I’ve been a fan of the CSM since I learned about it. It’s an institution that as certainly had its ups and downs. CSM 9 by about mid-year was a great upswing, and right now CSM 10 is defining how low it can get. So should we get all depressed about how dysfunctional our community is, how disorganized the CSM is, or whether or not CCP really cares about it?
The case for the CSM value pendulum
We may see a natural swing going on here. When the CSM is viewed as powerless, then the in-game powers will largely ignore it and only candidates who really care about the game run and are elected. They then build a strong relationship with CCP and contribute a lot of value, which then influences the wider community to care about the CSM. This attracts the attention of the political powers, who then cram their candidates and their objectives into the CSM. Those space-important CSM candidates then present their egos and agenda to CCP and wreck the relationship again, driving down the value of the CSM. As CCP distances itself from the toxic and overly politicized CSM, it no longer is worth the time of the space-important politicians who then won’t bother to run for CSM. Earnest, optimistic (and yes, perhaps more naive) players then are elected and begin to build the relationship and value of the CSM again.
I’ve been an Eve player for not quite four years. The first year (CSM 7) I can’t say I knew much about as I started, but as many of you will recall this is when The Mittani himself won the chairman position for the second time - and then got promptly got himself kicked after his infamous call for people to harass a player until he killed himself. We can see that moment as the peak of the previous cycle. CSM 8 was clearly rebuilding with the leading personalities being fairly independent people like Ali Aras and Ripard Teg being joined by the very level-headed Mynnna from the CFC. CSM 9 brought in Sugar Kyle, the very popular low-sec candidate, while also building to three (then) CFC leaders in Mynnna, Sion, and Xander. As CSM 9 wrapped up there were many comments from people like the outgoing (and clearly exhausted) Ali Aras speaking to the legacy of cooperation that CSM had rebuilt, and hopes that CSM X could take this even fartehr. However, eith null-sec and sov so clearly on the line CSM 10 was crammed with representatives of the powerful - and everything promptly went to shit.
“Our attempts to gain decent community feedback on this were rather unsuccessful, and the general response was that they didn’t want refitting to change at all. While understandable, this sort of input is entirely unhelpful when trying to present a reasonable balancing alternative to what is currently proposed. The reaction on this was pretty heated and largely directed at the focus group’s members who joined in on the discussion. It’s fair to say many of the group are now far less keen to reach out to the wider community beyond their own social network.”
-RocketX, “Inside the Capital Focus Group: Warp Strength”
Focus groups, in the public sense they are being conducted now rather than in the private sense that CCP has apparently used for years, aren't going to have the same scope as the CSM. There's overhead in selecting each focus group, getting them under NDA, and then briefing them them sufficiently on the ways of development at CCP, then tearing it all down again and losing that headway when the focus topic is done. The CSM is an unfocus group (to coin a phrase), ideally able to contribute on a wide range of issues.
So where do we go from here?
The Roads for the CSM
I'll argue there are two ways we can go from here. Either CCP puts a lot of effort into building structure around the CSM and tries to force the representative to behave like adults, or they step back and figure they'll get what value they can from each CSM as it comes. Yes, there is a third way of canning the whole thing and throwing it away, but I don't think we're to that sad place yet and institutional inertia is a powerful thing.
The Right Fork - Structure the CSM
The path is the one that I hear advocated by commentators such as in the CSM Watch pre-interview analysis podcast. Rewrite the CSM White Paper to have more structure and more teeth. Lay out exactly what the CSM can and cannot do, report to the players more rigorously what their candidates are doing, and put real teeth in to remove the lazy and the malcontent.
In this path perhaps we'd see a monthly statement from CCP to the player based that reports on how many meetings the CSM has had with how many teams, what CSM reps attended the meetings, and who has contributed the most in asynchronous communications outside of meetings. Since CCP uses an agile methodology, perhaps each dev team could end each iteration by rating the CSMs by how valuable their feedback was to work in that iteration. If CSMs dropped below a threshold, they'd be put on warning, and if they persist then CCP would kick them.
Some part of me would love this. Transparency is a key agile tenant, and I'm an advocate for agile software development in my real life job. The CSM has the potential to be the advocate for the customer, though we shouldn't delude ourselves that they would be product owners in an agile sense. Let the community see how useful or not their CSM reps are. If you want to be a representative who just shouts and complains about everything, or can't let go of pushing for something that isn't on the roadmap, then the CCP teams say you aren't valuable, we don't want to meet with you, and you get kicked. Whine on twitter or reddit all you want, it won't help you. In order to influence the development of Eve you have to grow up, act like an adult, and actually be constructive.
On the other hand, this is a massive investment in management effort for CCP. It's clearly a high-overhead system, and we have to wonder if just running pick-up focus groups wouldn't be a better bang for the buck. This also potentially plays towards the space-lawyers (some of which sadly even claim to belong to that profession in real life) who will want to spend all their time nit-picking the white paper, the NDA, and any other artifact of the structure they can lay hands on. The clue-by-four needed here is that it really doesn't matter what the legalese of the document is - either CCP (and by extension the players of Eve) are getting value from you or not. But it will be painful to get there.
The Left Fork - Making Lemonade
In this path, CCP buys in to the “CSM Value Pendulum” theory and recognizes that no one structure is going to stand the stresses of our strange player culture and entrenched power base. There are going to be useful CSM years and destructive CSM years, and even in the toxic years there are going to be earnest representatives that are sincerely trying to help the game with something approaching altruism.
CCP could look at the CSM and decide to work to get the best ROI by decreasing investment instead of redoubling it. Let the player base elect who they want, with all the vote-blocks, vote-swaps, and vote-buying the clever can come up with. At the end of the day there's a slate of representatives, and by the end of Fanfest the CCP liaisons are likely to not really have decent idea of which of them are worth anything since all of them are fired up and excited to strut their stuff. CCP opens up channels, floats some mid-level ideas, and sees how the CSMs react. Once a month or two has gone by and the reps are caught up in their real lives and their normal space lives, many of them will have faded to the background. In this approach CCP doesn't waste time figuring out how to define how to kick a rep, they just make up their mind internally and do it based on the expected value of that rep versus the next one in the STV results. At worst, you just stop inviting them to meetings and let them sulk or rant if they want to. If people complain about the capricious nature of CSM wrangling, just smile and say you're glad to work with those who have come to work. They can be space-tyrants of their own people on their own time.
If you look at the truly strong CSM representatives of the past few years you'll see people who CCP could get value from in this looser approach to CSM engagement. The likes of Steve Ronuken, Sugar Kyle, Ali Aras, and Mike Azariah would continue to make contributions. Those who are pretentious would make a stink (which they were going to do anyway), and those who can't follow through on the commitment for any number of reasons will fade away.
The downside of this is that the easy path for CCP developers will be to not put themselves out there during the early stages where they're still sorting out who is useful. It could be just as easy to just talk to none of the CSMs, or avoid a particular one more for their reputation (or slander in the community) than for their actual ability. If there was a couple bad CSMs in a row, this path could slide towards elimination of the CSM.
Looking towards CSM 11
It all does come back to all of us in the player base. We can elect more ego-driven, loud-mouthed CSM reps, perhaps with a laugh that we're trolling CCP as we do so. Or we can elect thoughtful people who can work together and work with CCP development teams. As the panel joked in the CSM Watch analysis piece, we are going to get the CSM we deserve, not the CSM we need.
I'm going to listen to all the interviews again this year, read the blogosphere (and God help me, reddit), and try to make good choices. I figure if we all just try to make good choices, maybe CSM 11 can be the first step in the rebuilding cycle instead of another step down into the oubliette.