Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The CSM Member: The Canary in the Coalmine?

It has started depressingly early his year. Potential CSMXI candidates have started putting their hats into the ring for your delectation and delight. Baring their soul and a shopping list of changes for us to judge and pass sentence on. They must be mad. If you consider CSMX are barely halfway through their current tenure it is also premature. What they are pitching now could be completely irrelevant come April.

Whatever your opinion, you cannot deny CCP have delivered a lot of game defining changes already this year. There is more to come that we know about - structures for example, and more that we don't - capital roles for example. I wouldn't be surprised if here is even more completely off the radar. This is not trivial stuff and it is what the next CSM is going to have to work with, refine and build on.

It seems to be the habit of the Everati to come up with a preferred list of candidates. I might do that but not some time and besides, who cares what I think. But it worth exploring what the CSM role actually is compared to what candidates and the voting appear to think it is. So lets start with CCP.

CCP does care about the CSM. It devotes time and resources to it. A business does burn money on something like that if there is no value proposition. They will continue to support it so long as the benefits outweigh the costs. The main benefit is a straightforward one. The job of a CSM member is to be the canary in the coal mine. To constructively identify flaws and suggest improvements to future features and changes CCP plan to introduce. It is user assurance. Assurance done by users chosen by the users so it should be good right? Well maybe.

The thing is we are talking about humans here. CCP, like all the organisations I have encountered of a similar size will be dysfunctional. It is just the nature of the beast. Crossed lines of communication, conflicting roles, responsibilities and priorities, etc will all conspire to confuse the poor CSM member. Getting things done will always seem harder than they ought to. Some CCP teams will use the CSM, while others might not even be aware of its purpose and usefulness. Assuming CCP do make use of the CSM's talents - and they do, then the member is going to be bombarded daily with several hours of work. CSM is a job. Even more so with the current release cadence.

An CSM's relationship with both CCP and other CSM members will determine the extent to which you get listened to. Crying or sulking on social media every time they want something or undermining other CSM members they don't like will just result in them being frozen out of the debate because they offer CCP or indeed their voters no value. Constructive, productive and preferably evidence based discussion is what a developer usually wants to hear.

That in essence is the CSM job. If a prospective candidate feels they can just turn up and 'fix' EVE with a shopping list of demands they are going to be very disappointed. That is NOT the job. CCP have a plan. A plan they outlined in April and CCP Seagull reaffirmed on the o7 Show a few weeks ago. If the candidate's ideas coincide with CCP's plan for 2016-2017 then their voice might get heard. If it is an easy fix then it might get scheduled. Otherwise they won't get any priority or will be dismissed out of hand.

So while I don't want to dampen the enthusiasm, I will be cautious of any candidate promising to drive changes. Sure they will be part of the change process, and that can be rewarding and interesting in itself. But they won't be driving it. That is down to CCP as it should be. It is their jobs on the line after all.


  1. My view on early candidacy announcements by relative unknowns is a reasonable strategy because it gives them a chance to become known in a general way: how they conduct themselves, how articulate they are, how much thought they put into discussion. It also lets them demonstrate their adaptability should CCP introduce changes that impact those candidates' stated platform. Besides, without opinions about game features, what would drive discussion with those candidates? People generally do not get elected simply by saying "I will listen well, communicate regularly, and offer my opinion on matters that CCP puts before the Council" as their sole platform. Passion and expertise for certain topic areas is important in a CSM member.

    As for driving changes, these days the CSM does have many opportunities to do that and does do a lot. They bring recommendations to CCP and provide feedback that is instrumental in informing how some things are changed and/or implemented. If that's not driving change, what is? Even if new CSMs discover that their platform agendas have little opportunity to be heard during their term, the important thing is that candidates all bring their own game experience and expertise to bear on the millions of topics that get discussed during a CSM term.

    So...while a lot relative to an early declarer's platform might change in six months, patient engagement by relative unknowns over a long period of time has benefits and might just change a few votes when elections happen. Familiarity, after all, is a huge part of people deciding who they will vote for. Meanwhile, those of us who don't have an interest in engaging with early declarers until closer to election time can just tune those conversations out.

  2. So on the face we might have opposing opinions. And now I'm on the back foot with an ex CSM member breathing down my neck ;p Since I'm in a hole I'd best keep digging.

    I genuinely don't know if early candidacy for unknowns is a good strategy to get elected. I can think of two opposing real life examples. Lets say the jury is out on that one. Yes, it is good to hear opinion and there should be opportunities for them to be heard and debated. But it is not as if there aren't a host of channels to communicate and debate the game and its direction already. CCP are quite exceptional in how they participate in those discussions. I may be wrong but I don't remember festival launcher hard points in any candidate's manifesto? Yet it happened. The CSM election process is not significant in that regard but the CSM job certainly is.

    Where we probably diverge most, and where I am on the most shaky ground is what the job is. My point being, the job the candidates were pitching for was not the one on the table. That doesn't make it a bad job. It is a very important job but isn’t being a driver of change. It is a job that helps facilitate change. The examples you cite are assurance activities. Getting wider feedback is just an extension of that. Good practice certainly, but CCP still set the agenda. I'm sure CSM members have the chance to bring suggestions to the table but the chances are slim for them to be adopted in a meaningful time frame if at all.

    Let's pick an example – Wardecs. A minority love this gameplay, but most think it is weak and at best counter productive. Not a year has gone past while I have been playing without a bunch of prospective CSM members having this issue on their ticket. At least one current CSM member has a strong views on it. At least one of the new candidates has this as something to be fixed. But it is not a CCP priority. I doubt it has even been taken past the “looking at” stage.

    Finally your honour, in my defrence see Exhibit A CSM9 Review ( Beyond the usual interpersonal drama, there is a consistent theme of disappointment that personal projects weren't taken further. Sugar's comments are illuminating. And when CCP Falcon says “During the course of their term, the council’s delegates have proven the CSM to be invaluable when CCP has been required to make difficult and sometimes controversial decisions when making changes to fundamental gameplay elements” it is pretty clear who is driving what.

    But if a candidate declares early and also demonstrate they appreciates what the job entails, I would be interested. But I agree and recognise that will be a hard sell to an electorate who want more tangible things yesterday.