Now We Got Bad Blood

I am boycotting the entirety of the CSM winter summit. Here’s why.

My story starts not with the No Sions rule, but instead nearly two years ago at the first CSM9 summit. I boarded the Iceland Air flight full of optimism, hope, and ideas on how I could make a positive difference. I’d previously written up 42 pages of deep nullsec theory, sent it off, and had naively thought that I could bring my experience to the table to make EVE a better game for everyone to play. In the months leading up to the summit, I’d been operating under the pretense that my stance of good will and open, honest feedback worked both ways. It took very little time for that illusion to be undone.

“Oh, you’re a goon. Mittani is a terrible person, you know that right?” was among the first things a developer said to me. Initially, I laughed and tried to play it off. But then the nullsec session hit, and I was forced to, in session, engage with developers who were comfortable saying in front of the CSM and their co-workers that they flat out did not believe what I was saying because I was a goon, because they weren’t going to be metagamed by goons, and other such sentiments. In the span of a few short hours, my fantasy about good faith interactions were shattered by reality, and I was left with the knowledge that my months of work previous had been for nothing. This was compounded over the course of the rest of the summit by personal asides from multiple people informing me that—based on my alliance affiliation—I was a liar, untrustworthy, had stacks of hidden agendas, and was probably evil. This was long before I earned the reputation as the shadowy embodiment of evil that I currently enjoy, I was just a starry-eyed nobody on his first trip to Iceland who was doing his best to work hard.

As a side note, this initial optimism was something I argued with Mittani about at length as well. I was firmly of the opinion that open and honest feedback would represent a viable path forward, a path which was desperately needed given the state of nullsec at the time. He was of the opinion that I was being naive, but eventually he just shrugged and said, “You’ll see.” I insisted that this time it would be different, and I was convinced that I was somehow special.

It wasn’t. I wasn’t.

With the scales gone from my eyes, I actively started looking around for how the situation could have gotten to the point it was and, more importantly, how it could be fixed. I talked to CSM members past and present, pieced together bits and bobs from CCP, and gathered as much data on it all as I could. My critics will say that I did so to better manipulate the process, and so would some people at CCP. That assumption of sinister motive was—and is—one of the biggest blockers about the entire situation. It’s impossible to have a positive relationship where good faith dealing comes from one direction only. For my part, it was a learning exercise and a real desire to see if the myriad of problems could be addressed. Process and structure fascinate me, and this represented an entirely new challenge. Also, I could not understand how a company could be so insecure—so unsure of itself—that it was worried about being metagamed by players, or indeed how or why player politics could play a role in game design decisions at all. Nor could I understand why a company would allow its employees to openly deride an elected representative from their customer base.

Shortly after the first CSM summit where all of this took place, my new worldview was given more validation when CCP railroaded the CSM with the jump fatigue changes. To briefly recap, the CSM was shown snippets of information at the summit about jump fatigue, and then CCP implemented a far harsher and more expansive version of it while claiming CSM endorsement. It was a new data point for me. CCP was clearly comfortable going around the entirety of the CSM, so it wasn’t a cut and dried a case merely of anti-goon bias. It was a much broader problem that impacted the institution as whole.

Between the summit in September 2014 and December, communication further broke down between the CSM and CCP. I addressed it extensively in my year-in-review write up in January 2015. My negative but “spot on” analysis of the situation prompted more internal talks, and eventually got the CSM access to Confluence, CCP’s internal wiki. Along with that access, there was universal agreement that the situation was bad and that action was required to address it. By universal agreement, I mean agreement by all parties concerned both between CCP and the CSM. Though there was question of the proper method of execution, the fact that the CSM needed work wasn’t an argument. All parties agreed that it was fundamentally broken.

What isn’t well known is that my contribution to that blog very nearly did not make it into the final draft, or that the version that did go in was edited. I was approached after I submitted my contribution and told that it couldn’t be published because it was “too negative.” I responded that it was my review to write, and that I had a responsibility to my constituents to give honest feedback. Shortly thereafter, I was informed that I had to retract it lest I face “the FunkyBacon treatment.” My response was that either they could publish it or I would. So it was with great amusement that I later saw my part of the CSM9 review used as an example of how open CCP was to criticism. It would get trotted out now and again as a show of how CCP wouldn’t dream of stifling dissenting voices--no mention was ever made that it was included despite CCP, not because of CCP, and the threats were conveniently left out.

