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EVESterdam 2019 - The Council of Stellar Management

Joseph Bradford Posted:
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EVE Online is a world of its own - something the developer and players would freely admit. In a game that is so player driven, EVE Online drives unique stories and experiences found literally nowhere else in all of gaming. This extends to the power struggles and political side of New Eden. As unique as undercover covert missions are to EVE Online, so is the complicated and incredibly intricate political struggles that make up New Eden. Part of that is the democratically elected Council of Stellar Management, or CSM. This is a body of players, voted on by players, to represent the people who make up New Eden with CCP Games. Yet, while I can’t think of another game where something like this exists, and it’s recognized by CCP, it’s not without its own controversies.

Established in 2008, every year capsuleers in New Eden are asked to vote to elect the members of the incoming CSM. In its current structure, CSM Representatives serve 12 month terms which work directly with developers at CCP to help ensure the issues their constituents have are heard and (potentially) acted upon by CCP. Players who run for the CSM range the gamut from massive alliance leaders, wormhole players, or even F1 jockeys with real-life political careers.

The CSM is a great body of players to work with in CCP’s eyes, as it allows the developers to get a more “hands-on” feel for the EVE Online community.

“It's absolutely fantastic to have the CSM,” Bergur “CCP Burger” Finnbogason, EVE Online’s creative director told MMORPG at EVEsterdam. “ They are so incredibly important to stuff we do. I mean - I have a lot of data, I have a know-how and I understand the IP and the game really well, but I don't have the day-to-day sentiment, the day-to-day meta feel and what's going on in the nitty gritty."

The CSM, like any political object, is not without its issues, especially with how its perceived by the community. The largest issue with the perception of the CSM seems to be with player representation. While the vast majority of EVE Online players tend stick to High Sec, the CSM is overwhelmingly made up of Null Sec players. This has obviously caused some consternation in the populace who feel the CSM doesn’t adequately represent New Eden.

This grief is seen wherever EVE players have a voice, most recently in an AMA with Hilmar Viegar, CEO of CCP Games.

One of the members of the CSM, Jin’Taan, knows that this is a perception problem within the system that the CSM has to deal with. Jin’Taan, a member of the Initiative, is one of those players many would consider “null sec” heavy, but also recognizes how that damages the perception of the CSM.

“We obviously do have some perception and participation problems in the election,” Jin’Taan said. “It tends to be mostly organized null-sec entities that will vote, and that causes obviously null sec to be vastly overrepresented. And it squeezes out other gameplay styles and that causes a lot of grief in the community, and I think it damages the perception of the CSM as well.”

This concern isn’t just felt in the forums, either. Many players I spoke with at EVEsterdam echoed this concern - even from those who identified as Nullsec heavy players. The concern is with the future longevity of EVE Online. Jin’Taan sent out a tweet a few days after EVEsterdam, and the replies were telling. The lack of overall representation across all sectors of EVE Online, specifically Lowsec, Faction Warfare, and Wormhole communities struck a chord with many of the respondents. Some called for a reform of the voting process or an alliance limit to ensure representation across all of EVE.

However, one of the major issues with the last point is simple: One of these major Nullsec alliance players can simply create an alt character and insert themselves in that community to secure the vote. It’s a double edged sword, especially given the mobilization of Nullsec communities in the voting process.

This perception of the CSM is reflective of what we see in our societies as well - constituents feeling as though their voice is not being heard in their democracy. In any democracy you’re going to see voter bases who are more passionate about the process than others. In EVE Online, Null Sec players may not make up the majority of residents in New Eden, but they are the loudest and most active.

However, not everyone sees the CSM as a vessel to push Nullsec agendas, even within CCP. Sveinn “CCP Guard” Kjarval, arguably the face of EVE Online, sees it differently. In his time working for CCP, Guard has been instrumental working with the CSM and helping CCP navigate what is a pretty unheard of practice in an incredibly secretive industry.

“It’s actually more organic than some people give it credit for,” Sveinn told us at EVEsterdam. “I think I understand where the sort of perception comes from, where the fear comes from, and everybody has their natural biases based on their experiences and all that stuff. So it’s like, I mean obviously there’s gonna be cases for some who lives purely Nullsec not really understanding naturally something that someone else does every day.

“But overall, it’s not like a lot of people think: that they just have an agenda that serves their group, and they comment and they advocate for that, and they get it through or something like that. It’s more like any agendas that they get through are usually to do with game health and balance.”

One of the major changes to come via discussions with CSM 13 were changes to the Wardec system, a system that doesn’t affect Nullsec players at all. It’s an example of the highly Nullsec players fighting on behalf of Highsec and new players - advocating for changes that could affect player retention and fun in those areas.

Transparency is a dirty word in the video game industry. Most companies don’t trust “gamers” with their secrets, each announcement is meticulously crafted by PR teams and game leaks are treated with scorn. However, CCP operates a bit different, shown perfectly by the CSM.

Members sign an NDA and CCP truly does trust these elected members with secrets most of the industry would be loathe to ever say outside their conference rooms. As a result, the CSM can act as sort of a sounding board for CCP, bouncing ideas off the Council before they fully come to fruition.

