Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The CSM And You: A Focus Group On Steroids

"Today, roughly 70% of all consumer research dollars are earmarked for qualitative research, and it is nearly impossible to find a Fortune 500 company that does not use focus groups to develop its corporate image and/or marketing strategy."

As we approach the official start of the silly season in EVE Online known as the Council of Stellar Management elections, I'd like to take some time to write about what the CSM is.  Some will say that the CSM is useless.  Others say the body is just a public relations ploy to get some good press for EVE.  I say that the modern CSM is a body that players should care about even though the CSM does not have the power to make CCP do anything.

From where I sit, the CSM is part of CCP's market research effort into its game.  Not only does the company need to attract new players, but retain the current player base as well.  The company employs Dr. Eyjolfur Gudmundsson, a real world economist, to monitor EVE's player-run economy, which gives CCP more information about how New Eden works than is available to decision-makers and scholars in the real world.  That tells CCP what players do, but not exactly why they do them.  For the whys, CCP engages in quantitative research in the form of surveys asking players about specific areas in the game as well as the exit survey asking why people leave the game. CCP also engages in qualitative research, with a standing focus group called the Council of Stellar Management playing a key role.

Focus group is perhaps not the most technically correct description, because CSM delegates do a lot more than the typical focus group.  Besides staying together as a body for one year, the members make themselves available at odd hours to give input to the developers as well as gaining the opinions of other players.  A member who is serious about his/her duties can see all free time consumed by CSM work.  A group of 7 delegates meets twice a year at CCP headquarters in Reykjavik with others joining in via video conferencing.  Also, members of the CSM attend meetings with developers via the internet throughout the year, sometimes on a weekly basis.  During these meetings, and indeed even off-line, CCP presents ideas and materials to the CSM for feedback which is then used to make changes or new features for EVE Online.  Sometimes the feedback is enough to even kill bad ideas.

A focus group is only as good as its members, and that's where the elections come into play.  CCP looks to get the players most involved in the game to make the choice of who is best qualified to represent their views.  The election process is designed to hopefully select members who will work hard throughout the year trying to make the game better.  Or should I say, weed out the slackers who are only looking for a free trip to Iceland or a tag by their name in the forums.  CSM 8 was very successful in this regard with only 1 or 2 members (that I've heard of) not contributing to the effort.  One interesting point to make is that with the single transferable vote process introduced last year, the makeup of the CSM is designed to represent the makeup of the voters, not necessarily of the player base as a whole.  That is not a bug, that is a feature.  

In my opinion, the CSM is a focus group designed to figure out what the long-term, emotionally-invested player wants (or doesn't want) in order to keep player (or at least account) retention rates high.  Those who don't vote are obviously not that emotionally attached to the game.  Those involved in the community or even following EVE news sources will know about the elections.  I think that is why a number of players want the option to vote, but abstain.  They are attached to the game and wish to demonstrate that fact.  But "none of the above" isn't really viable in a STV election, so the option was dropped last year.

That's a quick description of the Council of Stellar Management and the role I think it fulfills in the EVE universe.  I'm sure some will disagree, but I think my description conforms with most of the known facts.  This description also accounts for one other fact.  If CCP trusts its focus group, then the devs will listen and learn.  If not, well, Incarna happens.  So it's up to the players to give CCP a group it can rely on.


  1. You are defining it too generally. It is a focus group, yes, but it is made up of primarily null sec cartel members whose sole goal is to enhance their playstyle and income streams at the expense of all other groups.

    And I know of a number of players who are heavily emotionally invested in the game who will never be represented, because the high sec group of the game is not nearly organized enough to corral the votes needed to get their proper representation on the CSM.

    I voted for 2 candidates last year, and was deeply disappointed in their performance. So far, from what I have seen this year's slate, I see no one jumping out as someone who will honestly represent the high sec player. Not that I blame anyone who does not want to run against a bunch of sociopaths representing the cartels. So there is a good bet I will not vote this year, because voting is a pointless as not voting, from the high sec perspective. Are you going to suggest that I am not a long term player emotionally invested in the game?

    1. "You are defining it too generally. It is a focus group, yes, but it is made up of primarily null sec cartel members..."

      No. The definition is fine. You don't complain about the definition, but the composition. And that is completely up to us, the players. Also, with STV, it doesn't matter how organized a group is. The only determining factor is whether people care enough to vote.

      There is no one but ourselves to blame if we are not represented enough. And yes, if you don't feel any candidate represents you, it's also up to you to change that by running yourself (else you would expect someone else to change something you are not willing to do yourself).

