The Activist CSM

The seventh Council of Stellar Management has come under fire in the EVE community recently for not being "activist enough." Whether this is a sentiment actually shared by the players at large or simply a few bloggers with a taste for drama is hard to tell. Much like the "dittoheads" who slavishly cite Rush Limbaugh, the arguments against the CSM always seem to refer back to the arguments of a handful of bloggers. One such blogger is Ripard Teg of Jester's Trek; in a lengthy two-part post, Ripard addressed the issue of whether the current CSM was 'activist enough'. 

In his first article, "Activism", Ripard waxes poetic (there's a pun there, but it's not intended, I promise) about "the good old days" of so-called activist CSMs, how each successive CSM went (as far as CCP's original vision of the CSM was concerned) more and more rogue, ultimately for the betterment of the game.

The second article, "Talkers and doers", can be summarized as "The CSM7 are a bunch of yes-men." He argues that the current CSM is merely agreeing with whatever CCP wants to do. The evidence, Ripard contends, is in the "Eve Online Development Strategy" that I wrote about recently. This document was the CSM7's proposal to CCP as to where the game should go over the next few expansions, purportedly formulated with input from various players. While he has some valid criticisms about this document (such as how stereotyping your players is bad), the main thrust of his argument is "there's no original thought here, the CSM is just parroting what CCP said they want to do."

This is the part where things get a bit inaccurate, to put it politely. I'll be fair and concede that if you look at the evidence presented, and don't think about it too hard, and are already inclined to have a somewhat low opinion of this particular CSM, then it would be a perfectly reasonable conclusion to reach.

Obviously, I have a different conclusion.

CCP does not have a clue what they actually want to do next; the actions or apparent lack thereof of the CSM are a direct result of this.

Ripard argues that CCP has "publicly stated" what they want to do and the CSM is just parroting those statements. I argue: no, not really. During the Alliance Tournament, CCP Greyscale talked in vague terms about how awesome the POS revamp could be and CCP Soundwave talked about ring mining, but all we've heard since was that CCP had to delay the POS revamp. Balance between nullsec and highsec industry, "bottom-up" income, all that good stuff? CCP Greyscale posted two devblogs encompassing those subjects and more back in August 2011. While I like the look of them, it's a whole lot of spitballing that we've heard a whole lot of nothing about since. Greyscale's loud disclaimer that it's "just a roadmap" is hardly encouraging. In essence, all CCP has publicly stated is "hey, these might be neat things to do", which is very different from "hey, these are neat things to do, so we're going to do them."

Therein lies the key to what I think the CSM is currently doing. In his posts, Ripard praises the fifth CSM (2010-2011) as having "opened the flood-gates to the CSM as a two-way communication channel", but it's a matter of record that communication from CCP was extremely lacking. I believe that CCP's response to that very incident was to label the CSM as "terrorists" and all but shut them out. When CCP won't talk to you, activism is all you have. In addition to repairing the relationship with CCP, the sixth CSM (2011-2012) also dealt with the backlash over Incarna and pushed CCP into Crucible. Aggressive activism was appropriate there as well, although frankly the players were happy to crucify CCP on their own anyway. Nonetheless, when someone screws up, you don't make nice and tell them it's okay. You take them to task for it; in the case of game developers, all the better to do it by threatening their public image.

Today, though? You could argue that not knowing what you're doing is screwing up, and you'd be right. Still, is publicly lambasting CCP about it the best approach in this situation? I don't think so and obviously neither does CSM7. I think the CSM knows CCP already has the right ideas, so they repackaged them and handed them back as the development strategy document. I think they have for the most part intentionally neglected to take to the "bully pulpit" and push the agenda themselves, as pointing to vocal players who write about similar changes is far more genuine proof of player support. I think that the task the CSM has taken upon itself is to negotiate in good faith, in an attempt to get CCP to actually commit to these changes. To borrow Ripard Teg's own post title, it appears that they are trying to get CCP to actually do, not just talk. Whether this sort of approach is superior to engaging in outright activism in public remains to be seen, but a comparison between the two isn't the argument Ripard Teg is trying to make... by all indications, the comparison has not even occurred to him.

In the interest of being completely fair, I will admit that Ripard Teg does make some good points about this CSM, both now and in the past. Communication from CSM7, especially when compared to CSM6, has been lacking. There is virtually no gaming media presence, although perhaps understandably; that was The Mittani's thing and few players have the panache to do it well. Notably absent this year are some valuable (but less provocative) tools of the past, such as Trebor's "prioritized crowd-sourcing" polls. And their ideas on some things are, well... dumb. Voting rights comes to mind.

But I digress. I'm not arguing that CSM7 is the best Council in history, merely that I feel their actions are being misinterpreted by Ripard Teg and others. If I'm right, and the seventh CSM has negotiated with CCP successfully, we'll know it. The evidence will be in the summit notes, in future devblogs demonstrating firm commitment and a clear path forward, and probably in a barrage of smug tweets and blog posts from the CSM members as soon as the NDA allows. On the other hand, if I'm right and CCP didn't commit, I suspect that we'll get some of that activism the drama-mongers miss so much.

Of course, I may just be wrong about everything. Maybe the CSM's critics are right. Maybe there really isn't something deeper going on here and this CSM really is just a bunch of yes-men. In that case, what we'll see is something like smiles and happy tweets from the CSM during the summit, followed by the EVE equivalent of the Star Wars Galaxies NGE in Spring 2013. In a situation like that, Ripard Teg & Co. are welcome to derive whatever pleasure they can from being right. Me? I'll probably be playing another game. I doubt I'll be alone.

Seven year veteran & economics guru of EVE Online as well as CSM 8 representative. On the side I play PS2, WOT and Hearthstone.