“Those who simply voted a ballot as prescribed by CFC leadership […] were never really voting for ‘me’ in the first place, but I will continue to represent you as best I can.”
– Xander Phoena
When the Phoebe developer proposals caused emotional outbursts among players, some turned toward the CSM representatives to express their dissatisfaction and maybe even find someone to blame. In particular, there are people who feel that their representative should have done more to spare them nerfs or maybe influence an outcome that would be more beneficial to them. Being a writer for Crossing Zebras puts me in close contact with CSM member Xander Phoena, of course, so I heard a thing or two from him on how that can play out.
The question that I ended up asking myself is whether a CSM representative can even have such a major influence and, if so, whether they should use it to benefit what could arguably be called their constituency.
The Concept Of CSM
When the CSM was created as an institution, gaming media was talking about democracy being introduced into the development process of EVE. That sounds catchy, but missed the point of what the CSM originally was. The event which lead to the creation of the CSM was the T20 Scandal and thus creating a body of players as liaison with CCP developers resulted from a desire to increase accountability. Ideally, if players from different backgrounds could look behind the scenes at CCP, unchecked collusion between developers and limited player groups would become more difficult if not impossible. Ostensibly that worked out well. Despite many rampant conspiracy theories, nothing like the T20 Scandal ever happened again as far as the evidence suggests.
As time went on, CCP began to see the value of the CSM as a sounding-board and then a stakeholder in the development process. Over the years another problem appeared which threatened to derail that concept however. Growing in numbers and organisation, large groups of players could effectively control who would become a CSM member through unified voting. That development reached its culmination with the second election of The Mittani as chairman, proving that at least Goonswarm could put one of their members in that position whenever they wanted. Mittani proceeded to state that he did not consider it his duty as elected chairman to represent all of the EVE players or even all of the nullsec players, but only his constituency. By doing so he sent two messages which affected the way the CSM is viewed by the players and by CCP. On one side he implied that those who voted for him are entitled to have their particular interests safeguarded or at least bargained for, much like a union leader would do in negotiations with industry representatives. On the other hand it told CCP that they may be facing a future where they will continuously be presented with a one-sided view since it had become a realistic scenario that almost all CSM members would eventually come from one or two major nullsec blocs.
More-Or-Less Equal Representation
Unlike on other occasions, CCP paid attention to the writing on the wall, acted proactively, and changed the election process. The Single-Transferable-Vote (STV) system was implemented in an effort to create a more diverse CSM and the results were not bad. The impact of coordinated bloc voting which threatened to lock out smaller groups was definitely lessened and the CSM members since then came from much more diverse backgrounds. The goal of creating a representative focus-group as a stakeholder in the development process was well served by that. The habitual critics and conspiracy theorists would of course point out that there has still been “a Goon” on every CSM since, but that is absolutely fine. Goonswarm – and by extension the CFC – comprise a large part of the nullsec playerbase and they have a distinct organisational paradigm. They should have a member in a focus group that is supposed to serve the purpose of stakeholder. In fact, it would be worrisome if they were not represented.
The results still favour nullsec above other player groups, but that will be hard to avoid as long as CSM awareness among the EVE player population remains as it is. The communal nature of nullsec gameplay makes it much easier to mobilize people to vote. Players in that area are also highly involved in the metagame and are used to following instructions by their leadership. That degree of unity lends their votes greater weight.
Another group of players who show a very high awareness and vote coherently are the occupants of wormhole space. Considering their comparatively low total numbers, it is a clear indicator of their investment in the process that they consistently manage to get at least one representative on the CSM. Notably, the fact that they may be overrepresented on the CSM does not lead to the same amount of concern that the nullsec blocs are faced with. In part that is due to reputation. Wormhole players are not known for ruthless and underhanded metagaming to the same degree as nullsec leaders are. On the other hand, it is safe to assume that even if every single wormhole player would vote, they are simply not enough to completely take over a majority of the CSM seats. That makes them powerful but non-threatening voters.
In one case we see a group of players where awareness is spread through the ranks by those who have a strong influence and collective discipline is observed, on the other side there are experienced and individually invested players with a strong focus. Eventually those two groups should become one among many player communities involved to a similar degree, albeit for different reasons.
