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The Politics of Creative Ownership: EVE Online's Council of Stellar Management
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The Politics of Creative Ownership: EVE Online's Council of Stellar Management

June 28, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

"Who Am I? Why Am I Here?"

Stephan Pirson is one of the members of the current CSM. The 34 year-old programmer and computer scientist began playing EVE Online in 2006. "My wife had left me, I had ample free time and I didn't know what to do with it other than developing," Pirson told me. "I tried World of Warcraft but didn't like it, then found a random review about an MMO in space and I gave it a shot. It looked gorgeous; I stayed a bit, it was amazingly complex and I needed to master my understanding of how the game works."

After he learned the game's intricacies, the CEO of the in-game corporation Pirson belonged to suggested that he run for a position on the CSM. Pirson originally dismissed the idea. He was still too new to the game -- his first election was in 2007 -- and his corporation had recently lost many of its players due to "internal drama."

"The CEO of my corporation was an old-timer, had played since Beta and was what is now defined as a 'bittervet,'" Pirson said. "He loved the game, but at the same time enjoyed bashing CCP for the mistakes they repeatedly make."

He was finally persuasive enough to convince Pirson to run and, to his surprise, he won the election. "I was alternate of the second CSM. I attended the meetings, gave my opinion, voted on things. I ran again for third and got elected again as a full member this time," Pirson said. "I've now been in the CSM for nearly three years now."

Robert Woodhead, a computer programmer in North Carolina (and developer of the original Wizardry for the Apple II) was also dubious about his chances to win an election. "I ran because I was concerned about a few things in the game and I thought it might be interesting to run and use it as a platform to discuss them," said Woodhead.

"Much to my surprise, I found myself stuck with a non-paying job for a year. [laughter] I found that I was spending two or three hours a day on it consistently. It basically took over my gameplay."

Now that the CSM has several years of history behind it players have acclimated to the idea of communicating with members on a regular basis, which adds to the workload. "I get requests to fix this or that particular aspect of the game literally every day when I log in," Pirson said. "Some fall within the 'small and easy' category, others are larger in scope and require more resources than we currently can address."

In addition to fielding player requests the CSM also gets regular queries from CCP. "There is a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff where we ask questions of CCP and they ask questions of us, using us as a sounding board," Woodhead said. "We also have a responsibility to -- in [CCP CEO] Hilmar's words -- 'call bullshit' on CCP when we think they've made a wrong choice."

"What that really means is giving an outside perspective so that if CCP has this perception of something, then we'll come in and say, 'Well, maybe you'd better look at it like this.' I think that kind of feedback is very useful to them in figuring out the best way to do things."

The State of the Universe

There have been a few recurring issues that each CSM has tried to address over the years and these issues have brought both small and significant changes to EVE Online. "I can point to things such as the skill queue and the removal of the learning skills as examples of things that were greatly affected by input from the CSM," Turbefield said.

"They are a key reason for the increased priority given to lag-fixing efforts and for our move towards a more 'staggered' release cycle where we release expansions to EVE in parts rather than all at once."

One of the historic debates in CSM centered on the conflict between developing new features and content in the hopes of attracting new players, versus fixing older features or content that existing players don't feel is working properly. "Doing something new and cool can be a lot of fun, and having to go back and wade through other people's code can be a bit of a chore," Woodhead said. "I'm a programmer myself, so I understand that totally.

"We know that there has to be a balance, but we think there's a lot of benefit to be had by going back and looking at things like low sec or factional warfare, and using the experience that has been gained over the last couple of years and saying, 'Okay, let's do a version 2.0 on this.' The difficult part is figuring which of these issues is the one we think CCP should do first and then actually convincing CCP to do it."

While everyone could probably pick out a part of the game they'd like changed to better suit their wants, there is a very real bottleneck in the form of available workers, time, and money to spend on a given issue. Prioritizing what can be done, and making sure it will be worth the cost of investment, is a big part of ongoing negotiations between CSM and CCP. These are challenging questions for a studio to face on its own -- every department wants more time, money, and resources -- so adding players' voices to the fray complicates an already crowded debate.

Even so, during the tenure of CSM4, CCP gave the group stakeholder status, which allowed it a voice in the meetings where resource allocation and scheduling decisions are actually made. "We could now participate -- through a proxy -- in release planning and 'fight' for resources to be allocated to 'our' projects," Pirson said.

"Mostly it has turned out into an attempt at collaboration between individual teams of developers who want resources for their project to sometimes come to us and pitch their ideas, see if synergy is possible, and vice versa."

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