EVE Without the CSM?Tarek Raimo
Lately there has been a tendency to say that the CSM has become more of a burden than an asset. The publishers on this very website are divided on that issue. Some of our writers aspire to be on the next CSM, like Apothne or Diana Olympos, others think the CSM has outlived its usefulness, like Jeffraider, and yet others don’t think it’s worth the attention to begin with, like Luobote Kong.
I am not firmly in either of those camps, except maybe that I do not dismiss the CSM outright. I am prepared to act as if the CSM is to be taken seriously, in hopes that this contributes a little towards the goal of making the CSM a valuable institution for players and CCP alike.
Since the public discourse around the CSM has recently shifted from apathy towards actual dismissal of the whole concept, I want to explore what the problems are that lead people to this attitude. In doing so I also wanted to include opinions from current and former CSM members, and so I reached out to a few who served over the years. Unfortunately the majority I contacted declined or did not respond, but thankfully former CSM 5 chair Mynxee and current CSM member Mike Azariah responded with very valuable input. Others have of course been on public record and I will quote them here too.
Communication Is Hard
Recently, CSM 9 and CSM 10 member Sion Kumitomo wrote a major indictment against the CSM process. Sugar Kyle, who served the same two terms, published a blogpost that overlapped with his on a few points. Corbexx was on record during the last Meta Show specifying how difficult the communication with CCP was during the recent year. Unfortunately they are not the first to come out of the CSM process with such frustrations. After her tenure for CSM 5 Mynxee published an open letter to CCP which put very similar issues on the forefront: lack of proper communication, CCP’s unwillingness to deal with difficult – despite being constructive – criticism, and a resulting failure to use the unique opportunity the CSM offers to CCP. As Mynxee herself put it in the Q&A we had on the subject:
“[A] couple of dev posts went out that resulted in drama that most likely could have been avoided if CCP had run them by CSM first for some feedback and let us pave the way/set the stage for the controversial topics.”
This was of course prior to the disastrous Incarna release, definitely the greatest EVE related failure of CCP. In recent years we have not seen anything on that magnitude, but the pattern does repeat itself. Sion Kumitomo mentions the Phoebe jump mechanic changes as a case where CCP similarly rushed past the CSM and were then faced with a backlash from the playerbase that could have been alleviated by consulting the readily available player focus group more directly or more in-depth. When we compare the problems of the past with the problems of today, we can see one thing that reappears throughout the history of the CSM: communication issues. Sometimes those are related to the flawed implementation of the process itself. Mynxee describes the situation of the past as follows:
“[A]ll communications were funneled through [CCP Xhagen] (the CCP lead for the CSM process at the time) and took place via email. […] We had no access to any method for communicating with devs outside the summit—we were instructed that all communications requests needed to go through Xhagen. Of course, individual members leveraged personal contact info they already had with some devs they were friends with but that didn’t benefit CSM as a whole. Eventually we were given the email addresses of a couple of devs and permitted to engage in conversation with them. Finally, well into our term, we were given access to an internal forum where we could post about topics that we hoped to get dev discussion on. Very few of them them … like literally I can count on one hand … engaged there.”
In the meantime this situation has changed. CSM members have access to internal forums and the information exchange platform CCP uses. There are chat channels where CSM and devs can constantly participate. However, it appears that a new problem arises from this: information overload and confusion. On the Meta Show Corbexx mentions how the communication channel with the devs switched from Skype to Slack and then to Hipchat within this year, and that not all devs were cued into the changes or at least not picking up on them quickly enough. This apparently lead to a situation where developers thought the CSM didn’t want to talk to them and vice versa because the methods of communication were not aligned. In a climate where people are pressured by an accelerated release cycle, controversial changes are made, and rage is erupting on reddit about things the CSM didn’t even hear about, it is not surprising when some people are getting angry, especially when their expectations are high. Mike Azariah describes his experience of serving three CSM terms in the following way:
“The times when I was the most down? The most frustrated? Every time it was when communications were dead or petty politics inside the CSM that got in the way of getting shit done.“
I will get to politics later, but in the context of this paragraph, it should be sufficiently clear that flawed communication is a major issue.
“I’d previously written up 42 pages of deep nullsec theory, sent it off, and had naively thought that I could bring my experience to the table to make EVE a better game for everyone to play.”
