Sunday, 1 November 2015

Do you get the CSM you deserve?

The idea that people get the representatives they deserve is not a new one. But do we really deserve the Council of Stellar Management (CSM)?

The Principle

Better cover some basics first. Just what is the CSM? Don't be ashamed if you don't know. Many players don't so you will be in good company. Let us start with how the CSM formally describes itself.

"The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council who represent the views of the members of the EVE Online community to CCP. To quote part of the CSM white paper summary:
The purpose of the CSM is to represent society interests to CCP. This requires active engagement with the player community to master EVE issue awareness, understanding, and evaluation in the context of the greatest good for the greater player base."

This is all marvellous and worthy. The white paper (PDF) is fascinating and really worth the read. It is also flawed. It skips past refuseniks like myself who find the idea of joining the grand civilisation it speaks of as a constraint on our independence or just simply irrelevant. I don't know the size of the constituency my playstyle inhabits but my guess is it is not insignificant. 

The other obvious thing is it is written in English. 25% of the people who view his blog do not come from an English speaking country. Maybe it is my bad maths but I would guess the proportion of people who play Eve where English is not their mother tongue or even understood would likely be much higher. So the original premise behind the CSM is innovative because it acknowledges the benefit of player representation, but then it excludes a proportion of the player base from the outset. But at this point you might conclude it is better than nothing.

The Institution 

Now let's look at the CSM itself. The institution is funded entirely by CCP and they also provide support and infrastructure. There is no independent bureaucracy - the CSM forums are moderated by CCP for example. So without CCP financial input, the CSM would not be viable. Candidates are elected through the STV system. The candidates are not entirely unreasonably vetted by CCP before they can stand but it means they have the ultimate veto over  players voting choices. 

A successfully elected representative will be obliged to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). The primary purpose is to allow CCP to share sensitive information with the elected representatives for their opinions. Information that they cannot then share with the players who elected them. So at this point the mandate the representative was elected on becomes secondary to the CCP narrative. If your policy is "Fix Warddecs!" and CCP say it is covered by the NDA because "reasons", then you are effectively silenced. The CSM is for all intents and purposes a CCP controlled institution following the CCP agenda. This is not to say CCP are evil. They want to make a great game that we enjoy and the CSM can and does provide feed back in the manner I posted about earlier.

To recap where we are. The CSM isn't designed to represent parts of the player base and it culturally excludes others. If you get past those hurdles you may still never hear the outcome of your representation because you representative may be shackled by CCP's NDA. But still maybe better than nothing because at least someone is looking at what CCP is up to in theory. Let us think about how it works in practice.

The CSM In Practice 

At this point we are thinking about human level.  Some organisations are stronger than the sum of their parts. Others are only as strong as their weakest link. This year's CSM has had some hard working and diligent people on the council. But it hasn't taken much for it to be sabotaged by weak individuals (or at least the perception of sabotage through an NDA breach). This is not a unique event. The temptation to use NDA information for personal or group advantage is overwhelming for some. In consequence, the working relationship with CCP is in tatters to the extent that they didn't even get a mention in the Eve Vegas keynote speech. A point that was made by the some CSM members at the roundtable.

CCP's use of the CSM is consequently limited to only where trusted relationships can be forged between individual CSM members and individual Devs. In fact they don't need to use the auspices of the CSM to even do that. I don't think it is a coincidence that CCP has set up subject matter focus groups independently of the CSM. It wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude they were set up precisely because of the problems they have with the CSM. Even if that is not the case, the focus groups' existence undermines the role of the CSM regardless.

Are CCP right to turn their back on the CSM? It is actually hard to judge. CSM members have no accountability and there is no notion of collective responsibility beyond abiding by the NDA once elected. They do not have to participate nor report back to the players who elected them. They are not even bound to tell the truth. They can choose to hide behind NDA as even when it is not appropriate. A CSM member may say one thing in public, and then something completely different to CCP. We can't know. Without accountability there is no basis for trusting your representative to do the job you elected them to do.

Lets recap again if you are still following. The CSM is not representative and it is not bound to represent those who elect it. It isn't trusted by CCP who are circumventing it by selecting their hand picked friends to "represent the views of the members of the EVE Online community to CCP"  The institution is not fit for purpose.

