A Tale of Two CouncilsMangala Solaris
The Council of Stellar Management election season is firmly upon us. Over 30 candidates are undertaking interviews, answering questions in their campaign threads, pressing the flesh and kissing babies.
However, EVE and Dust are not the only games to feature a ‘select’ group of players working alongside the developers in an advisory capacity. As it turns out, Lord of the Rings Online (which I play for my PVE hit) introduced something they call the Player’s Council to their player base in 2013.
Due to the game consisting of multiple servers, this council consists of between 30 and 50 players. Players must meet various criteria including the following:
Must be 18 years of age or older at the time of their application, nomination, or selection for the council.
Must be an active player of The Lord of the Rings Online for at least the previous six months.
Must maintain an active play style during the council’s term of service. (‘Active’ to be determined by Turbine at its sole discretion).
Account must be in good standing with no significant violations of Turbine’s Terms of Service, End User License Agreement or Community Guidelines. Accounts must remain free of said violations during the period of service.
Applicants must have the ability to communicate with the team and each other via written and spoken English. We ask the application also be submitted in English to help us with processing them.
Now, unlike EVE, this council is not elected by the player base. Rather the council members are selected by the developers themselves from the pool of applications, although people can be nominated by others for consideration. All successful applicants are expected to serve for a full year. And like the CSM, their year of service starts around late April, early May.
Personally I think that a lack of elections is probably for the best when it comes to the player council in Lord of the Rings. Honestly, I cannot see a way to make elections work in a multi-server environment given that candidates would feel a need or an obligation to be representative of their particular server and any changes that the majority there wishes to see happen or be prevented, rather than a wider selection of the player base as a whole.
It certainly can be said that such politicalisation of the council process is all well and good in a single server setup like EVE, but not suitable for Lord of the Rings Online at all.
The duties of the Player’s Council are very similar to those of the CSM, in that they are to provide feedback on game changes before they are presented to the player base, make suggestions that may well be carried into the game, and act as a liaison for the wider community in interactions with the development team. Like the CSM they also have the opportunity to attend the developers offices in Boston, and as with the CSM, attendee’s are chosen by their peers. However they only visit Turbine for a day, and in that day are expected to cover around half as much as the CSM does with CCP in three days AND spend time sitting down with the dev teams as they do their jobs.
There are some differences between the two, which is very understandable given the size of the player council when compared to the CSM and the nature of the games involved.
They are required to take part in regular surveys from the developers. Probably much easier than waiting for forum feedback from 50 people on every possible topic;
They must partake in developer lead roundtables via electronic means. The horror of 50 people in an active skype meeting?!;
They can be invited to face to face sessions with developers depending on their geographic location. Think of these as CSM summit-lite, a chance for some council members to chat with devs who may well be visiting their city or country;
The players council often gets to experience game changes before they are pushed to the test and live servers.
That last is a perk I find myself wishing that CCP would grant to the CSM. Often being able to see or interact with a change is more helpful than merely reading or being told about it, especially in a game as complex as EVE.
What I find really interesting about this council, in a horror movie sort of way, is that there are between 30 and 50 delegates. 50! That would be like allowing all of the current candidates for CSM9 right on to the CSM just for applying, and probably lead to the end of the CSM. All those voices and oft conflicting ideas could well lead to disaster.
How Turbine managed this was that during the first year of the player’s council, which is drawing a close as we speak, delegates nominated from within their own ranks a ‘small council’. This was a group tasked with oversight of the council process and with making suggestions on how to improve that process for the future. They were also given the opportunity to visit Turbine offices for discussions about the game and the council.
For 2014, the small council has been removed as an actual thing, and the process is to be looked at by Turbine and the council itself over the course of the term. This was reflected on the CSM when members were consulted on changes to its own process like the two+five summit attendance criteria.
Despite the criticisms levelled at the player’s council – that they are not sufficiently communicative, that they hide behind their NDAs far too much, that they want to push their own agendas (all very familiar to anyone who has followed the CSM in EVE) – and despite ‘themepark’ MMOs not appearing to be a great foundation for such direct player/developer interaction, this experiment has worked very well for Turbine, enough that they have expanded it to cover more of their products including Dungeons and Dragons OnlineA.
As someone who is a part of a similar process I can only hope that this grows into as successful a policy for Turbine as it has been for CCP over the past six years. Maybe one day, I’ll throw an app over!