Monday, February 16, 2015

WHY ALL DIS SPACE POLITIKS!!!!

This is the time of year I try to explain what the Council of Stellar Management is and why EVE Online players should care enough to vote in the upcoming election.  As CCP states on the CSM community page, "The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council who represent the views of the members of the EVE Online community to CCP."  A pretty vanilla description.  But what does that mean in real terms?

First, the CSM serves as a consumer focus group that, if used properly, gives feedback on proposed additions and/or changes to EVE.  The members of the CSM sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that states the members will not discuss the sensitive information CCP shares with the member for 5 years after the date the member leaves the CSM.  Not only are up to 10 members flown out twice a year for meetings at CCP headquarters in Reykjavik, Iceland to discuss ideas and problems in person (with others attending via teleconference), but CCP schedules weekly meetings (barring holidays) with the CSM as well.  Recently, CCP gave members of the CSM access to its Confluence system (think a better, more useful version of Sharepoint) used to document development so the CSM can keep up with the new 10-releases a year development schedule.  The CSM also has access to the game developers through several dedicated Skype channels.

Some may figure that such a focus group is a waste of time and that CCP can meet any feedback requirement through the use of surveys sent to players.  While such quantitative research is valuable, companies also routinely conduct qualitative research in the forms of such activities as face-to-face interviewing and focus groups.  According to the Marketing Research Association, approximately 70% of all consumer research dollars are earmarked for qualitative research, with almost all Fortune 500 companies conducting such research.

But the council is not just a consumer focus group.  In many ways, the CSM acts as a lobbying body that, instead of trying to influence legislation, attempts to alert the game developers to either problems that need fixing or to new ideas.  When acting in its lobbying role, the CSM attempts to filter out the noise to pick out the good ideas and present those ideas to the devs.  Oftentimes, pointing to ideas from the player base is more effective than stating that a member has an idea.  Sometimes CSM members present their own research in order to make a point.  As part of the lobbying role, CSM members will report back to the player base in many ways in order to let players know how their efforts are proceeding.  Sometimes, though, the answers are covered by the NDA.

These functions are fine, some critics will argue, but the CSM is next-to-worthless because the body is dominated by the null sec blocs.  But is this true?  On the current CSM, only five members are from null sec blocs, and some may argue that Provibloc is not really a major power bloc.  Five out of fourteen members?  That doesn't sound like domination to me.  However, in the past the number was much greater.

What CCP wants in input from the "enablers and instigators" of EVE Online.  When CCP Seagull, now the Executive Producer for EVE Online, took over as Senior Producer for EVE in 2013, she stated she wanted to develop in ways to cater to these types of players:
"There are some people who make things work - they pre-fit ships for a fleet op, they run mega-spreadsheets for the industry production lines needed to equip the war effort, build tools to manage a corporation or command large fleets. Their activities enable others to have fun in EVE. And then there are some people who instigate big plans that others can help realize. Whether in null, low or high sec, the dreams and ambitions of these people inspire others with purpose.
"We will start working to give the 'Enablers' better tools, and to make sure 'Instigators' have cool and worthwhile ways to make an impact on the EVE universe when they inspire others to join them. We believe that helping these two archetypes achieve their own goals is the best way to have the sandbox of EVE thrive - by supporting them in creating their own exciting plans and schemes that people can be excited to join both when they arrive fresh out of a starter system or when they are looking for the next adventure in their ongoing EVE career.
"Giving third party developers better tools and more powerful access through CREST will be a big part of making life better for 'Enablers'."
When looking at the makeup of past CSMs, these two types of players tend to dominate in the elections.  The question then becomes, what is the best method for selecting the players who will advise the CSM?  Due to some past developer misconduct, just selecting players based on expertise is problematic.  In order to avoid charges of favoritism, CCP decided to hold elections.

In 2013, CCP switched to a modified Wright Single Transferable Vote system for the election.  The STV, while more complicated than the First Past The Post method used in most U.S. elections, has some advantages.  First, with over 50 candidates fighting for 14 positions, no primary or run-off elections are required.  Keeping player interest in one election is much easier than trying to hold two elections.  Next, the STV rewards those candidates who are organized with other players and player groups.  The null sec power blocs benefit from their inherent organization while players from smaller groups can form temporary alliances for political benefit.  Finally, because the system allows for second choices, the STV produces a set of winning candidates more in tune with the views of those who voted.

Finally, no article on the CSM and why players should vote is complete without addressing the issue of the "do-nothing" candidate.  The dual roles of the CSM as a consumer focus group and lobbyist produces two types of CSM member.  The first falls within the focus group type, who is a knowledgeable player who sees his purpose as helping guide CCP's development from his personal knowledge the reason he was elected.  That view of the position conflicts with that of the lobbyist, who sees the position as communicating with the player base and using the information to influence design decisions.  Of course, some members just don't show up rarely, if at all.

Most often, the CSM is made up of a mixture of the two types.  But that is one of the reasons why voting in the CSM elections is important.  Do you want a more activist CSM who tries to communicate with the player base, or do you want people with supreme confidence in their own skill and knowledge who will quietly provide advice to the devs?  The choice begins on 25 February.

5 comments:

  1. TL;DR

    DC tbqfh. So there's 2 trips to Iceland and weekly meetings? Except for the month-long holiday around Christmas & New Years. And the 3-month summer holiday CCP takes every year. Then there's another month for Fanfest when they historically don't do a hell of a lot of anything else. That leaves roughly 30 weeks of those weekly meetings. OK, I'll buy that's a substantial investment of one's time. A waste of time, perhaps, but substantial nonetheless.

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  2. Also the daily communications directly with CCP outside of meetings. That's where the Skype channels and Confluence come into play. Then, for the more active, direct communications with the players, whether it be holding meetings (both corbexx and Sugar Kyle have done that a lot), wading through the forums (that was apparently Mike's job this year), writing posts (Xander and Sugar), or just talking to people in local or replying to EVEmail. If only half the CSM is active, I figure the cost of the CSM project is pretty cost effective.

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  3. One of the interesting confessions recently is that CSM members may not speak negatively about other CSM. Of course those clever enough spoke favourably of a select group. For those unspoken for, I'll draw my own conclusion about effectiveness.

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  4. As you might expect, I disagree quite strenuously on the CSM existing as either a focus group or as a lobbying group.

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  5. Sorry for the delay getting back. What I described is what I've seen from the outside looking in. If it is something else, the CCP and the CSM has hidden the functions pretty well.

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