“The CSM is a great pulse on exactly ‘how would this go down?’ Or ‘Here's a stupid idea, rip it apart of me’ and you start to see like different views and different angles in the stuff that's developing,” according to CCP Burger.

In fact, the CSM is so unique to EVE Online that when CCP gets new developers in according to Burger that it takes new developers at CCP some time to acclimate to this idea of allowing that level of transparency with players - democratically elected New Eden representatives or not.

“It's really interesting for our new developers like when we get new developers in. It usually takes them quite some time to get used to the CSM, the level of information we share with them, and how incredibly honest they are with us. I have a lot of my developer friends. When I go to conferences and stuff like that or meet up dev friends, everyone is super interested in this, like ‘How in the world do we have the nerve to do this?’ How in the world do you trust a bunch of players with hardcore company secrets, like we share stuff with them, and they're fantastic keeping secrets. And we can rely on them. And for most companies you just don't want that level of transparency. It's scary, you can't control it.”

Jin’Taan, who will not be running for a fourth term on CSM 14, sees that level of interaction with CCP as something to celebrate, regardless of the perception issues that might envelope the CSM.

“It’s great. One of the things that really made me happy about this summit is that this time it wasn’t us spreading the problems to CCP. It was CCP saying, ‘We understand that these are problems, let’s figure out how to fix them.’ We weren’t having to show CCP where the problems were this time, we were able to provide a kind of constructive discussion with them and that was just great. It’s one of the smoothest seminars we had in  along time. It’s really nice when you just see things happen in the game that are good. When you see things that you’ve helped make happen, make a real difference you know, it is something I think we miss in a lot of our jobs sometimes.”

For years there was a meme going around that CCP was the worst in the industry at keeping secrets, yet the level of transparency involved with the CSM - from the sharing of future plans and ideas with the council itself down to the publishing of the minutes of every CSM council session, keeps the CSM accountable to their constituents as well.

For those who complain about the Nullsec heavy representation - or the claims that fly around about Goonswarm controlling the CSM. trying to push their own agenda. However, Guard knows that simply wouldn’t fly were it the case.

“People think that they come in with some sneaky agendas that they can sort of bamboozle us into accepting something that’s going to be good [for only them]. That’s not how [these] conversations work, and everyone in the room knows about this. We have developers who are hardcore EVE players from back in the day, and they know the game in and out, they follow the news, they know all the propaganda, all the memes and stuff like that. This is like a conversation of peers in most ways.”

The CSM isn’t the only way for your voice in New Eden to be heard, however. People tend to complain about the elected officials, yet it’s within the player bases’ power to change this. Around 30K votes were cast last time around - players have the ability to affect change within New Eden through that vote.

“Why are you complaining about something you have everything in your power to stop,” Jin’Taan said to me. “If you see something that’s wrong with the CSM and they’re doing something that’s bad, call that specifically out and be like, ‘Hey, I don’t agree with this,’ and explain why. Don’t think that CCP is only going to listen to the CSM. CCP will read whatever else we write.”

With voting coming up for CSM 14 soon, many players are gearing up to run for the council. Campaigns will kick off, tours on streams, podcasts and more will start to trickle through the community - yet while this incredibly unique experience will come to EVE Online once again, it won’t be without controversy. Yet at the end of the day, the outgoing and incoming CSM takes what they do seriously. In the end, it’s about helping the game get better all around.

“At the end of the day, we do the best we can, because when the game does well, we get more people,” Jin’Taan told me with a wry smile. “They have a vested interest in the new players doing good, they have a vested interest in getting new people into the game. Anyone who thinks that [the CSM] wants to kill the game is stupid. They’re too invested. You haven’t spent 10 years in the game just to kill it for fun.”

And for those who are concerned about representation and the perception of one alliance owning the Council? Jin’Taan has some advice as he leaves the CSM.

“Vote next time.”

UPDATE: Earlier this morning, CCP released a dev blog announcing the removal of Brisc Rubal from the CSM as well as a lifetime ban on his accounts. Rubal has been accused of leaking confidential CSM secrets with alliance members as a way to do insider trading in game. We reached out to CCP Games and was supplied the following comment: "For privacy reasons, CCP does not engage discussion regarding action taken against a player’s game accounts. In this instance, given that the player in question was a member of the Council of Stellar Management, it is in the interests of the wider community that we confirm action was taken.

Any further details regarding the situation remain the business of the player in question and CCP Games. Please see this dev blog for the statement that was issued to the EVE Community." We'll be sure to follow up and update this post with any further info as it becomes available.


lotrlore

Joseph Bradford

Joseph has been writing or podcasting about games in some form since about 2012. Having written for multiple major outlets such as IGN, Playboy, and more, Joseph started writing for MMORPG in 2015. When he's not writing or talking about games, you can typically find him hanging out with his 10-year old or playing Magic: The Gathering with his family. Also, don't get him started on why Balrogs *don't* have wings. You can find him on Twitter @LotrLore