This is a quote from Sion Kumitomo’s piece, and it reflects the amount of effort he put into his candidacy. Several of his fellow CSM members have described him as hard-working and dedicated. Clearly someone who takes the process seriously, no matter what his goals may have been. Mynxee expressed similarly high expectations in her communication with me:
“I was a self-avowed CCP fangirl [it] was my naive expectation as well, that we’d present things we saw as problems and there’d be an open, honest discussion about it to include where we had it wrong from a game design perspective, where something fell short and needed to be addressed.”
“When someone is invested in an endeavour, they hope to see their dedication resulting in something that matches their effort.”
When someone is invested in an endeavour, they hope to see their dedication resulting in something that matches their effort. When that fails to materialise, a search for the causes will result. Sion claims there was a structural bias against him because he is with Goonswarm, that is an opinion nobody except his own affinity group believes, but he also mentions other problems, most significantly CCP’s reluctance to deal with difficult feedback. That is a recurring issue which Mynxee also felt:
“[Our] proposal to CCP formed the keynote of our Summit […] I thought we made a solid case…really an earnest plea…from a position of love of the game for them to consider seriously the situation.“
Back then they were concerned about the direction CCP took ahead of Incarna. Many of us know how that turned out. For those who don’t, let me just say it was a disaster and resulted in the most massive drop in subscribers that EVE has ever seen. CCP have been trying to recover from that self-inflicted blow ever since.
High expectations are, however, not always a good starting point. Mike Azariah is a longstanding EVE player of a kind that rarely makes it to the CSM. He loves the game and its community, but other than many who have served on the CSM he has no stake in a major player organisation or even a unified constituency. He is also a very level-headed guy and I would even dare to say that his years of experience play a role when he does not set his goals too high. He is a teacher and has been an active member of a church community in his past. Consequently he has experience with managing his expectations and sounds much less disappointed:
“When I came in, in CSM8, it exceeded my expectation. We were shown a lot and listened to some. It was very much a two-way communication. CSM9 was the transition year where internal politics in both houses caused a cooling. CCP Seagull transitioned in and a lot was in flux. Internal petty politics in the CSM also took its toll. CSMX has had both the highest and lowest points of my three terms. When it worked it worked very well. When it broke it damn well looked shattered. And yet we have fixed it.”
He has not given up hope, and from his exchange with me I take it that disappointment in the process is not a reason why he will not run again. The costs in time and money for involvement and attendance are much more of an issue.
He does mention one of the main points that often appears in discussions around the CSM though: politics. EVE is a game which allows players to hatch cunning plots, compete with each other in underhanded ways, create drama that rivals any soap-opera and even betray, manipulate and victimise others for personal gain. Since the representatives of the CSM are elected by players, the resulting popularity contest has its inevitable effects on the composition of the Council.
Leaks, Drama, and Politics
Problems have plagued the CSM for a long time. The first CSM was chaired by Jade Constantine, a radical roleplayer who appeared just as opinionated during council meetings as he was in-game, a fact that caused a lot of internal dissent. Leaks and NDA breaches have been an issue for a long time too. The earliest famous example was Larkonis Trassler who was accused of conducting insider trading helped by knowledge he gained while being on the CSM. Only a year later Ankhesentapemkah was removed from the following council. It was speculated that she revealed internal information to her constituents or even her employers (she was a game developer at that time). To this day, the conspiracy freaks among the EVE playerbase are convinced that virtually every CSM member leaks to their constituency, especially if they are Goons or members of Pandemic Legion. As if to confirm their theories, Manfred Sideous was removed from the most recent CSM for alleged leaks.
Another recent occurrence was the drama with DJ Funky Bacon who had become ostracised by fellow CSM members and CCP themselves. This controversy, and the allegation that Xander Phoena had potentially not been as circumspect as he should have been about internal communication, lead to the widespread opinion that “EVE Media” candidates are not good CSM members.
I could write a whole article about the different incidents of politicking, backroom deals and drama that have revolved around the CSM. The insiders I regularly talk to, and those I have interviewed, confirm that this is a problem. Mynxee mentioned it:
“The CSM has been plagued with leaks and other drama since its inception. It is emotionally draining for everyone involved: players, CSM members, and CCP employees.”
