming feature changes that have yet to reach code freeze. The first two elements of this communication platform have begun to fall in place, but the third is sorely lacking, and it continues to create an unnecessary backlog for designers and unnecessary toxicity for the community teams to manage. Players consistently find stickied forum posts insulting if they’re posted up after the time has passed when anything can be changed before a release, as if their opinions are being asked for only as a token gesture.

Balancing passes deserve special consideration here, because we’ve consistently heard that balance work is not tied to a code freeze, theoretically being something they could iterate much more rapidly on than other systems. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen resistance to using this powerful tool. Either way, there is enormous potential here being squandered. If CCP can indeed make more subtle balance adjustments on a week-to-week basis, until they hit a “sweet spot”, then this should be done.

If for whatever reason this isn’t viable (and they choose instead to include all balance work in a monthly 1.X release) than the same standard should be applied for other feature changes – proposed balancing work (including all affected stats) need to be posted and discussed prior to code freeze. This is the communication standard that CCP has set for itself elsewhere in the company, and the standard that the community expects out of Shanghai as well, especially where balance is concerned. CCP can draw upon their own experience with Eve Online to examine the incredible progress that can be achieved with proper communication and community involvement when making balance adjustments.

In the end, we’re all in this together. CCP has at its disposal hundreds, if not thousands of players who are able, willing, and ready to do whatever it takes to help improve Dust 514, asking no more from CCP than a chance to participate. The deep levels of interaction between player and developer have been one of the keys to the success of Eve Online that has earned CCP the devout following they have gathered over the past decade. This success is something CCP needs strive to emulate with Dust 514 to foster that same strong relationship with their customers, encouraging them to keep playing and spending money for years to come.

In the meantime, there is no sense in sugarcoating either the fact that the community’s patience is at an end, and the attitude problems that have created the current situation remain unchanged. We request, again, that someone in management step up and take public responsibility for ensuring consistent communication moving forward – for the health of the game, and the health of the community. Swift action is necessary in order to successfully convince the community that their participation is still necessary and relevant to Dust 514’s future.

At the time of this writing, a very loose commitment has been given to better involve the CPM more closely in planning stages, but we want to impress upon CCP the severity of the larger communication problems and trust issues at hand. Without substance or detail, a simple pledge to communicate more often is frankly not good enough to dissipate our fears and concerns. As a council, we cannot afford to sit idle without hearing concrete plans to for improvement. We are told that there are meetings in the works to form such plans,and we look forward to hearing from CCP regarding this and working with them to create a solid foundation moving forward.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

The members of the Council of Planetary Management

The CPM had a meeting with CCP shortly after this address, prompting an update:

So, some good(ish) news to report, following up to this.

Prior to even posting this, we poked CCP PR. We wanted them to know we were going to post something that was going to end up being pretty grim, and why we were posting it. Following this courtesy call, emails were sent out and we were contacted by several of the higher-ups, asking what was up to hear it for themselves. We were told this stuff was being added to the agenda of meetings with the higher-ups this week, and that they’d get back to us in a meeting shortly after.

This was pretty much expected, but we’re not so much posting this to turn heads at CCP or to make it seem like we’re trying to bully them into a response, so much as to acknowledge to the public “This is how things are right now”. Our hope is that in the following week(s), we can hopefully have something much more positive to report. We want to keep the players in the loop as much as possible with what we’re doing and how it’s going.

Now, on to the positive stuff!

After posting this, I had a nice, lengthy talk with CCP Cmdr Wang. We talked about this statement, why we were making it, what our goals were with it, and the conversation progressed into something massively productive, beyond anything I could have hoped. He explained clearly and concisely CCP’s internal design process and terminology and planning structures. We talked about the devblog process and how they determine what information is getting out and what precisely the ‘hoops’ are in order for a blog to land in the communities’ lap. We talked about dev & blue posts, and any rules regarding those that apply to information getting out.

We also discussed the hotfix process & how the weekly reports from the community team play into those, and how those fixes are prioritized. We expanded our conversation into marketing, and while I can’t get too much into what we talked about here, it was good info and super helpful.

In summary :

CCP Cmdr Wang gave us a MASSIVE amount of insight into many of CCP’s processes that we have grievances with, and explained the proper terms to use to best ensure we ‘click’ with the devs and can communicate with them as efficiently as possible using language and methods that would best allow us to make the impact we’re attempting to do. Now, in the meeting later this week with the higher-ups, we’ll be completely armed to take best advantage of this opportunity and do the most good.

This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Eltra Ardell.

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