A series of meetings were held after that year in review, and the topic of CSM reform was itself one of the major topics at the following winter summit. As I mentioned, it was universally agreed that change had to happen to keep the CSM relevant. Again, this was a year ago.

The reasonable question to ask at this point is, “Sion, if this was such a big deal, why didn’t we hear much about it from other CSM members?” There are two components to properly answer that: first, the desire to talk to CCP, and second, the player politics involved.

Let’s start with the first of those, the desire to talk to CCP. CSM members have no agency. Their only real path to get information or provide feedback is via personal relationship building. Most CSM members aren’t willing to sacrifice their personal relationships and access for the greater good of the CSM as institution, which is a perfectly valid sentiment. Furthermore, developers tend not to talk to people who criticize them or their decisions, nor are they obligated to, so it creates a power dynamic where CSM members are literally encouraged to bring in licorice to sessions, not as a gesture of honest good will and mutual respect, but as an overt bribe so that “devs will like you more.” It rewards sycophants, but also punishes even constructive criticism. A “oh you disagree? Well I don’t care about your feedback you’re just a CSM member” situation. There appears to be little realization on the CCP’s part that customers are the people paying to keep the lights on, and that the CSM represents a portion of those customers and indeed are those customers. Worse, there appears to be little realization on the part of some CSM members that they are customers, and rather than representing their fellow customers, they get wrapped up in fanboyism and seek the validation that comes from being liked by devs. It’s a cycle that makes perfect sense as a dysfunctional-abusive relationship, but the major problem is that elected players are literally paying to figuratively fellate the company, and when they get a tiny scrap of information, they are happy to say “thank you sir.” Though there are very good reasons as a matter of company policy to end this situation, there’s no reason for line devs to attempt to change this power dynamic. Who wouldn’t enjoy being put on a pedestal?

The second component of CSM members not speaking up too much in public is player politics. There’s always the risk of blowback from other players, from your voting base, or from other CSM members for any action you take as a CSM member. It’s a very public position with immense pressure and competing demands. So much like real politics, it is better to take no positions, make vague promises, and inflate your level of importance and personal contributions. To make public criticisms puts relationships with devs at risk, and also opens a council member up to an array of risk factors via other players. For illustration, let’s use a case study.

Xander Phoena and I got along well enough up until I made the decision to make it public that he was leaking CSM information. There’s a strong possibility that feud cost him the election, and it would also have cost my own CSM X seat had I not had a giant voting bloc behind me. Engaging in player politics as a CSM member has huge and long-lasting impacts. To this day, he hates me, and he has channeled part of that hate into ensuring that Crossing Zebras will take whatever shots it can at both myself and Goonswarm Federation whenever they can regardless of facts. It would have been far easier for me to just let it slide, say nothing in public, and not have to deal with a hostile website over the long term. That is what most of the members of CSM9 wisely opted to do, even though Xander leaking was a subject of much discussion and all of CSM9 was both aware and miffed about it. So why did I take it public?

It wasn’t because I had any particular grudge. For context, this was after my CSM9 year in review, and after many of the discussions about how to fix the CSM. One of the issues that came up on CCP’s side was the issue of trust and NDA breaches, and CCP claimed, “Look, you guys leak, that’s a problem for this institution’s ability to be trusted.” But despite the fact that we had meetings about these leaks and the general annoyance about how it was supposedly tanking CSM-CCP relations, no one was willing to do anything meaningful to attempt to resolve the situation. The CSM-CCP relationship continued to slide, so finally I took action myself.

My reasoning was this—if leaks damage CCP-CSM relations, and if CCP is unwilling to do anything about them, then it is the CSM’s responsibility to self-police. No one else was going to say anything due to the aforementioned risk factors. My vote was secure and devs had already called me a liar, so I didn’t have as much at stake as most. Some at CCP even encouraged me to say something. So I took one for the team and said in public what people were saying in private. Hopefully, with no more leaking going on, the CSM and CCP would then be able to rebuild relations, right?