Even Mike Azariah who identifies with the description “Optimistic Anarchist” laments the issues that arise from less than professional conduct:
“We can and have had issues with the damage to the relationships in various ways over the years, but we also have good discussions and feedback. Biggest problems? People who don’t get their way tend to be noisy about it. People who joined CSM for all the wrong reasons tend to spoil the mix.”
In response to the latest development The Mittani even went so far to call everyone who is not publicly speaking out against CCP “bootlicking sycophants” on the most recent Meta Show. The large voting bloc he represents are now poised to elect two new members onto the CSM who he presents as being beyond such accusations: the highly controversial Xenuria and the supposed Goonswarm hardliner Aryth. Predictably both of them will make it onto the council and the question beckons whether that will result in a CSM that can avoid drama and other issues which we have seen in the past.
What The Future Holds
I said in the beginning that there are voices in the community who think that the CSM has had its time. Xander Phoena, past CSM member himself and co-founder of this site, hardly misses an opportunity to tell us that in his opinion the CSM as we know it will come to an end after this next term. CCP seem to be going all-in though. They have recently appointed CCP Logibro and head of the community team CCP Guard as the new managers of the CSM process. The very fact that they commit the main community representative to this endeavour makes me think that they are taking matters seriously and will not allow the CSM to die like an ailing pet. CCP Leeloo, who was in charge until recently, said in an interview with Apothne that CCP will discontinue the CSM when and if it serves no purpose for them anymore, implying that this is not any time in the near future. When I asked my interview partners, Mynxee had this to say on the subject:
“I would say that by assigning two already very busy, very popular, and VERY community-oriented devs to oversee the CSM, CCP is expressing its commitment to finding a way forward to a more smoothly functioning CSM. But as I indicated in my comments on Sion’s TMC piece, they are not miracle workers and in my view, the structural issues of the CSM need to be solved if the institution is to fulfill its true potential.”
Mike Azariah firmly believes that the CSM is not just a publicity stunt. Sober as he tends to be, he does not attest too much significance to the change in management:
“Logibro has been working with CSM in the past helping with minutes and the like and I feel like he has been an unofficial member of the team for a while. I actually am waiting for people to start pointing to this as proof that CSM is just a publicity thing (though I disagree as mentioned […]). Good liaisons are key to helping the CSM connect to the devs.”
Fellow CZ contributor Gorski Car, who served a partial CSM term twice, takes a lighthearted approach. He told us on our internal chat that he considers a certain amount of drama part and parcel of the CSM process. He wasn’t even afraid to use the word to describe himself in the CSM Watch interview he gave. There has been a lot of public mudslinging between him and members of Goonswarm, and it appears that he may even end up riding a wave of anti-Goon votes to become member of the CSM from the get-go this time.
“…it is because you as a player who is able to vote has allowed it to become like this.”
Whether this will serve him well remains to be seen, just as we will see whether Xander’s prediction that this will be the most drama-wrought CSM ever turns out to be true. In the meantime, I would urge every reader who is not already firmly in one camp or the other to think carefully who they would vote for. Even if you thought you were decided, reconsider your vote. Sure, the CSM might be dismissed as a meaningless popularity contest that allows some spaceship nerds to tick off an achievement box. It might even be a corrupt institution that is dominated by metagamers who are after insider information they can leak. However, if it is either of those things, then it is because you as a player who is able to vote has allowed it to become like this.
In a recent exchange I had with The Mittani he called me incompetent and delusional because I look at the CSM process in a way that appears overly idealistic. I am of course aware that it is just make-believe democracy, but as I said in the beginning, I enjoy to act as if I take it seriously, and so do many others. It is an interesting experiment and it has great potential if we don’t squander it.
“the CSM is one of the things that makes EVE Online unique in today’s gaming culture, and that is worth something.”
We can play at spaceship politics, and we can play at spaceship democracy. No other gaming environment allows us to do so. Let’s enjoy it and get something that benefits us all out of it at the same time. Even with all the drama, the leaks, the petty politics, the ridiculous popularity contest, sheepish bloc-voting and nasty mudslinging, the CSM is one of the things that makes EVE Online unique in today’s gaming culture, and that is worth something.
With that said, I would like to close this article with an image that Mike Azariah sent me in response to the question what he thinks the CSM should ideally be: