With half of CSM8's term over, I'd like to take a few minutes and give my general impressions of this little social experiment that I've signed up for. Certainly, I've been providing weekly updates as well as other blog posts along the way -- you can read all of them by reading the posts I've tagged "CSM8" -- but I haven't spent a lot of time looking at the bigger picture on a week by week basis. The half-way point of the term feels like a good time to do that.
Let's start with the good...
Overall, I continue to be really pleased with CSM8 as a group, and with most of the individuals in it. We've got a pretty active bunch! Even with a couple of them having RL issues that have prevented them from participating, it's quite common to get eight or nine or ten active CSM members participating in any given activity. And even better, we've got a nice separation of duties going right now where individual CSM members clearly have expertise in different areas. We're focusing on different things both internally and externally and that I think makes us a more effective group.
But at the same time, we're all pretty quick to come together on most issues that require a unified response. I can only think of one issue -- the SOMERblink iScorps -- where the CSM didn't immediately want to pull together as a group to provide CCP a consensus response. But even when we agree, and of course when we disagree, we occasionally produce both majority and minority opinions on a given issue and I think we've been a valuable resource in that regard. When the Summer Summit minutes are released, you're going to see a good bit of this going on. A CCP dev will ask us some contentious question and some CSM members will present one set of options, another group of CSM members another. Every time this happened, you could see that CCP found this kind of back-and-forth discourse really valuable.
Another nice thing about this group's separation of duties is we're kind of instinctively focusing on different levels within the company. Trebor Daehdoow uses his long relationships with a lot of the longer-career devs to advantage, I tend to focus on the management-level personnel, mynnna and Ali Aras and Mike Azariah get into the weeds with individual devs on the feature teams, and so on with each member of CSM8 having particular people that they're really good at working with.
The players that voted for us have been really helpful and supportive too! We were really overwhelmed with the response to our first Crowdsourcing initiative and that's something we definitely intend to repeat. Attendance and participation at the town halls has been both active and really gratifying. When we've asked the players for their reactions for things or have flat-out campaigned to make some noise about a particular issue (industrials come to mind as one of my own examples), the players have come through for us. That's really helpful! I don't feel like any particular players or player groups have been unfairly attacking us, which is nice.
Virtually everyone in CCP we've worked with from senior management on down always wants to hear our opinions and I've never gotten the impression that they're tuning us out. They'll always at least give what we say a hearing. Everyone involved is really friendly, professional, accommodating, and forgiving of our occasional foibles. Things sometimes get heated but nobody ever takes the disagreements we have personally. And there are people at CCP -- a good number of them! -- that I've come to really really like!
And the not so good...
I expected CSM activities to be a lot of work... and I underestimated! A few months back, I joked that one could literally spend every waking moment involved in CSM-related activities if one chose to. Between private forums, public forums, EVE mail, Twitter, Skype, in-game conversations, pod-casts, blogs, news sites, e-mail, and player gatherings, the info dump to CSM members simply does not ever stop and can quickly become overwhelming. As a CSM member, you pretty quickly have to pick and choose where you're going to put your focus and hope that the rest of the team can pick up some of the others.
If you decide to run for CSM9, just be warned: it's a huge time sink and the only way to do this job right is to be involved in it.
The most frustrating words a CSM member will hear during a term from players are "Make CCP..." I don't think it matters how often a CSM member says it, but I'll say it again: we can't make CCP do anything. We have exactly as much influence as players give us. Again and again, I've found myself saying "From what I'm hearing from the players, I think they're going to think [X]" or "If you do that, I think the player reaction is going to be [Y]." It's a frustrating part of the job but there are definitely times when a dev gets an idea into his or her head and while they will listen to alternative proposals they will not be swayed by them. And when players come to me and say "can't you CSM people make CCP see this is a bad idea?!", all I can say is "If you help us by posting that you think it's a bad idea on the forums, maybe we can."
And there have been times when after repeated attempts by multiple CSM members to sway a dev and after multiple pointers to large numbers of forum threads, all we can do is step back and say "CCP Coyote, we think those rocket skates are a terrible idea, but if you insist on riding them... good luck and we'll see you on the other side." And only after the consequences of the rocket skates occur can we try again and perhaps make some headway. ;-)
So yeah, from time to time it's a really frustrating job. And to be perfectly fair, sometimes the dev in question knows exactly what he or she is doing from long experience with the players or the game mechanics. Sometimes, everything comes out OK in the end despite the CSM standing by and tut tutting at what we think will be a less than stellar success. In short, sometimes the rocket skates work great despite our misgivings.
While players and player groups haven't attacked the CSM, that doesn't mean the job doesn't require a pretty thick skin. Individual players here and there have had no problems with attacking individual CSM members or all of us as a group. We try to take it with a sense of humor. We did after all sign up to be public personalities and community leaders. But sometimes it would be nice to remind these people that we're volunteers, not paid CCP employees.
It would be fantastic to be working with a larger group of CCP employees. At the end of the day, the number of devs that we're working with on a daily or weekly basis is actually fairly small. We're making slow but steady headway on this one, particularly by attempting to expand the stake-holder relationships to additional feature teams. But I feel like we're mostly laying the groundwork for future CSMs on this point.
Finally, there are some things that despite us being under NDA, CCP simply won't share with us. Obviously, I can't talk about specific -- or even general -- examples. When it happens, we usually understand it... but it's frustrating.
Overall, I'm glad I decided to run, and I'm happy to be doing this job. It's tough, and frustrating, and takes a lot of time and effort. But it's also rewarding and interesting and I feel like we're making a valuable contribution to the game. I'm glad the CSM exists and that I've had the opportunity to be a part of it. EVE Online would be a poorer game without it.
On to the second half of the term!