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Giving Your Players a Voice: Lessons from EVE Online
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Giving Your Players a Voice: Lessons from EVE Online


March 15, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

The Mechanics of Player Democracy: Lessons from the CSM

The CCP experiment has evolved considerably from its initial introduction in 2008, and should another developer wish to imitate this system there are a number of lessons learned about the practical process of setting up and managing an effective player advocacy group.

First, pick a number of representatives and backup/alternate candidates. The EVE CSM has nine delegates and five alternates. The delegates attend the in-person summit meetings with the developers and the alternates fill in for those who can't make it. However, the alternates should be included as much as possible in the process as they tend to represent minor but important constituencies in the player base.

While imitating CCP's choice of 14 representatives isn't necessary, it is wise to choose a sufficiently large number of representatives to avoid the risk of oddball candidates. Every election, real or virtual, vomits forth a couple of nutters; this is to be expected, and with a large enough body of representatives they can be identified and sidelined without disrupting the whole process.

Many candidates can be expected to try to get on the ballot. Some CSM elections see more that 50 players running for a spot.

One of the most-discussed ideas for tweaking the CSM for the next election cycle is to implement a minimum signatures requirement, such that an aspiring candidate must show at least a modicum of support before being added to the ballot -- just like in a real world election. A ballot with over 50 candidates is confusing and wastes a tremendous number of votes, which harms the legitimacy of the council.

Accept an initially low turnout, but fight against it by advertising the elections and the council on login screens and the forums. Many players will be skeptical of a player council until it produces tangible results; the suspicion that the council is just a bunch of PR shills must be refuted by action. Legitimacy must be established by giving credit and acknowledging the involvement and contributions of the council when gameplay changes are implemented. If this is done well, turnout will spike and the election of player representatives will become a high-stakes battlefield.

Terms should last for a year. Six months is too short; CCP began the CSM with six month terms, and it rapidly created election fatigue, in addition to too much churn on the council. Representatives were only just getting a sense of how the company and its developers worked within the first three to four months of their terms.

It's also important to have an institutional memory on the council and allow the best representatives to remain on the body, so term limits are unwise. The early CSM had term limits in addition to six month terms, and ran through most of the talented candidates in two years. The term limits were abandoned, and the quality of the CSM recovered.

The first iteration of the CSM was set up like a player congress. A forum called the "Assembly Hall" was created for any player to create proposals, like a legislative bill. The CSM could then take up and vote on these issues, giving rise to an implication that these issues would be acted on by CCP.

This turned out to be a mistake. Game design isn't a democratic process, and the Assembly Hall gave rise to an expectation in the player base that "passed" issues would be acted on; when they weren't, the CSM itself was seen as a sham. Later iterations of the CSM have essentially abandoned the Assembly Hall, focusing instead on advocacy -- a lobbying group for the players, rather than a congress.

Once established, it's important to put the council under NDA and to also put it in contact with the developers who actually produce the game. When CCP first established the CSM, members were mostly put in contact with only high-level management, which had little impact on the nuts and bolts that concern customers.

The CSM has a private forum for the delegates and alternates to discuss issues with the developers, and employees should be encouraged to seek feedback from the council. In addition to a forum and in-person summits, the modern CSM has a real-time chat channel with key developers using Skype, allowing for immediate feedback and better communication.

A player council should be used for feedback and not ignored. As the canary in the mineshaft, the CSM warned CCP repeatedly over a period of years about the dangers of abandoning its core product; when player representatives were ignored, this only increased the outrage of the customers. If you go through the effort of establishing a player council, its advice should be taken seriously, lest there be blowback from the players. A player council can be the first line of defense against the kind of corporate groupthink that drives game companies to ruin.


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