Friday, January 29, 2016

I Swore I Wouldn't Write about the CSM…

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 United 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.


  1. Glad you wrote about the CSM, even if I do not agree with your statement "Everyone needs to stop taking the CSM so seriously". I believe that no matter where it is, the power to vote and to be represented is to be taken seriously, wherever it is granted, even on a space- pixel-meta-game-community context.

  2. Good post. I may disagree with a few points but overall well done. I agree that maybe we should not be taken SO (emphasis, mine) seriously is true. But I think we do deserve some. We are not there as a joke and the CSM puts a lot into the volunteer position we applied for and were granted (by the voters)

    Are we gods on high? No. Should we at least be listened to? Most times, yeah, if only to be answered and the message refined. (Yeah that has happened, often with dev blogs)

    Thank you for encouraging the peoiple to vote, though. Even if I am not running, the CSM means something to me.


    1. It does mean something. I just think we should choose people based on how they think, how they form their opinions, and their ability to synthesize and SAY SOMETHING definitive. Not for their ability to communicate with the larger playerbase.

  3. +1
    Perfectly said.

  4. While I admire your idealism when it comes to politics and democracy (I dont think that voting changes anything, I believe paying off the right lobbyist is the only way to go), I agree that CSM has to drastically change. It was formed as a consequence of broken trust between us customers and CCP. Later, during Incarna, CSM absolutely provided a valuable service, not as a focus group but as an elected outlet of anger and frustration.

    CCP_Seagull and team have changed the narrative. The faster cycle of releases and the far more open and personal CCP communication restored trust in CCP's commitment to make EVE great, but of course we can (and must) argue on the methods they take.

    With respect to CSM, I believe they never understood their role as "focus group". They see themselves as "KOL" ("KOL" is marketing term for "key opinion leader", generally some paid bigshot in the field). KOLs want good relationships with the company since they are to benefit in reputation, compensation and nice dinners.

    Focus groups as you describe can be a lot more effective and the relationship is a lot clearer. They are limited in their time and scope of engagement and they don't have to benefit from a good relationship with your VP of marketing.

    Using the existing NDA-ed CSM as a focus group is likely not a good strategy. We need more (way more) active pilots engaged in short term discussions on specific topics of which all participants have subject matter knowledge. Having a WH representative discussing Sov changes is silly unless he / she has previous experience. Focus groups need to be engaged for a short time, compensated for a specific deliverable and have very high turnover to avoid group think.

    And I too tried to avoid a CSM post this year, maybe this comment is enough.

    1. I completely agree. Focus groups need to draw on a pool of the "right" candidates - utilizers who have a wide range of knowledge, good communicators, responsive, honest, flexible with timing - for which each focus group would use only a few. What they were doing with the capital focus group was a great first step in that direction.

  5. I am a new EVE player. I can't comment much on what happened before or how the CSM is working or how it failed. As a previous member of a deeply related player based to "Developer" group member, a group that was listened to and helped the game greatly even though as a group we fought like lions over the issues at hand, it was a crucible that made most of the actual game issues vanish by RTM. I know these groups work and add value.

    The actual point is, you have the power you have because of who you are and what you do. If the trust between the Developer and the Group is broken, for whatever reason, your point about not listening to the group is what happens, and the group looks foolish to the player base. If the trust between the larger player base and the group is broken, it breaks the ability of the group to speak up as representatives of the player base to the Developers.

    I would see the election of a new CSM as an opportunity to re-establish trust and communication between both CCP and the player base. I can vote for someone that I disagree with on issue points, if I know that my issue points will be presented by that person with respect and clarity. So, to me, it's a matter of character and integrity that would get my vote, not popularity. A CSM group that is full of people like that could be trusted by both CCP and the player base. Such people are also unlikely to let it go to their heads.

    1. And if this was a player council, it'd be one thing, but in reality, it's not. Consider - what need does the CSM fulfill for CCP? It provides a means for CCP to toss possibilities around to actual players representing diverse perspectives. They can't do this with the playerbase at large because it'd set false expectations. But with an NDA-protected player group, they can. That's a focus group.

      The CSM isn't meant to air player grievances - after all they have no role or authority in arbitration or anything like that. They share opinions.

      I'd argue that the moment they "took to the streets" to rally the players behind them, they destroyed what credibility they had.