Mike Azariah put out an article today offering an opinion on why players should care about and vote for the CSM. In it, he spends a little time talking about some disagreements on the purpose of the CSM according to the CSM white paper. He also makes a parallel between voting for the CSM and voting for politicians in the real world.
Now, I swore I wasn’t going to make a post about the CSM this year. At first, I used to be all-in with the importance of the CSM. Now, my attitude is very much, “Who really cares?”
And I am provide some context behind that. Mike makes two popular arguments that are, at their core, deeply flawed approaches to the CSM. So popular, in fact, that even CSM candidates seem to misunderstand what the CSM is.
And I’m going to make some parallels with my own career in marketing, as well.
In the first place, the only thing voting for the CSM and voting for your politicians have in common is the fact that majority rules. That’s it, full stop.
Politicians hold real power and authority. They can make it illegal for you to walk with your left foot. They can make it illegal for you to kiss your wife. They can make it illegal to send your kid to bed without dinner. They can absolutely ruin your life. And throughout history, they have done exactly that. By pushing an electronic button on the back of the chair in front of them, they can vote to deprive whole groups of people of their liberty, their assets, their rights, or their happiness. They can take what you own and give it to someone else out of a warped sense of “fairness”.
Should you care who you vote into office? You betcha – because the consequences can be visceral, real, and irrevocable. Consider Obamacare in the
States – if you hate it and didn’t vote in
the 2008 election, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you love it and
don’t vote in the next election, you may very well see it defunded – and you’d
have no one to blame but yourself.
And this is where the second fallacy comes in: the CSM is not a council of wisdom, or a group who has a “seat at the table”. The CSM members have no power – either severally or collectively – and will never change anything. Any agenda they come in with is a fool’s crusade, because CCP does not look to the CSM to set design priority.
On the contrary, CCP uses their feedback to set the design priority. That’s an important distinction – the agency with establishing roadmaps and changes to the game does, should, and always will rest exclusively with CCP.
Why? Because the CSM are composed of people who consume the game, chosen for their ability to express opinions about what matters to them as consumers. They are not game designers. They are not Bus Dev experts, nor product managers. They haven’t performed exhaustive, disambiguated research into competitors, they haven’t analyzed the data available to CCP, they haven’t performed root-cause analyses. Their sole criteria for candidacy is that they have experience consuming and enjoying the game.
In fact, the sole reason they’re elected is so CCP can have confidence that the opinions they express are representative of the diverse perspectives of the playerbase. And even that aspect is often gamed by large blocs to stack the deck with their members out of some misguided belief that more members somehow means they’re exerting control in some way.
But that’s all a foolish delusion. The CSM is ultimately a focus group. CCP provides exclusive information to the CSM under an official NDA to get their feedback about possibilities that would cause rampant speculation and instability if they shared it openly.
I manage focus groups for my company. We’ve definitely changed the details of products because of what we learn in focus groups, but we don’t do it because a small group of customers says so. That’s called stupidity. We did it because our focus groups turned our attention to something that might be off, and a whole engine of research, analysis, projections, and testing verified that we were off base.
A lot of times, clients don’t know why they do or feel the way they do. They attribute the wrong effects to causes, or identify the wrong causes to effects. They’re irrational sometimes – as all people are. For an Eve example, consider the sov changes – FozzieSov provided people exactly what they asked for, and they’re complaining about it now. Perhaps CCP listened to what players were saying a bit too much, and what motivated and underpinned those feelings a little too little?
But because the CSM is elected, people have this silly idea that it wields power – it doesn’t. Mike Azariah comments that CCP can disregard the opinions of the CSM, as if that’s a bad thing. If I owned a business, I would never give to a group of users my prerogative to make whatever changes I felt were necessary to be profitable, and neither would CCP.
Somewhere along the lines, Eve player got the impression that the CSM was a badge of honor, a status symbol, and that it somehow indicated members were smarter, better, or more qualified than the rest of Eve players. Yet, to be effective, CSM members have to be just as irrational, biased, and reactive as all of us Eve players – else they cease to provide a representative sample and become less effective.
Now, we have a CSM that takes itself way too seriously, and seems to believe it’s somehow working for CCP or has the responsibility for coming up with solutions to problems in Eve. It doesn’t; it has the obligation of being honest and sharing opinions.
Nor is there a reason to conceive of “the CSM” as an entity of itself. What CCP wanted, and what they got was 14 individual members. For Eve’s sake, you better hope the next CSM remembers that.
To the CSM, you’re not an elite club of brandy-sippers or cigar-smokers somehow to be praised for rubbing elbows with CCP. You’re a focus group tasked with sharing your opinions. You don’t have to represent everyone; you don’t have to follow parliamentary procedure. Stop taking yourselves so seriously or acting as if this is a vocation for which you should be praised.
To the candidates, remember what you’re signing up for. You’re not a cool kid, and keep your ego in check. Don’t deceive yourself into believing you’re going to get a personal agenda approved – CCP isn’t going to do anything they don’t want to do. At best, you can use your ear time to make a persuasive argument. But if they don’t listen to you, you don’t have the right to raise bloody murder about it. They are not and should not be under any obligation to act on any comment you make.
And to the voters, by all means vote, but vote for someone who looks at the game the way you do. Don’t vote for a platform; it makes no sense to even have one. Vote for a mindset, a philosophy, a perspective. By definition, that’s biased. Don’t expect them to get certain changes done, and don’t get pissy if CCP does something you don’t like. The CSM really has no power but the power of access – access to share arguments in favor of one way of doing things or another. They don’t se the agenda, don’t make any decisions, and don’t have any authority. Don’t hold them to the standard or make the comparison to a politician. They aren’t answerable to you.
Everyone needs to stop taking the CSM so seriously. It gets in the way of providing good feedback – the thing CCP needs to avoid another Summer of Rage. And it strokes the ego of people out of all proportion, imbuing members of a focus group with the drama that should be reserved only for a high school cheerleading squad.
The CSM is not a “sacred duty” and its members are not glorious guardians of good. They’re a means of providing a reaction check.
And the sooner everyone involved realizes this and accepts it, the sooner we can do away with some of the indignation, outrage, and unnecessary drama that has plagued the past couple CSMs and threatens to encourage CCP to pull the plug on the whole thing.
I know I’d be looking to wind down a focus group program the moment a focus group participant had the audacity to publicly express disappointment or indignation among the rest of my clients and tried to leverage that role for an agenda.