The nature of EVE Online as a game, with it being hosted on a single monstrous shard - means that unlike all previous games before it, the development of a complex and downright stunning meta-gaming system was bound to evolve. In fact not only was it bound to happen - it's an element of the game that is actively encouraged by CCP. Unlike games before it, EVE is also capable of supporting its own self-enclosed political system, with the ultimate arm of this system being embodied in the Council of Stellar Management. A component of EVE Online that I, White Tree, actively participate in.
Outlined in the social goals that CCP put forth in a document known as 'The White Papers', CCP wanted to encourage the development of a society within an enclosed sphere, with their intervention being minimalist at best. The goal was to create a system which operated more or less independently and would function as a means for players to self-organize. The end result of this experiment was the development of a society which has evolved from simple hunter/gatherer tribes to great Empires.
But the CSM represents a unique element that cannot exist in the real world. This is because the CSM is effectively lobbying the creator of the universe itself to alter the very nature of reality. Well - the nature of reality within EVE Online anyway. Most people don't quite understand what it is that the CSM do, or what their power is. This leads to people eventually defining it for themselves, or using half-informed definitions when developing a perception of the CSM. Put very simply, the CSM operates as a group which lobbys for changes to the game ideally based upon the collective desires of the community.
There are times when it is easy for the CSM to do this, like for example when a single element of the game is so dramatically broken that it requires more or less immediate attention as far as the players are concerned. And there are times when the process is challenging, like when a catalyst issue results in the player-base arguing with itself and there is no clear definition of what the players want. More often than not this has a strange secondary effect wherein the players actually take out their frustrations on the CSM. Unable to collectively agree on any one course of action and irritated by the undefinable solution to their problems; they lash out.
A more recent and fantastic example of a time when the players became collectively upset, but also collectively unsure of a solution was an episode in the history of EVE Online that has now become known as 'Monoclegate'.
There comes a point in every gaming companies history where it begins to diversify its products and the means by which their consumers can access said products. And in very simple terms the introduction of the NEX system was no different from the diversification of a product to appeal to wider audiences. In fact the idea that an in-game cash shop was being added to the game had been discussed in a dev blog nearly a year before the actual launch of the NEX line. There were no objections to the inclusion of such a store within Incarna should it be used only for the provision of vanity items within the Incarna content experience.
Nearly a year later and the launch of the product sets a series of gears in motion that results in the complete and total breakdown of EVE as a community. What started as a series of admitted communication errors concerning the pricing of the vanity items spiralled into a monstrous firestorm when an internal newsletter from CCP was leaked to the general public. The letter contained details about the inclusion of 'Pay 2 Win' items in EVE Online which drove the community into a frenzy of protest and irritation.
Frustrations came to a head when an internal e-mail penned by the CEO of CCP games Hilmar Veigar Pétursson, offered congratulations to the developers of EVE online for the launch of another successful product all the while the community were literally swinging from the proverbial street-lights with anger as a confused and muted CCP struggled to find words to justify their actions. In the end the CSM was summoned to Iceland for an emergency meeting for the second time in the entire history of the CSM.
For us this was a moment of panic and concern. We caught up in the same emotions the players were. Worried, nervous and angry about the future of our game but with an additional level of irritation laid on top to make it all worse. We were supposed to be the front line, we were supposed to be the ones told about what was going to happen before it happened. We could have guided, we could have been there to ease the transition of one of the most controversial aspects of the game that had ever been introduced and we weren’t. We were more or less ignored, or rather - we weren't even consulted in the first place.
I had commented at the start, when the players themselves were only beginning to taste their anger that it would not be singularly directed at CCP. That we (the CSM) were also going to be the subject of intense harassment due to what might either be perceived as our co-operation with the shipping of this controversial system or worse yet - we might be seen as a redundant element of the game given that we weren't even consulted before the green light was given.
In the end CCP realized that they had released a technically successful piece of work, marvellous and beautiful (despite the occasional hardware issue) but had completely and totally forgotten to communicate their intentions to the players. And when the 'Fearless' newsletter was leaked it became the replacement for the non-existent communication that CCP had with the players during the unrest.
The result of this disaster was the eruption of a massive series of protests all over EVE Online. And with the most dramatic of these being the crowding of thousands of players around a monument erected not far from the undock of the 4-4 Caldari Navy Assembly Plant in the games busiest economic hub: Jita. Players wrote blogs, the gaming media covered the event and it even managed to get air time on television networks. For a game with less than half a million subscribers, the community are able to make more than enough noise to drown out the thundering roar that MMORPG super-giants like World of Warcraft can make, if only for a moment.
The parallels you can draw from this aspect of EVE Online and the real world are numerous. The social skills and leadership skills you hone and sharpen in one world have a tendency to bleed out into the other, and also the ability for people in the real world to mobilize in protest can be mirrored in the digital world too. This is just another one of the endlessly complex and involving elements that make up the multifaceted visage of EVE Online.