What to do

The sad thing is the CSM is in principle a great idea. To say goodbye to it is to cull something that made Eve and CCP unique. Can we avoid that? What lets the concept down is the CSM is CCP driven rather than Player driven. If it is to continue there needs to be clear blue water between CCP and the CSM that isn't muddied by NDA restrictions that inevitably cause all the dramas. The CSM needs to represent the diversity of New Eden as well as the power and egos. It needs to be accountable, responsible, professional and credible if CCP and the players are to engage with it. It is a big ask. If you read Reddit then maybe you think it is fantasy. But if we truly believe Eve is the amazing community we say it is then it must possible you would think. 

As for the CSMXI campaign, I will follow it with interest if only for the drama but as things stand I will not be voting this time. This is not because there won't be some good candidates. There probably will be some excellent ones. Take a look and see for yourself.  No, I won't vote because I genuinely have no idea of what I would be voting for.


  1. eta on the new whitepaper please, also regular CSM member accountability would be useful.

  2. As I said in the roundtable, there is not accountability to the electorate once we are elected. That being said pressure CAN be brought to bear. Decide who you think is or should be representing your interests. Contact them, see if they answer.

    As to the cultural exclusion? Yes we require that the CSM members speak English but not well. Thus we have had people like Korvin and UaxDeath, both Russian in origin. We have had French field candidates in the last elections and they even had a chance to do a candidate interview in their mother tongue. Look at the voting stats and you will see that an overwhelming majority of the voters are from English speaking countries but I wonder why.

    I agree I will poke around and see where the whitepaper stands.

    Oh, and I am not running next year. This is not me sucking up to get votes but trying to do what I was elected to do. Wierd, I am not accountable . . . except to myself. That seems to be good enough.


    1. @Mike thanks for your comment. I have spoken to a few of current CSMX. Most have tried to be helpful. One ignored me. Of those who responded all said they would raise it with CCP. I have no reason to doubt them but I have no way of verifying that they ever did. And if they did, I do not know what happened to it. Was it shot down by another CSM? Are CCP "looking into it"(tm)? I can’t know. My post is partly born out of that experience. This is not about the individuals and you will note I have studiously avoided naming names. It is about the CSM as an institution.
      I cannot talk about the French candidates because I haven't researched that. So maybe I am wrong, but the Russian inclusion appears to be the work of CCP (CCP Leelo giving interviews on various Russian/Ukrainian media) not the CSM. I am not aware of any initiatives the CSM has done collectively. Cynically I would be surprised if they did. Why dilute your existing electoral base by broadening the electorate?
      I am not sure I understand what you mean when you say "overwhelming majority of the voters are from English speaking countries but I wonder why." If I have not misunderstood this its seems like self-confirmation bias. The demographics of those who didn't vote are surely more important if one truly cares about being inclusive.
      On your final point, I voted for you last time although I am not exclusively Hisec (or anysec). I think you have done a good job (remember this). I can't verify that though. A harsher person might take a different line. For example, was it your idea that the nullsec behemoths should be allowed to take over the high sec markets with the new citadels but inhibit the locals from doing so by removing market functionality the medium citadels? If it was then you weren't doing your job because you were elected on a hisec ticket. If it wasn't then you weren't doing your job because you were elected on a hisec ticket. Maybe this is unfair because you can't talk about it or maybe you choose not to? Or maybe you never thought about it or were not told about it until the details were released? Or maybe you just don't care because it doesn’t seem important and you are not standing next year anyway...
      Like I said, I think you have done a good job. But the CSM institution leaves you brutally exposed and really isn't good enough.

  3. Been exposed before, I found the best way to handle it is to answer truthfully. I still have hopes that I and others can convince CCP to give Mediums almost full functionality. I cannot say when I heard things as I consider that behind that three letter wall but I can say what I still would like to see happen and have not given up.

    Localization (spreading Eve across other langauges) is a bigger subject than most give it credit for. I have met some of the translators, respect them, wish we had more. I would LOVE to see proper representation of countries and languages but the CSM does have to be able to talk to one and other (even if they don't). shows where voters hailed from in the last election. I would like to see Eve become MORE international than it already is, penetrate more markets and revitalize the game. Back in 2008 they had the numbers for what % of players came from where. made for some interesting reading but thought provoking as well. How much and what parts of the world has Eve made little inroads?

    That is where we should be looking both for new players and for representatives to take the game out into new places.