Election season for the 12th Council of Stellar Management is upon us, and many candidates are once again vying for your attention. As a result, we see a dramatic uptick in media coverage of the candidates, issues, and the council itself. Not only are we looking at the campaigns and ahead to the election, but we are also reviewing the term that is coming to an end, as well as the recent CSM summit. All in all, the CSM probably garners more exposure during this two-month period than it will likely receive during the other 10 months of the year combined. All too often this is also the time of year when CSM-related drama tends to rear its head, but this article isn’t related to that. Nor is it to explain the purpose of the CSM (see Jin’taan’s video), provide candidate analysis infotainment (check out www.totaleve.com for stories and podcasts), or even tell you how to become an informed voter in the absence of the information necessary to be a truly informed voter. The purpose of this missive is simply to communicate some of my own random thoughts regarding issues related to the election.
Some of you may have heard me discuss some of these issues on The Open Comms Show, but if you did you also know that isn’t the best venue for communicating lucid thoughts. Although I don’t tend to write much anymore (effort), it seems like this time of year is when I feel the desire to lay down the microphone, put fingers to keyboard and make an attempt at something coherent. Looking back, the last two times I did bother to write were both related to the CSM. The first was ahead of the CSM 10 election when I discussed the inadequacy of information available to voters in making an educated decision, and the second was late in CSM 10’s term following an outbreak of internal drama that spilled out into the public domain. In spite of the ups and downs the CSM has experienced throughout the years, I remain hopelessly optimistic that it adds value for not only CCP, but the EVE community at large. Yes, even you hisec. My apologies for the lengthy preamble, but on we go.
Your Play Style Isn’t Systematically Disenfranchised
From its inception, player representatives ostensibly hailing from nullsec have dominated the composition of the CSM. This election is unlikely to produce a different outcome. As soon as the results are announced some player demographic will decry the outcome and claim their play style is being ignored. Worse, some individual players will claim “nullsec RMT cartels”, through the machinations of their shadow government, will force their “CCP lackeys” to ignore the plight of a disenfranchised majority of players.
I don’t deny that various player demographics within EVE are potentially underrepresented, at least superficially. I say superficially because the avatar representation of a CSM member typically doesn’t fully represent the totality of that player’s experiences or play styles. The most notable of these perennially underrepresented groups is the so-called hisec demographic. To be fair, assuming a homogenous hisec demographic exists in the first place is wrong. The same holds true for nullsec or anywhere. There is simply too much diversity among the players to classify at such a basic level. But there is no doubt that many subcategories of play styles are underrepresented. The question is: what to do about it? In a perfect world we would have more uniform representation by way of design. However, this would require a complete overhaul of the CSM and expansion of the election process that is highly unlikely. You don’t even hear supposed “reform” candidates advocating for this. Even if they did make an attempt at slicing and dicing the player base into categories, there would be widespread disagreement over the results and some players would still think they weren’t being represented.
In the end, there is an element here of “Keep is Simple Stupid.” The CSM is in many ways what “the community” makes of it. There may be a lot of people who play EVE, but whether they engage in the community is an entirely different story. If you’re looking for CCP to hand you an outcome don’t hold your breath. As with so many things in EVE, they provide a mechanic and what you choose to do with it (or not) is up to you. In the case of the CSM, it reflects those players who are engaged and willing to work together.
Nullsec Isn’t Your Issue: Look Inward
It is easy to look at the superficial composition of the CSM and claim it is dominated by nullsec interests. I don’t honestly believe that most of the people who are elected to the CSM are that narrowly focused, but I understand why many players are unable or unwilling to look beyond such broad-based labels. Even if you assume that the CSM is indeed dominated by nullsec pure-bloods, the question is: why is that? There is nothing new here with regard to the CSM or with democratically elected bodies anywhere in the world. It’s not a dark secret being withheld from the unwashed masses by a cabal of political alchemists. The answer is quite simple: Organization matters and nullsec entities maintain a natural tendency towards organization. However, that does not preclude anyone from coming together to achieve similar goals. Further, nullsec groups, or any other organized group for that matter, aren’t actively trying to suppress your vote or undermine your ability to organize. On the contrary, those who talk down the CSM so vociferously, labeling it as nothing more than a nullsec lobby group, probably do hurt voter turnout and player engagement within those groups who think that they have no chance of finding a voice.
I freely admit that existing groups with pre-baked organizational capabilities have an advantage when it comes to translating those capabilities to an election. But we’re on CSM 12 at this point and simply parroting the same complaints year over year does nothing to change your disenfranchised plight in life. Complaining is easy and organizing takes a degree of effort that most people are unwilling to expend. For many smaller demographics within the game, there is no individual solution to this. Small groups, even highly organized ones, simply don’t have relevant size to compete on their own. Welcome to real life. But that doesn’t preclude these smaller groups from seeking out other groups and forming a coalition that can stand behind a small slate of agreed upon candidates. No, you might not be able to take over half of the council, but perhaps you can get your foot in the door and have a voice that will serve to advance your interests.