    2. @Dinsdale - You wrote: "So there is a good bet I will not vote this year, because voting is a pointless as not voting, from the high sec perspective. Are you going to suggest that I am not a long term player emotionally invested in the game?"

      And in the post I wrote: "I think that is why a number of players want the option to vote, but abstain. They are attached to the game and wish to demonstrate that fact."

      And I think it is a bit too early to give up on high sec candidates stepping forward. Dolan hasn't even posted the official dev blog spelling out the rules and timelines yet.

  2. The problem is not with CSM, but with CCP. CCP is the beached whale, and CSM is a bunch of random people who try to push it back into the sea(The sea represents Goodness and the land Badness in this alegory).

    Sadly, without a big crane, there's only this much they can do.

  3. I have to agree with pirannha, the CSM doesn't represent the players, it represents a small but loud, demanding, whiny minority (the null blocks).

    It's a special interest lobby group representing the null blocks' interests while actively opposing anything and everyone else.

    1. Meanwhile, I have to agree with Jean-Mira. If you're complaining that the CSM is being dominated by a small, loud minority of players, it's your own damned fault for not finding people to counteract the special interests. Somehow, people managed to elect a high-sec mission runner who writes his blog in-character last time around. Why can't you get more people like that elected? The one advantage that the null blocs have is that they're *organized* and the debacle that was TEST Alliance's voting last year shows that not even all of the nullbloc powers can get their shit together either.

  4. A really good article describing what the CSM does. Pity that Dinsdale "conspiracy" Pirannha has such a negative first comment that it puts me off promoting the article.

    By the way despite what has been said here, not voting because you'll never get representation is the worst thing you can do - and is actually playing into the hands of the larger in-game groups that can organise their support.

  5. Gods I despair… I swear I do. The amount of negative vitriol spewed out by so many players towards CCP simply amazes and disgusts me…

    The CSM is, IMHO, a Player Lobby Group more than a focus group. They don’t make policy or guide anything granted but they also don't 'just' test concepts and answer surveys… they actually have a voice at the table, granted a minor one but still, they do have a voice in the discussion.

    And if you don’t like what they are saying… then get off yer ass and DO something about it… run for a seat, get involved… TRY to make things better… or, is that too hard? It is, of course, far easier to sit at home and spew vitriol all over the screen than to get off yer ass and DO something positive… isn’t it?

    I have nothing but respect for those people who are investing so much of their time and effort to work WITH CCP and try and make EvE a better game… remember, the ones who make a difference are the ones who SHOW UP… not the ones crying on the sidelines.

    Don’t like the sandbox? Work for change.

    Dim & Anon. … If you are so effing unhappy QUIT! If CCP is that terribad WHY ARE YOU HERE? Why do you care?? I mean it… seriously Why?? CCP created EVE Online… without them, the men & women, executives, devs and office personnel of CCP… these people who had the vision and desire and ability, we would not have this game to play… it’s like being pissed at your parents for having YOU.

    CCP is not a suck-fail-beached-whale company… I’d like to see any of you develop or code a better game. I personally am DAMN glad they got together and have worked as hard and as long as they have to give us this wonderful game… Yes, as time goes on the game needs to be updated and additional sand needs be thrown into the box… and they aren’t gonna please everyone, but dammit, if you don’t feel they have done something really amazing here then please just quit.

    Dim, almost every post you write has, at its core, just how deeply disappointed you are… then why stay? If it sucks SOOO bad, why oh why do you care? Mebbe because you are emotionally invested in the game? If so, then PLEASE give options and suggestions on how to fix it instead of whining and moaning about CCP being all in Gewns pockets and :sociopaths: and :cartels: and :RMT:… it’s boring man… it’s really boring and it helps not one bit.

    1. Thank you for voicing what most of us feel Tur, I tend to just skim Dim's posts looking for those keywords and then just skip them. I agree with you in that the CSM is sort of a combination between a Lobby/Focus group, they are intended to be a sounding board for CCP but they are also there to push the agenda of the parts of New Eden they are most familiar with. Though the word lobby does have a slight negative connotation to it. ((At least here in the US, our political system is just mess... sigh))

    2. TurAmarth ElRandir.. very well written and totally agree with you.

  6. While I think Dinsdale is a *weeee* bit paranoid there, it is a fact that there doesn't seem to be decent HS representation in there. Well Mang, but while I really do believe he deserves to be there, he's not quite the ordinary HS member