No stone tablets for CSM
Discussions about the Council of Stellar Management are the most common posts from EVE bloggers; they have been for a couple of weeks now and it only seems to be getting worse. My first inclination was to leave the topic alone — nobody wants to go into their Google Reader and see another post about the CSM. But as I read blogs and forum posts I became angrier and angrier; not at CCP or the CSM but at the players whose expectations have grown completely out of proportion.
The council exists solely to provide a channel for the flow of information between CCP and EVE’s player base. It’s impossible for Eve’s limited number of designers and developers to talk to every player, so instead they talk with us by proxy.
We, the players, elect a manageable number of representatives (nine, with a lesser number of alternates) who will listen to us and take what we say to Iceland. These representatives will then engage in discussions with CCP and the output will be a better understanding for CCP of what the players want and a trough of information to dump back on us.
There is a great summary of the Council of Stellar Management available that I would highly recommend reading if you have any interest in the council. The summary lists the guarantee that the CCP council will, “do everything in its power to resolve the topics presented, and short of accomplishing that, state in clear terms why a resolution is not possible.”
This does not mean that CCP will make a fix or change to game mechanics simply because the CSM asks for it — it means they will listen and understand. As far as I can tell, they have done this based on the initial feedback from neutral observer Mandrill and CSM chairwoman Mynxee. Later feedback suggested frustration, but that frustration was over being powerless to actually drive development, not that CCP didn’t listen.
The elephant in the room that I haven’t mentioned yet is the statement bandied about by every rabid New Eden pilot: the CSM is a stakeholder. The only official reference to this I can find is in the notes from the February 2010 summit:
“CCP made the counter-proposal of involving the CSM more in the prioritization of the backlog but without committing fixed development time. Under the system the CSM would provide a list of their main wishes. CCP would then estimate the development time and report back for possible re-prioritization by the CSM. Another round of feedback is required after the revised priority list is submitted, so that the CSM and the players have transparent and accountable explanations of why the CSM’s priorities were or were not included in that round of development.
This is the same system as stake holding departments of CCP have for getting their requests through. This change would therefore be a recognition of the CSM as a stakeholder on equal footing with stakeholder departments within CCP.”
Nowhere does it state that the CSM will be able to choose where development time is spent or when. It suggests that they might have some say in the priorities of the issues that the CSM brings to the summit.
I’m a software engineer myself, so I think I have a decent understanding of what it really means to say that someone is a stakeholder. There are numerous groups competing for development time. In the interest of keeping titles out of this (because they are different everywhere) I’ll just give a general description of these groups.
There’s the boss, who in some way drives everything the company does. The team that manages the company’s strategic vision and the long-term direction of the products has a say as well. Then there would likely be a team that manages the specific product (in this case EVE). There are the designers and architects who have a vision about specific areas of the product. And the engineers themselves likely want to spend development cycles on particular pieces of code to improve it or their ability to maintain it.
At the end of the day, with all of these people competing for engineering time, the direction probably doesn’t accurately represent what any of them wanted directly — rather it will be a compromise. Somebody will always feel their input was ignored. Being a stakeholder does not provide a magic wand that can be waved around to instantly drive development cycles in a particular direction; stakeholder status simply means you get to provide some input and find out why the output doesn’t look like you wanted it to.
I don’t think that everything CCP does is right, so this isn’t some over-the-top proclamation of my undying devotion to them. But this game is obviously pretty good, or nobody would be reading my blog (or the hundreds like it) or writing pages of angry responses on the EVE online forums. I just think the council got a little over-inflated about what they would actually be able to accomplish. The council is a conduit between the players and CCP.
Note: If you thought I was going to talk about Ankh — sorry to disappoint. She did something wrong and got removed. I don’t think we need to know what she did; clearly CCP think the harm of explaining it is greater than the harm of not explaining it. I very much doubt it has anything to do with her “stand against the man” because many of the other CSM members have done the same thing.