Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
You can follow along, if you want...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Activism

OK, fair warning: this is going to be a goofy little post, the first of two.  The topic is EVE Online's CSM generally, and eventually, that little document they produced the other day specifically.  We're going to delve into communications theory, the history of the CSM, and a little bit of politics.  During the course of these posts, I might seem to get off track quite a ways but don't worry: it all gets tied together at the end.  Are these two posts long?  Are they tagged "geek philosophy"?  You betcha.

For this first post, I'm going to use a somewhat old-fashioned writing technique: the old school "theme" statement, complete with 1950s-syle moral judgement.  Ready?
The best CSMs, for both players and CCP alike, have been activist CSMs... the more activist, the better.
Now all I have to do is prove it.  Before I get rolling in earnest, it will be useful to:
  • talk about the word "activist"; and,
  • remember a little bit of the CSM's history.
The dictionary definition of "activist" I like is "a policy of taking direct and often militant action to achieve an end, especially a political or social one."  It's a loaded word, particularly in the U.S., often with negative connotations: it's associated with judges that overstep their bounds.  Am I suggesting that the CSM do the same?  More or less, yeah.  Matter of fact, I've suggested it to members of this CSM on several occasions and every time, they've been extremely hesitant about it.  But I never really realized that was what I was doing or why.

I'll get back to that.

Let's talk history.  Created in the wake of the t20 scandal, the CSM was CCP's atonement for sins past.  In public, the CSM's declared aim was -- quite frankly -- to be a check on CCP's arrogance.  This is a disease that CCP is genetically prone to.  Whether you call it :fearless: or :awesome: or :excellence: or whatever, sometimes CCP just goes a little nuts.  This sometimes manifests as CCP collectively developing the game while ignoring what the players want, and other times manifests as individual developers going off on insane quests.  The CSM was intended to check this disease; CCP would share their development plans with a group of players and look for feedback before implementation.  Truly nutty stuff would be stopped before too many resources were spent.

That was the theory, anyway.

A funny thing happened almost immediately, though: the CSM itself morphed into a communications medium.  That was partially by design.  The CSM White Paper(1) set the initial goals for players to use the CSM as a feedback channel into CCP.  Within a year of the CSM's implementation, that became the group's primary focus.  Players would write proposals in the Jita Park section of the EVE Online forums.  The CSM would pick ones that they liked, discuss and debate and modify them, then theoretically submit them to CCP.  This function of the CSM exists in the White Paper to this day.  If you managed to get enough people to up-vote a Jita Park post, the CSM is today technically required to read, review, and vote on it.  But even funnier, as a communications medium, the CSM became a one-way channel.  The direction of communications was from players to CSM to CCP.  While there was a lot of information flowing from CCP to CSM(2), there wasn't a lot of information going to the players.

That changed with CSM4, with the selection of TeaDaze as that group's Secretary.  As part of his work in that post, Tea did something really remarkable: he started the trend of CSMs talking to players.  He did it by establishing a formal database of CSM members, meetings, and proposals.  Prior to that, such things were available, but they were scattered through various forum postings.  Tea took it all in, and consolidated it, then started tracking it.  His database exists to this day though it only shows the activities of CSMs 4 and 5.

But in so doing, he made CSM4 the first activist CSM... because tracking past proposals and holding CCP accountable for them, and asking for the status of work on some of them, was quite literally overstepping the CSM's written bounds!  You'll not find anything like this in the White Paper or in any past precedent for how the CSM should behave but today it's accepted as part of the CSM's role.  Likewise, the first steps toward stake-holder status were also made on CSM4's watch, another activist act.

In doing this, CSM4 drew a bright clear dividing line between "good" CSMs and "bad" CSMs.  The early CSMs were regarded as little more than a student council.  This one-way communications flow can be held as one reason why: without true two-way communications, players had little reason to care what the CSM did and without player involvement, CCP had little reason to care, either.  The top vote-getter for the CSM4 elections received fewer votes by nearly 50% than the top vote-getter for CSM3.  Matter of fact, only four CSM4 members received enough votes to even qualify for CSM3.