While it is extremely easy to say, “stop blaming nullsec,” I really mean stop blaming people who are better at coming together for a common purpose than you are. As some of us keep trying to tell you, EVE isn’t just a space video game. It is a societal simulator wrapped in a space video game. The CSM is just one more aspect of this societal simulator, and you can either choose to participate in that – and all that entails – or you can continue to sit on the sidelines complaining about nullsec RMT cartels and their CCP lackeys.
Nobody is going to hand it to you just to make you feel better, nor should they. Even in societies with proportional representation, if you can’t be bothered to put in the legwork to organize and bring out the vote, you don’t deserve a seat at the table.
Bring in the Fresh Air
At one time the CSM was subject to a two term limit. That changed prior to CSM 5 when terms were changed from six months to a full year, and term limits were abolished. I think abolishing term limits was a mistake, but I also understand that making them official may be seen as artificially restricting choice. I would much prefer voters took it upon themselves to seek our fresh voices that represent their play styles rather than just falling back on whatever incumbent name they have come to recognize.
For anyone wondering, this is not a direct attack at Steve Ronuken, who is currently seeking his 4th consecutive term. I like Steve, he’s a nice guy, and I think he’s done a commendable job over the last 3 years, especially as it relates to the niche of representing the views of third-party app developers. My views on this subject date back to the run-up to CSM 10 when Mike Azariah was campaigning for his third term. I also liked Mike, thought he was actually representative of the softer side of hisec, which is far more underrepresented than the PVP side or industry, and he was active in seeking out input from other sources. However, I won’t deny that I think Mike became a little bit entrenched in his views from being on the council for 2 years at that point. I’m not saying he didn’t listen anymore – he was always open to a conversation – but I wonder if being on the council for so long serves to harden the positions of anyone, since they’ve probably heard most of it before. However, after two terms I took a position that no matter how much I liked Mike, two terms was sufficient for anyone. Mike went on to be the first incumbent to win a third term before stepping away following the joy of CSM 10, and for personal reasons. Yet here we are once again with not only a third term on the table, but a fourth. Yes, I mentioned last year that three terms was too much, even for Steve, but there were bigger issues related to the CSM that took precedence over whether or not he was making a space career out of this.
With regard to why I think nobody should vote for any candidate who has already served two terms, it basically boils down to this: no individual is so valuable to our little space focus group that it requires voters to overlook potentially fresher voices for the name they know. There are a good number of current CSM members that I think warrant a second term, and the top 3 slots on my ballot will probably be occupied by incumbents. If they win, I won’t vote for them for a third term, no matter how great they made EVE… again.
I won’t judge whether multiple terms, or even a single term, leads to burnout. That comes down to the individual and what burns out one person may leave no lasting scars on another. That being said, every term results in players who suddenly go bye-bye following their time in office. Sometimes even before it’s over. Further, every past and current CSM member I have ever spoken to on the subject has said that the amount of effort the CSM requires does indeed take time away from actually playing the game. As a result, it begs the question of whether that loss of play time creates a loss in terms of actual connection to the game they are purporting to represent. Now again, I’m not trying to judge individuals since each is different and maybe their play style was never so all-consuming that the time they dedicate to the CSM kept them from actually playing the game. I’m just saying it’s something to think about.
Finally, I don’t think we need career politicians or career focus group members. We should want fresh perspectives and every year there are plenty to choose from. If by the end of two terms, multiple interactions with CCP devs in person, countless by other forms of communication, a CSM member should have gotten across most of the points they ran upon initially when they were still new and hungry. Likewise, they should have been able to develop relationships with devs who would be open to hearing from them should they want to toss in some feedback after they leave office. If they haven’t achieved either of these after two years, well that begs the question of how productive they were and how their contribution was perceived by CCP. Sure, they won’t have knowledge of the insider information available to an active CSM member, but they are a resource should CCP deem their insight relevant. I for one know that if Steve never ran again that he’s probably a voice CCP should listen to should he toss them an email or hit them up on reddit regarding third-party apps or API/CREST issues. But that doesn’t mean he or anyone else should be seen as a required candidate beyond two years.
Wrap it up, Dirk
To paraphrase Winston Churchill: “No one pretends that the CSM is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that the CSM is the worst form of player feedback except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…’
As I said at the beginning, I remain hopelessly optimistic about the value derived from the CSM. Even during its lowest points there was good that came out of it. We don’t know enough about the positive contributions made by the CSM as a whole or the individuals who serve. We could do better to improve more diversified representation, but that requires much higher levels of effort by organizers as well as engagement by players in the process. In the end, I just think the CSM provides another avenue for feedback that is more focused and more timely than if we were only represented by the loudest voices from within the rabble or the media. It’s not perfect, nothing is, but we can do worse in so many ways.