Τετάρτη, 28 Νοεμβρίου 2012


OK, fair warning: this is going to be a goofy little post, the first of two.  The topic is EVE Online's CSM generally, and eventually, that little document they produced the other day specifically.  We're going to delve into communications theory, the history of the CSM, and a little bit of politics.  During the course of these posts, I might seem to get off track quite a ways but don't worry: it all gets tied together at the end.  Are these two posts long?  Are they tagged "geek philosophy"?  You betcha.

For this first post, I'm going to use a somewhat old-fashioned writing technique: the old school "theme" statement, complete with 1950s-syle moral judgement.  Ready?
The best CSMs, for both players and CCP alike, have been activist CSMs... the more activist, the better.
Now all I have to do is prove it.  Before I get rolling in earnest, it will be useful to:
  • talk about the word "activist"; and,
  • remember a little bit of the CSM's history.
The dictionary definition of "activist" I like is "a policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end, especially a political or social one."  It's a loaded word, particularly in the U.S., often with negative connotations: it's associated with judges that overstep their bounds.  Am I suggesting that the CSM do the same?  More or less, yeah.  Matter of fact, I've suggested it to members of this CSM on several occasions and every time, they've been extremely hesitant about it.  But I never really realized that was what I was doing or why.

I'll get back to that.

Let's talk history.  Created in the wake of the t20 scandal, the CSM was CCP's atonement for sins past.  In public, the CSM's declared aim was -- quite frankly -- to be a check on CCP's arrogance.  This is a disease that CCP is genetically prone to.  Whether you call it :fearless: or :awesome: or :excellence: or whatever, sometimes CCP just goes a little nuts.  This sometimes manifests as CCP collectively developing the game while ignoring what the players want, and other times manifests as individual developers going off on insane quests.  The CSM was intended to check this disease; CCP would share their development plans with a group of players and look for feedback before implementation.  Truly nutty stuff would be stopped before too many resources were spent.

That was the theory, anyway.

A funny thing happened almost immediately, though: the CSM itself morphed into a communications medium.  That was partially by design.  The CSM White Paper(1) set the initial goals for players to use the CSM as a feedback channel into CCP.  Within a year of the CSM's implementation, that became the group's primary focus.  Players would write proposals in the Jita Park section of the EVE Online forums.  The CSM would pick ones that they liked, discuss and debate and modify them, then theoretically submit them to CCP.  This function of the CSM exists in the White Paper to this day.  If you managed to get enough people to up-vote a Jita Park post, the CSM is today technically required to read, review, and vote on it.  But even funnier, as a communications medium, the CSM became a one-way channel.  The direction of communications was from players to CSM to CCP.  While there was a lot of information flowing from CCP to CSM(2), there wasn't a lot of information going to the players.

That changed with CSM4, with the selection of TeaDaze as that group's Secretary.  As part of his work in that post, Tea did something really remarkable: he started the trend of CSMs talking to players.  He did it by establishing a formal database of CSM members, meetings, and proposals.  Prior to that, such things were available, but they were scattered through various forum postings.  Tea took it all in, and consolidated it, then started tracking it.  His database exists to this day though it only shows the activities of CSMs 4 and 5.

But in so doing, he made CSM4 the first activist CSM... because tracking past proposals and holding CCP accountable for them, and asking for the status of work on some of them, was quite literally overstepping the CSM's written bounds!  You'll not find anything like this in the White Paper or in any past precedent for how the CSM should behave but today it's accepted as part of the CSM's role.  Likewise, the first steps toward stake-holder status were also made on CSM4's watch, another activist act.

In doing this, CSM4 drew a bright clear dividing line between "good" CSMs and "bad" CSMs.  The early CSMs were regarded as little more than a student council.  This one-way communications flow can be held as one reason why: without true two-way communications, players had little reason to care what the CSM did and without player involvement, CCP had little reason to care, either.  The top vote-getter for the CSM4 elections received fewer votes by nearly 50% than the top vote-getter for CSM3.  Matter of fact, only four CSM4 members received enough votes to even qualify for CSM3.

Needless to say, that hasn't been the case since.

When Mynxee was elected Chair of CSM5, she received nearly triple the votes of the CSM4 Chair.  Some players began to see the value of the CSM.  And again, activism reared its ugly head.  CSM5 did a number of things that had never been done before:
  • alternates were viewed as essentially equal to full members; but,
  • CSM members that didn't do the work were called out -- in public! -- for it; and,
  • players by the thousands were suddenly pulled into the process through CSM public meetings.
None of this was in the White Paper.  Hell, some of it was in direct contradiction to the White Paper!  By that summer, Mynxee was the first CSM Chair to be actively interviewed by a member of the gaming press.  Again, we later came to accept this as common-place, but for EVE at the time, this was unprecedented.  An EVE player?  Being interviewed?  Even more unprecedented, Mynxee and other CSM5 members spoke out in public to the gaming press about commitments CCP was making and then... whether they were meeting those commitments or not.  Again, in public!

I've mentioned that you don't want to embarrass programmer Vikings, right?  But it worked.

It's arguable that CSM5 was the most activist in the game's history.  They certainly opened the flood-gates to the CSM as a two-way communications channel.  And yet there's absolutely no question that both CSM4 and CSM5 produced results that were of inherent business value to CCP.  Take a look at TeaDaze's database of CSM4 proposals and CSM5 proposals.  Virtually every single one... complete.  They're in the game you're playing today.  They were the birthplace of :iteration:.  CCP drew tangible benefits from these activist rebels.  Activist CSMs were better for the players, and better for CCP.

CSM6 continued the trend, expanded on it... built from it.  The Mittani actively sought out the gaming press to push CSM6's agenda.  Even more so, they had an agenda that they made public at every opportunity.  CSM6 was quite remarkable in this regard, in fact.  Granted, not every EVE player would agree with or even benefit from the agenda.  But the process of pulling more players into the CSM's activities continued with relatively frequent "fireside chats", pod casts, and frequent blogging and forum posting from a solid majority of CSM members.  By the time CSM8 election time rolled around, more people voted for the Chair-elect than voted for all of CSM4's voting members... combined.

There's no question that several elements of the game we're playing today -- notably Time Dilation -- are the direct result of CSM6 activism.  And when the summer of rage happened and players unsubscribed from EVE by the thousands, it was this activist CSM6 they called to Iceland to help try and smooth the waters.  The CSM came, and were integral to not only the stabilization of the situation that autumn -- remember that video? -- but in encouraging a complete change in direction in the development of EVE Online that continues to this day.  If you really wanted to pad their resume, you could make an argument that CSM6 saved EVE Online.  Certainly, it was an unprecedented shift, brought about by a group of people that were just supposed to be an occasional check on CCP arrogance.

I'd say they succeeded in that, wouldn't you?

Let's trot out that theme statement and look at it again:
The best CSMs, for both players and CCP alike, have been activist CSMs... the more activist, the better.
I think I've proven it.  That brings us to today.  How does CSM7 stack up?  How does that document they published a few days ago fit in?  Let's talk about that tomorrow.

(1) I don't know if I've ever said this before, but the White Paper is a truly goofy document.  You want geek philosophy?  Read it.  It's practically a sociology paper trying to disguise itself as a proposal trying to disguise itself as a process document.  A more schizophrenic document, I have never encountered.
(2) Enough information to get a CSM3 member sacked for taking in-game financial advantage of it, for instance...

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