Needless to say, that hasn't been the case since.

When Mynxee was elected Chair of CSM5, she received nearly triple the votes of the CSM4 Chair.  Some players began to see the value of the CSM.  And again, activism reared its ugly head.  CSM5 did a number of things that had never been done before:
  • alternates were viewed as essentially equal to full members; but,
  • CSM members that didn't do the work were called out -- in public! -- for it; and,
  • players by the thousands were suddenly pulled into the process through CSM public meetings.
None of this was in the White Paper.  Hell, some of it was in direct contradiction to the White Paper!  By that summer, Mynxee was the first CSM Chair to be actively interviewed by a member of the gaming press.  Again, we later came to accept this as common-place, but for EVE at the time, this was unprecedented.  An EVE player?  Being interviewed?  Even more unprecedented, Mynxee and other CSM5 members spoke out in public to the gaming press about commitments CCP was making and then... whether they were meeting those commitments or not.  Again, in public!

I've mentioned that you don't want to embarrass programmer Vikings, right?  But it worked.

It's arguable that CSM5 was the most activist in the game's history.  They certainly opened the flood-gates to the CSM as a two-way communications channel.  And yet there's absolutely no question that both CSM4 and CSM5 produced results that were of inherent business value to CCP.  Take a look at TeaDaze's database of CSM4 proposals and CSM5 proposals.  Virtually every single one... complete.  They're in the game you're playing today.  They were the birthplace of :iteration:.  CCP drew tangible benefits from these activist rebels.  Activist CSMs were better for the players, and better for CCP.

CSM6 continued the trend, expanded on it... built from it.  The Mittani actively sought out the gaming press to push CSM6's agenda.  Even more so, they had an agenda that they made public at every opportunity.  CSM6 was quite remarkable in this regard, in fact.  Granted, not every EVE player would agree with or even benefit from the agenda.  But the process of pulling more players into the CSM's activities continued with relatively frequent "fireside chats", pod casts, and frequent blogging and forum posting from a solid majority of CSM members.  By the time CSM8 election time rolled around, more people voted for the Chair-elect than voted for all of CSM4's voting members... combined.

There's no question that several elements of the game we're playing today -- notably Time Dilation -- are the direct result of CSM6 activism.  And when the summer of rage happened and players unsubscribed from EVE by the thousands, it was this activist CSM6 they called to Iceland to help try and smooth the waters.  The CSM came, and were integral to not only the stabilization of the situation that autumn -- remember that video? -- but in encouraging a complete change in direction in the development of EVE Online that continues to this day.  If you really wanted to pad their resume, you could make an argument that CSM6 saved EVE Online.  Certainly, it was an unprecedented shift, brought about by a group of people that were just supposed to be an occasional check on CCP arrogance.

I'd say they succeeded in that, wouldn't you?

Let's trot out that theme statement and look at it again:
The best CSMs, for both players and CCP alike, have been activist CSMs... the more activist, the better.
I think I've proven it.  That brings us to today.  How does CSM7 stack up?  How does that document they published a few days ago fit in?  Let's talk about that tomorrow.


(1) I don't know if I've ever said this before, but the White Paper is a truly goofy document.  You want geek philosophy?  Read it.  It's practically a sociology paper trying to disguise itself as a proposal trying to disguise itself as a process document.  A more schizophrenic document, I have never encountered.
(2) Enough information to get a CSM3 member sacked for taking in-game financial advantage of it, for instance...

18 comments:

  1. Amazing post. Your best ever. Loved the history lesson. Had no idea about TeaDaze.

    You are dead right about activism. CSM7 would even dare mutter the word activism. They represent in fear of CCP, at every turn. BE CONCILIATORY is their motto.

    "By the time CSM8 election time rolled around ..." You mean CSM7, of course.

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  2. Not to diminish CSM4 and CSM5, but nearly all of those CSM raised issues were actually *done* on CSM6 and CSM7's watch. Many of them were done in Crucible, and CSM6 played a large part in getting them on CCP's list for that release.

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    1. True, but the issues had to get into the pipeline in the first place.

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  3. Fun read, jogged a few memories :)

    It is probably worth pointing out Trebor's crowdsourcing activities done in CSM5 and (I think) CSM6 could be considered activism. No one else has undertaken any better-structured methodology for aggregating player opinions and communicating them to CCP.

    Small correction: it was Assembly Hall (not Jita Park) where players posted their proposals in the old days. Dunno if that's still the case.

    Regarding time dilation, I seem to recall (perhaps erroneously) that the concept was initially presented by CCP Veritas and crew at the CSM5 October emergency meeting (possibly it was the winter summit). Might want to double check the minutes if you feel like clarifying that.

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    1. Jita Park is for CSM official postings and election banter, we consider the Assembly Hall to be a redundant section of the forums and consistently encourage players to post their proposals under Features and Ideas instead. If and when CCP decides to put work into CSM reform I sincerely hope they clean up the "what to post and where" so players aren't continually trying to approach the CSM using the outdated (and inaccurate) legislative model.

      This continues the tradition started with CSM6 of being frank with players about the realities of the CSM and its role in the company. As CCP chooses to implement player suggestions at their own discretion without any real authority carried by the old [Proposal] methodology, influence is accrued instead through successful demonstration that listening to players is good for the game and good for CCP as a business.

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  4. Insightful analysis as always… but, a query if I may...
    You say, "...a complete change in direction in the development of EVE Online that continues to this day."

    You also said, back in O8.30.2012, in “The emperor's new clothes” post:
    “…as I've already said, the WiS Sleeper station thing is quite intriguing.” “All in all, I look forward to seeing what Torfi's team comes up with!”

    So... which is it?

    Was WiS so 'bad for EvE' that we, the playerbase, had to overreact so extremely and force CCP to fire 20 people and backburner WiS in favor of just one type of gameplay?

    or... was WiS a badly missed opportunity for a completely new gameplay and a whole new arena of EvE to play in?

    I find FiS, as much fun as it is, and it IS major fun to me, to be limiting in a game that has so much POSSIBILITY.

    WiS might very well have drawn in a whole new playerbase segment that would rather spent the 'majority', but not all of their time in WiS 'on foot' as 'twere. They would still have to scan down, fly to and dock at the structures... and they would have to fly and fight and win against the NPC guarding them.

    Then they could explore the Sleeper, DED and Deadspace stations and structures, fighting NPC drones and even NPC 'live' Chars? Exploring these structures, finding new lewts and salvage to sell and use in Industry?

    What CCP did 'wrong', and I use that word carefully as what they have done RIGHT far exceeds ANY mistakes they have made in my book... (and by that I mean "EVE Online" as a whole) but if they had stations to explore and had the Concourse in the Stations we live in open to explore and THINGS TO DO in them 'before' they rolled out the video card smoking Avatars... then I personally doubt we would have had WiS as part of the 'Summer of Rage'. It would have just been much more just about Aurum and Monoclegate and PTW possibilities...

    But WiS would have been received by a large portion of the current playerbase as a new arena to play in, the same as W-Space when it was introed in Apocrypha... Yes, there would have been resentment and some rage and a lot of trolling by the FiS only segment of the playerbase... but so what? FiS only is to me the same as PvP only... puerile BS in a true sandbox game.

    Then we would have had Carebears, Greiferbears and Stationbears... and I would be partaking, in varying degrees, to all three gameplay styles... =]

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    1. Just to be clear, the complete change of direction was away from WiS and toward "all spaceships, all the time."

      *I* continue to be intrigued by the possibilities of WiS, so I agree with you there. But I've recently learned that CCP Unifex eliminated all development on the WiS prototype that I wrote about in August. Incarna avatars exploring Sleeper stations is out of EVE, at least for the foreseeable future.

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    2. Thats somewhat sad to hear, since i think eve really could use some fun more content. all spaceships all the time is good, but it has, in its current form, very many limits.

      I like that article jester, always nice to get new perspectives and more insides as a rather new player.