Wrong. So very wrong. But in addition to that, despite the fact that we’d had multiple discussions, despite the fact that Xander admits publicly to having had talks and warnings about it with CCP, CCP Leeloo went out of her way to cover for him publicly. I watched as something I’d been encouraged to do to help better the CSM overall as an institution got personalized, muddied over, and shifted entirely over to me. The saddest part of this whole ordeal is that CCP Leeloo was right. She got to decide if any of the leaks constituted a breach of NDA, so if she decided they weren’t, they weren’t—even if they were serious enough to supposedly threaten CSM relations with CCP.

I don’t feel strongly enough about anything Xander did to take shots at him like I did. I’m of the opinion that the NDA is utterly worthless and unenforceable. I don’t even dislike the guy. But I willingly and knowingly took a personal credibility hit to attempt to better the CSM based on CCP’s words to the CSM, and then the coordinator swept it under the rug—presumably so she didn’t look bad, or so that the CSM didn’t look bad. That was the last time I ever allowed myself to be used to do CCP’s dirty work, and it’s not that I wasn’t asked or approached this year. It astonishes me in retrospect that I was that stupid, or that CCP would rely on players to do what they don’t have the backbone to do themselves.

The reality is that CCP should have dealt with the leak problems themselves. If leaks were damaging relations as badly as CCP said they were, it was their responsibility to take action, not mine, and no one else’s on the CSM. But it wasn’t even that—it wasn’t Xander single-handedly ruining relations. It was nothing more than an excuse to allow CCP to sideline the CSM more, and it was plausible enough that I and others bought it.

I don’t owe Xander anything, particularly not after the baseless smear pieces and hit jobs he is delighted to run about me. But that doesn’t make me any less wrong in my approach to the situation, and if I were on the other end of what I did to him, I’d still be mad too. I no longer believe that Xander ruined relations or trust between CCP and the CSM. It was just a handy excuse as to why the CSM was being cut out and another excuse to delay any kind of meaningful action. This pattern of excuse making and blaming the CSM while taking no action is one that, as we’ll see, repeats.

CSMX rolled in with all the promises from CCP from the previous year, how things would be better, how reform would happen, and all the honeyed words you’d expect. The first sign that this year too would be an exercise in misery was that it took a month and a half to get the new CSM members set up with services. That immediately wasted a large portion of the enthusiasm the new people were bringing to the table, but those of us from the previous term were more like, “Ugh, here we go again.” At the beginning of CSM 9, we had a series of introductory meetings. These meetings were invaluable in making sure people knew which devs were on what team and what teams did, and in general they laid a positive foundation for future work. But the introductory meetings were canceled this year because they were considered to be too much work.  

So, a month and a half to set up CSMX comms before people could even start to do anything and no team meetings to kick things off. It was a slow start that foreshadowed the way the year would end. For some context here, this was after the sov revamps that prompted such outcry from the CSM during the previous term at the winter summit. Sov people wanted to give feedback, and a lot of that was, “Look, we were right in our predictions. Are you guys going to do something about this so that it doesn’t suck? And maybe listen to us because we’re trying to help? Guys?”

This was when other CSM members started getting called liars. What was, to my knowledge, my goon-exclusive privilege had expanded to include more people who were seeking—like I had the year before—to make a positive difference and share their expertise with CCP. And it played out almost exactly like it had with me the previous year. “Holy shit I’m just trying to help why are they calling me a liar? Why aren’t they listening at all to the people who actually pay to play their game?” This was when Corebloodbrothers saw the writing on the wall and quietly resigned before things got worse.

This was before the first summit, and the situation got progressively worse in terms of access and engagement across the board. We switched from Skype to Slack, and devs were slow to make that switch themselves, or to use it. I’d had enough CSM time to make a reform proposal myself, to date the only reform proposal to enact change to the broken institution. It was still universally agreed that the CSM was broken, and now it was also agreed that it was getting worse.

By the time the first summit rolled around, there was a collective holding of breath on both sides as to how big of a trainwreck it was going to be. Hilmar walked into the first session, our breakfast with him. Then he sat down and we had what I felt was a productive, positive, and meaningful discussion. He helped set the tone for the rest of the summit, and while the CSM brought a collective critical eye to dev proposals, it was constructive, open, and without malice for any of the events that had marred the term to that point. We even had a good heart-to-heart with one of the teams who had been the source of the vast majority of the CSM’s issues, and agreed to meet and talk more. Everyone left Iceland feeling upbeat, hopeful, and secure in the knowledge that finally, after all this time, they’d made a positive difference and helped make the game we all love better. CCP Seagull signed off on my reform proposal, and I was certain that after a year of promises, action would finally take place.

[Edit-The original piece included an accusation that Bobmon engineered the removal of Manny from the CSM.  I have since been provided with an entirely reasonable counter-interpretation of the facts I based my original conclusion on, and have accordingly retracted the accusation and removed it from this article. My apologies.] That lasted all of a week until EVEsterdam kicked off and allegations of leaking were leveled against sitting CSM member Manfred Sideous. For purposes of exploring my boycott, it’s irrelevant how CCP came to the conclusion that they would remove Manny from the CSM or the factual basis of those accusations. What is important is that CCP Leeloo used the situation to immediately slam the brakes on the reform proposal that she so hated that CCP Seagull had signed off on.

Worth reiterating here is that I addressed the utter worthlessness of the NDA and its inability to be enforced in that reform proposal, but I digress.

Instantaneously, all the work of the summit was undone. It was again a case of “can’t trust the CSM” and nearly all communication ground to a halt, again with the excuse of “we can’t trust the CSM.” This remained bafflingly true even after CCP Leeloo removed Manny, no meetings, no talk, nearly no engagement. The CSM was again informed that this too was our fault. And then it got worse.

CCP Leeloo may have killed my reform proposal, but it was received well enough by the players at large and within the company that it gave CCP the cover they needed to entirely circumvent the CSM and instead run their own focus groups. Immediately after the proposal was killed, they stripped out the bits that made it an idea that could potentially work and CCP Fozzie spun up his own group. CCP collectively said, “What, we can run focus groups if we want to, we can talk to players any way we want how dare you suggest otherwise.” By the fifth of November, he was doing victory laps on Twitter with, “Don't rely on the CSM to be voice of the people. You should be making your opinions known through normal channels.” The implication of CCP Fozzie’s comment was that the CSM was not a ‘normal’ channel, and that players should thus not seek to use it. His focus group, as predicted, shortly thereafter crashed and burned in spectacular fashion.

Meetings were entirely curtailed. Roadmap discussion didn’t happen. Feedback didn’t happen. The CSM learned of changes as they went live, or via third party sources. From the last summit until this summit, CSM X has had one meeting with one dev team, and that only recently as I started making public noise about not having meetings. We were told teams did not want to talk to the CSM. All the promises that had been made lay in ruins. Given the state of affairs, sitting CSM members started actively advocating to shut the CSM down, first in private, then in public. We were told that the council as a whole would no longer get information, and that it would be normal for a dev team to talk to one and only one member of the CSM because the rest of the CSM were security threats. When pressed, this was doubled down upon and is what eventually prompted Cagali’s tweet of "I have had my personal integrity attacked - called untrustworthy- by someone at ccp today. This is not a nice feeling. Makes me quite angry."

The message was loud and clear. The CSM could be circumvented, was not to be trusted, would get no meetings, and would be fundamentally unable to fulfill its purpose. The only meetings we did have were catch-up meetings with CCP Leeloo where we were told we couldn’t be told what was going on, and those would frequently devolve into heated discussions about why the CSM exists at all. Most of the CSM gave up on it all, disengaged, and dropped off. Not that I blame them.

Then a few weeks ago, the No Sions rule was put in place. Though it was targeted, it is inaccurate to suggest that it was CCP as a whole that pushed it. It was a last-minute, unvetted change added by CCP Leeloo specifically to keep me out of the CSM, which is really its own story for a later day. The CSM itself does agree that it was a poor way to handle a change like that, and the follow-up meetings we had with her on the topic made it even worse. The great irony here is that had it been run past the CSM, I’d likely have been perfectly fine with it. The general opinion amongst people who know me merely by reputation seems to be that I’m mad about not being able to be on the CSM. The reality is that I’ve never wanted or cared about being on the CSM. I’m just compulsive about trying to fix stuff, and I attempt to do my best regardless of the situation. Indeed, prior to this, I’d flat out told CCP that if they didn’t want me to run again to just let me know.