The current CSM has an almost ideal composition. It has representatives from many different playstyles, ranging from NPSI across different nullsec, lowsec and wormhole groups, to PVE in highsec and even third-party application development. After nine iterations it looks like the CSM process has lead to a very useful result for the purpose of creating a stakeholder focus group. However, there is still work to be done when it comes to player awareness and participation in the process. The more players from diverse backgrounds vote, the better results CCP will get from their focus group. The recent drama that happened around Phoebe which affected Xander Phoena and Major JSilva also shows that even players who are actively participating in the process have a lot to learn about CSM.
You Are My Candidate
The Mittani’s statement about serving his constituency and the gaming media’s reports about “space democracy” created an image of the CSM in the minds of players that does not quite match with the reality of the process. Even candidates themselves – if they have not been on CSM previously – are prone to that misinterpretation and conduct their campaigns as if they would be running for a political office.
The CSM however, is not an institution of a democratic government. It is not even something like a union that represents players´ interests against CCP. As I have stated, the CSM is an advisory focus group. Their main purpose is to allow CCP deeper insight into the effects which their developments have on the playerbase. Ideally, the CSM would be comprised of experts in their field who understand the implications of changes in game mechanics better than the developers themselves. The more diverse this group of experts in, the more insight CCP can gain and proceed accordingly.
In the light of this, it is not entirely reasonable to beholden a candidate to a voter constituency. It is much more important that they represent their area of expertise rather than their political camp. Considering that, Mynnna would not be a representative of Goonswarm, but an expert on large scale industry and trade. Corebloodbrothers does not speak for Provibloc, but he brings aspects into the discussion which relate to sovereignty under an NRDS (Not Red Don’t Shoot) policy, and Sion Kumitomo can offer expert advice on anything that affects the organisational level of large player coalitions. Those who were angry at Xander Phoena for not serving their specific interests both misinterpreted and overrated his role. To begin with, a single CSM candidate can not coerce CCP into serving any specific interest, they can at best point out that specific changes might have negative consequences and influence CCP that way. Furthermore, it was not Xander’s job to ensure that the changes make everyone in the CFC or even in The Bastion happy. Rather than that his background would cast him into the role of someone representing the view of a nullsec alliance line member. As such he can effectively represent people in the CFC or in Nulli Secunda equally, like he said in the quote at the beginning of this piece, no matter what his corp ticker says in-game.
Mike Azariah is another good example of the way how this works. Many of the players he effectively represents do not even vote on CSM elections. Many of those who did vote for him – like myself – do not share his playstyle at all. Still, having someone from this particular background on the CSM is very beneficial for the process and by extension for the game as a whole. All of those who do not play in highsec or industry but did place Mike Azariah high on their candidate list understand that and vote accordingly. The STV system made such a choice much easier too. Under the previous system, someone in my position would very likely cast all their votes for DJ FunkyBacon and Sugar Kyle in an effort to get at least one lowsec candidate on the CSM. Such a vote could easily be wasted if those candidates were to receive enough to make it anyway, and the chance to waste a vote is even higher when it is cast for a candidate with a lesser number of people backing them. The result is a very concentrated strategic voting behaviour which gravitates towards “main candidates”.
Under the current system, everyone can place several candidates on their ballot based on the consideration who they would vote for if they already knew that their favorite candidate gets enough of the votes. No votes go to waste and the result is a much better spread of votes over representatives of different playstyles.
The CSM process is on a very good track. All prerequisites are in place to create an effective and representative stakeholder group elected by the playerbase. Now it is up to CCP and the players who understand the role of the CSM to spread the message that it is important to recognize the role of the CSM and vote accordingly. Coalition members who simply vote for the people vetted by their leaders, or the uninvolved highsec population who do not vote at all, should eventually become a thing of the past.
If the CSM is comprised of a wide variety of players from different backgrounds, CCP will have a great tool at their disposal to optimize the gaming experience equally for everyone. To achieve that, they need to put much more effort into promoting and explaining the process than they have done so far.
The players on the other hand need to let go of misguided notions that CSM members are our personal advocates. Neither should we vote based on in-game political affiliation. Intelligent advice on subject matter, that is what we players need the CSM to be.
The more we all realise what the CSM is for and how it ideally can work, the sooner we will get the CSM we all need.