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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 3 of 3
 

Addressing lag has been one of the areas where this structure has led to the most success. "The continuing performance improvements in the game -- otherwise known as The War on Lag -- is one clear area where CSM has to help CCP optimize their resources to get the most bang for the buck," Woodhead said.

"CSM6 has just spotlighted a very interesting technical fix that the anti-lag team -- Team Gridlock -- is looking at. We think it's really kind of a cool idea, so we're kind of cheerleading to see if we can't get that pushed along a little faster than it might otherwise have gone."

Similarly, the CSM helped inspire the "1000 Papercuts" project, in which a team has been focusing on improving existing gameplay by making a large number of small tweaks.

It also talked CCP into changing its plans for implementing microtransactions -- though recent controversy suggests there's still work to be done here on both sides -- and has been advocating for some simple but effective changes in the new player experience.

"We feel that's an area where every dollar you spend improving the new player experience goes straight to the bottom line," Woodhead said.

"Every fraction of a percent of new players that you keep because they have a good time in the [new player experience] is a customer you keep for a long time. One of the ideas that came out the other day was to put some improvements to the appearance of the ship that you get when you first start the game.

If that's your first impression -- that's the first ship you see, you know. Put a little chrome on it. That's an example of an idea that probably wouldn't cost a lot of money, but at first glance looks like a really good idea."

The Worst Form of Government except All Those Others

Like any structure founded in democratic representation, the CSM faces the challenge of renewing itself. It is not enough to have been recognized as a stakeholder in CCP; future generations will have to demonstrate they still deserve that stake. For the CSM, this will involve striving to show it represents the whole player base and not a minority of the most vocal players. While voter turnout has steadily increased in the last several years, it's hard to think of a 14 perent turnout as optimal.

"We have to be aware that the more organized player groups (in particular the null sec-based groups) are going to be able to have a perhaps disproportionate impact on the voting as they are simply better able to co-ordinate their votes," Turbefield said.

Corruption is also a potential issue for CSM members, as with any other democratic body. So far the institution has had a very good track record on this front, with only one member forced to step down for breaking the mandatory non-disclosure agreement. There was also the case of a member of CSM3 who traded on insider information in the market.

"He just brain farted," Woodhead said. "I believe he said he'd had a few too many beers or something, but he came clean and apologized for it. It wasn't industrial espionage or anything."

There is likewise the possibility of pandering -- making hyperbolic claims for the benefit of winning an election, while knowing those promises will be impossible to implement. "Unlike real-life politics we don't have to guarantee results to get reelected, only a best effort," Pirson said.

"People have been focused on promises in the past -- 'vote for me and I'll fix this for you' -- but things have gradually changed, and you see very few people promising fixes now. Instead they're putting forward their knowledge of areas of the game, and their specific positions, when several conflicting positions exist between the different players as to what is good or not for the game."

Yet there is still a possibility that CSM members slowly drift away from the general player base -- a kind of let-them-eat-cake class of highly engaged players suddenly wielding influence with CCP. To be clear, this is not the case now, but it will be a possibility that future CSM members will have to face. "Some players are really tuned into the forums, they know what's going on, they're part of a big alliance so they're doing a lot of alliance communication," Woodhead said.

"Those people tend to be aware of the CSM, are interested in what we're doing, and are vocal about it. There are other groups of players who are a little more casual, who are not as clued in. A lot of the increase of the turnout in subsequent CSMs is going to come to that group."

The CSM will grow into whatever it is capable of accomplishing, CCP's CEO Hilmar Veigar Petursson said when the group began. On the balance, this promise seems to have held true so far. In the years since 2007 progress has been slow, but this too is a feature of democracy. It is meant to insulate a population from the unpredictable swings that sometimes happen with autocracies as much as it is supposed to be an agent for change.

CSM is most remarkable in how it has created an institutional role for players in the ongoing development of a game. While the steps appear modest at this stage, it's a remarkable achievement to treat players not simply as customers but as creative partners. The current structure is relatively conservative in terms of workload and responsibility, but the future seems promising.

"Right now we submit to a CCP employee our prioritized list of requests for inclusion into the next release plan, and while he does a good job given the circumstances, it doesn't replace the ability to react to other stakeholder's arguments, see synergies and alter our stance to coincide better with theirs in real time," Prison said.

"I know these things will come in time. The trend has been overwhelmingly positive over the years."

In the case of EVE Online, the creative cause has not been abandoned. To the contrary, the struggle has been joined.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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