Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The CSM White Paper And The Eve Online Sandbox

One of the liberating benefits of admitting ignorance about a subject to yourself is the freedom to look and reexamine the basics of a subject.  For me, the latest subject is the Council of Stellar Management.  After coming to the realization that I at best only have a vague idea of how the body works or even what its function is, I started doing some research.  One of the basic places to look is the CSM White Paper.  I thought I'd find a bunch of boring stuff about the CSM and need to buy some coffee to stay awake.  I did find that, but first I read a brief history of Eve from a perspective I never really considered before.  I also found some thoughts on the Eve sandbox, although the author didn't refer to it as such.

Instead he refers to three observations about the game and the three rights that every Eve player has.  I'm not going to try to summarize the passages for fear of getting something wrong.  Besides, I'm interested to hear what people take away from them.  I actually think that some of them are pretty illuminating and far-seeing and I'd hate to have anyone miss one because I did a poor job explaining them.
First comes the observations.  In addition to providing a reason for the CSM's existence, I really think this is the beginning of the description of what CCP has in mind when it refers to Eve as a "sandbox" game...
Until now, comparisons of political philosophy and social structures in the virtual world have been drawn from parallels with the real one.  But it cannot be stressed enough that today, with this  many people comprising the civilization of EVE — and the potential ripple-effect of any change in the way this society is governed — further legislative applications based mostly on CCP’s interpretation of the real world are likely to cause more harm than good.  To achieve continued success, EVE’s society must be granted a larger role in exerting influence on the legislative powers of CCP.  Governance of virtual worlds is a unique endeavor; there is no precedence to follow. Thus, governance between CCP and society will be crafted with three specific observations about the game in mind:

First, every individual starts their experience in EVE on equal footing.  There are no class differences — economic, educational, racial, or otherwise — to disadvantage the potential that any new player has to thrive within the game.  All members of this society have the same opportunity, limited only by their own ambitions, innate abilities, and to a degree, luck.

Second, there is a social contract system in effect in EVE. New players cannot join the society without agreeing to the terms of the EULA, or “End User License Agreement”, which spells out not only the technical restrictions imposed, but also establishes the conduct by which players may treat each other in a real - world context via interactions in the game.  Individuals have complete freedom in choosing whether or not to agree to these terms, and may even join temporarily to evaluate EVE’s society before committing to sustained participation.  But in the end, becoming a permanent part of EVE requires entering into this social contract.

Third, although CCP establishes the rules by which players may interact with each other in a real-world context, they do not interfere with how individuals treat each other in a virtual context.  Strictly speaking, CCP has the power to govern actions in the virtual world via “natural laws”, or the literal technical limitations of the game.  But within this same virtual universe, abusing the trust of other individuals is an affair that is left to society itself to contend with.  Crimes are not persecuted by the legislator here: the fate of peers who commit wrongdoings such as theft, fraud, destruction of property, and even “murder” is determined exclusively by the society.  Justice, as it were, is in the hands of those who choose to exercise their right to take it, and under no circumstances will the legislator interfere — again, provided that the means of execution complies with the “meta-law” of the EULA and Terms of Service (TOS).
Some might quibble with the thought that all pilots are created equal, pointing toward the advantages of the community-born over the Eve-born.  Others will point to the ability to purchase a pilot off the Character Bazaar with real life cash (via PLEX) that not all players start at the same point.  But I think points two and three are valid and set the limits of the sandbox.

More interestingly are the three rights stated in the White Paper.  Yes, Eve players have rights.  I think the first two of these rights will come as a pleasant surprise to some, and a shock to others...

First, individuals have the right to be free of undue external influences in the virtual society.  To enforce this right, the EULA, TOS and other legal documents define the boundary which separates a player’s real-life actions from his or her virtual ones.  As mentioned earlier, this is a non-negotiable social contract that is essential for maintaining the cohesion of any virtual society.  These rules establish a framework for real-world personal behavior and decision making that limits the amount of external influence that can be leveraged in the game world.


Next, individuals have the right to unlimited interaction with other individuals in the virtual society.  Players are free to take any action allowable within the “natural laws” of the game, and as such are governed only by their free will.  This right is universal to all individuals, regardless of intent.  As such, this freedom leaves them wholly unprotected from the consequences of their actions, regardless of if those consequences are just or not.
The first of these rights could apply to the players of any MMORPG.  The second, however, distinguishes Eve from most other games.  Players are not protected from the actions of others.  Instead, players are free to perform any actions as long as they conform to the EULA, TOS, and any other applicable rules.  Or in others words, non-consensual PvP isn't just a fact of life, its a right.

Of course, coming from the CSM White Paper, the final right concerns player representation...

Finally, individuals have the right to influence how society is legislated.  Until now, this right has not been fully accessible.  The goal of CCP is to provide EVE’s individuals with societal governance rights.  In similar fashion to a real-world democracy models, candidates will be selected by fellow peers to be the voice of their interests to the legislator.  Once elected, the responsibility of these representatives will be to uphold the society’s views as best they can via direct contact and dialogue with CCP.  Central to this concept is the idea that increasing the “utility” of EVE’s society will encourage more individuals to join it.  As the population grows, so does the urgency for individuals to participate in the society’s political environment.  A government model in which a single power holds all authority weakens the bond of trust between individuals and the legislator, and impedes the growth and overall utility of society.  In most democratic models, government legislators can either be replaced by popular vote or are limited by finite term durations.  Because EVE is a virtual society that relies on the technical support of CCP, this model cannot be emulated.  What can be done is to redistribute some power back to individuals and increase the contact points where the most direct influence on society can be exerted: by awarding selected player representatives the same opportunity to discuss and debate the ongoing evolution of EVE that CCP employees have.
I'm not sure how much I believe in this right, but perhaps the author of the paper has a point.  Apparently CCP thinks so because they've stuck with the CSM concept and helped develop it.  And with the expected size of the player base of DUST 514 CCP is already setting up a player council for that game as well. 

So that's what I've taken away from the first half of the CSM White Paper.  I'm finding a lot of interesting tidbits floating around the Interwebs trying to figure out this whole CSM thing.  Can't wait to see what I find next.


  1. Hmm, very interesting - some thoughts.

    First, it's the thoughts of a writer, not necessarily a position statement by CCP. In English law a white paper is a proposal for legislation but has no legal force and won't ever pass exactly as written.

    Next, he may be bigging it up a bit to get people to take it seriously. Gamer Rights is still a semi-joke for most people although some industry thinkers, notably Raph Koster has done some important work on this.

    I'm very interested to see him openly discuss the CSM as being about power. It's rare at this stage that anyone suggests it's anything other than advisory or lobbying. And I think he's either already right or will become right in the near future - CSM may gain the power to veto game development proposals from CCP. Informally at least.

    In null sec it's certainly regarded as a power struggle and legitimate game objective and null sec blocs are determined to dominate the CSM believing it affects dev time and game balance. If the null blocs succeed in dominating the CSM the belief is that this will cause more time to be spent on null sec issues like supercaps and sov and isk-making activities in nullsec to be buffed relative to such things as faction warfare plexing and high sec incursion running.

  2. Oh and another thing I'd like to add that I talked about on my blog today. There's a lot of casual bigotry in the player base (or in Fon's case not-so-casual) meaning that players don't start equal. Women, black and gay players will receive a lot of hazing and derogatory comments. Some shrug it off, some leave and play a different game, some find some corner of New Eden that's insulated from this.