This brings us to now. You’ll notice that there are only six people at the current summit out of a possible 10 from the pool of 13. That’s a lot of people that collectively had to decide that it wasn’t worth their time to attend, and my guess is that this will end up being the most poorly attended summit in history. This makes the general feedback I’m getting from critics all the more amusing. I’m loudly boycotting the summit and being told that I’m awful for doing so. Meanwhile, the majority of the CSM voluntarily declined to attend for similar reasons but opted to do so quietly.   

The organization of the summit has itself been nothing short of a debacle. It wasn’t until last Wednesday that I received travel information for the summit, and I had previously been under the impression that I had been uninvited. The rest of the attendees got last-minute accommodations in the latter half of last week, some as late as Friday. But that’s been the hallmark of these past two CSM terms—that the CSM is an afterthought.

They are no doubt in session right now, and some of that will be more promises about how—no really—the CSM is important and it will get better. But it’s been two years of empty promises and no action. The situation has instead gotten far, far worse. What I’ve laid out to this point is the NDA scrubbed version, and an abridged version of even that. The totality of this horror show is something that is immeasurably worse.

Yet, in spite of everything, I still believe that the CSM has an immense amount of positive potential if properly utilized. It also has huge blowback potential, and that is what we are seeing now. Only six attendees and public advocacy by the CSM to shut the CSM down. But it’s worse than that—the CSM is by far the best way CCP has yet discovered to turn its biggest and most public advocates into the company’s biggest critics. Take a quick walk through history and see how many CSM members still play Eve and how many still openly deride the CSM years later. This problem isn’t unique to CSM9 or CSMX. For a more recent example, look at Sugar Kyle. Sugar was one of the most bubbly and enthusiastic EVEangelists I’ve ever met. Read her blog now, and note the slow change from bubbly to abject misery, which is itself heartbreaking. CCP can’t afford to keep doing this to people. The next 14 people to come through this grinder can’t go in enthusiastic and exit jaded cynical, frustrated, and disappointed. If the people who CCP is in closest contact with keep ending up hating CCP and EVE, then something is terribly wrong.

This is why I’m boycotting the summit. I’m not salty, I’m not mad. I’m boycotting because in spite of everything that has happened, I still think there’s hope, and my hope is that CCP gets it right. But the only way to get it right short of disbanding the CSM entirely is some serious reform—actions, not words—and massive increases in the amount of accountability and transparency. I’m fond of saying that actions speak louder than words, and after two years, this is the only meaningful action I have left to convey my utter disgust with the situation, and to bring some amount of sunshine to this personally.

To CCP’s credit, they have recently taken real action by appointing two new CSM coordinators, CCP Guard and CCP Logibro. They’re both fantastic guys, and I have no doubt that they will do their best to sort out the CSM. My guess is that they don’t yet realize how high a mountain that is to climb, but if they make reform and positive value a priority for the CSM, they can do it. In fact, if anyone is up to the task, it’s them.

I’ve also to this point painted with a very broad brush, and a negative one at that, which is both unfair and unfortunately necessary. CCP has a lot of fantastic, highly talented, personable, and dedicated people. My comments about CCP’s inability to effectively manage the CSM is meant to indicate only that, that CCP does not manage the CSM effectively. From a game development standpoint, CCP is in a better place than it was this time last year, and by all indications they’re going to keep making things better. That’s been one of the more interesting challenges this term too, trying to convey why the CSM experience is so awful to players who feel broadly positive about EVE’s direction.

Maybe the solution to the endemic CSM woes is the idea I proposed, maybe it is to shut it down, or maybe it’s something else altogether. Regardless, it is too important to be allowed to fester like it has over the last ten years, and it is my sincere hope that CCP will continue to move beyond the words stage and take sweeping action on it. Should that happen, I’m confident that the CSM could have a bright future. In any case, I wish Logibro, Guard, and the incoming council the best of luck.

As a final note, anyone who served on CSM X is a survivor. If you voted for someone, take the time to drop them a line thanking them for their selfless service at great personal cost in an awful situation. They deserve it.  

Member of CSM9 and CSMX. I enjoy tea, banana pancakes, and chatting with people. I can be reached on twitter @siggonK.