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    3. Yipee. (not kidding)

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    4. Praise CCP Unifex.

      If I want a FPS or stealth game ... I'll play one of those - they'll be better. They wouldn't have been able to do top-notch gameplay with avatars, so why waste the resources on that?

      Good decision, imho, glad to hear it.

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  5. Yea, I had heard that... [sigh] That was the unspoken genesis of my last three post... I think we, both CCP and then the players, really effed up there... Talk about adding 'Immersion' to EvE, WiS and all it's possibilities would have given us Immersion and DiS (DUST in Space) in spades... Oh well, haters gonna hate, and whiners gonna whine... I just wish we all didn't have to pay the price... =\

    Good to know you feel somewhat the same as *I*... mebbe you're not as bitter as you think... =]

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  6. One thing I've noticed in the past 3 months in Eve's forums is that the 'NERF HI SEC' brigades have actually been getting alot of blow back by HI SECcer that would be affected by such nerfs. I think that we may be seeing peeps in all spaces baring thier teeth and growelling in theforums especially after retributions stream of NERFs. Soon expect huge howels greater then ever before in the forums of screaming "nerf them not us" from HI,LO,NULL ( If WH issmart they'll try to keep quiet & pray they get looked over ).

    I don't think the FW nerf is decimating them like the Incursion nerf because FW had a CSM speaking out for them. WH spacehas a good voice also that seems to havedeflected all nerfs since I've started playing the game.
    Still after looking at what happened to Anoms, Incursions & the Drone regions noone want's the CCP NERF FAIRY to visit thier space ( I don't have a clue to how WH's have escapped all these 'rebalances' myself but got to admire thier agility from the decimating nerf bat )

    I doubt that this year HI SEC will put a real candidate in the CSM next year, but without a real representitive HI SEC residents are going to start screaming a hell of a fucking lot louder that the CSM is a NULL SEC thing which has been gerrymandered like a Texan voting district and they have been disenfranchized like black democrat party voters in Florida by the Republican Party.

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    1. One thing I'd like to add: there was a good article over on theMittani.com titled "The Big Lie" concerning the spaces interdependence in the game. With the current rants for this space or the other being nerfed I'd perfer more carefull buffing instead. NERFing in my eyes is lazy game deisgn and ruins my immersion... Whom has ever heard of nerfing weapons in RL ( like the belly bow ) working?

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    2. @Darth - in fact, weapons *are* frequently nerfed in RL.

      The US has dialed back on the development & deployment of such weapons as ER (neutron) bombs, chemical & biological weapons, as well as larger nuclear weapons.

      Quite frankly, if the US has chosen to continue "buffing" such weapons, the first Gulf War would have ended in a few minutes without a single US casualty (it would also have been the last Gulf War) - though the political fallout from the use of such weapons would have lasted decades.... :)

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  7. ... and then, The Mittani, f**ked it all up by getting falling down drunk in public, and subsequently booted off the CSM for a public act of unparalleled stupidity.

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  8. Funny thing about TeaDaze, and Mynxee, and Mittens: they all flew too close to the sun, and got burned.

    That statement can be taken many ways, but here's my thinking. Tea got highly involved and vested in Eve, worked his ass off on the CSM, became an AT commentator, and blogged earnestly. He cared so much about the game, and became so vested, that when CCP started going off the rails in ways he had warned about, he quit the game.

    Mynxee: pretty much the same story. Work hard, care too much, get a glimpse inside, lose all faith, spiral into frustration and misery, quit game.

    Mittens, well his flying too close to the sun was another thing entirely, but there may be some common themes.

    But what is the moral of the story here? Activists who really make a positive difference in Eve basically get burned (out?).

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  9. Jester, your love for writing reminds me of a great American patriot who started his own News Paper - Ben Franklin.
    http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/info/index.htm
    Old Ben also set sail to France as an ambassador to the Court of Louis XVI and most historians agree that his actions as ambassador helped America win her independence. I think it’s time Old Jester set sail to Iceland as the player’s ambassador to the Court of CCP. What say you?

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