How it works
Step-by-step breakdown of the process agreed on for the CSM to request developer resources.
1.CSM members talk with other players and among themselves to develop a list of 10 issues they want the CCP development team to address.
2.The CSM sends the list to Petur J. Oskarsson, who presents it to the development team.
Above: CCPers having fun between sessions
3.The development team estimates how many development hours each of the projects would take and sends it back to the CSM through Oskarsson.
4.Taking into account the time required for each of the changes, the CSM arranges the issues into a prioritized list and returns it to Oskarsson.
5.Oskarsson presents the final list to the developers and makes sure that they are considered and included in the development process. Oskarsson reports back to the CSM as progress occurs.
The second day: Spaceships are serious business
If someone had asked me to predict what the first topic debated by the CSM would be, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed an hour-long discussion of political philosophy. But I probably should have. The 13 people in this room - nine elected players, three CCP developers, and one moderator with experience working for the European Union - are breaking new ground in game development. The CSM functions as a representative democracy, and they’re in charge of making sure the system gives voters adequate input without letting them overrun the entire development system - no easy task.
John Zastrow, the only returning CSM member, jokingly referred to himself as “the George Washington of this CSM,” and he may not be too far off. If their plans are successful, years from now game developers could be looking back at the members of this year’s council as the Founding Fathers of a development structure that, for the first time in history, incorporated player feedback in a deep, meaningful way.
But the meeting certainly wasn’t spent entirely on lofty beard-scratching philosophy - it was still about a videogame, after all. This meeting, and all the meetings throughout the week, for that matter, were marked by the odd juxtaposition that exists in EVE: it’s a very serious, business-driven game that’s riddled with outrageous memes and the nothing-is-sacred irreverence of the internet. CSM members introduced themselves to CCP employees by saying, “Hi, I’m a space councilor!” in silly voices, and pictures of Kitlers (cats that look like Hitler) were brought up on projectors alongside flowchart diagrams that broke down the game’s development process.
The third day: Rocking the boat
As anticipated, the players weren’t shy about telling the developers what they thought needed fixing. The fist-pounding, shouting and occasionally messy exchanges between members would’ve fit right in on a reality TV show. One particularly bitter CSM member started his address to Sveinn J. Kjarval, the head of the Game Master group, with “I don’t hate you, but…” and proceeded to explain why he pretty much did hate him. It was a cathartic experience for the players; Zastrow told me, “Being able to look a game designer in the eye and pound your fist on the table to express your displeasure is something you just can’t do trolling forums. I can see the expression on their face change when I tell them what I think and see that it’s having an impact.”
Above: The moderator was essential in keeping the discussion focused
Considering the anger directed their way at times, as well as the occasional angry accusation from a CSM member that someone else’s opinions, statistics or responses were “bullshit,” I was impressed with the completely unshakeable composure CCP employees constantly maintained. At times, even I was ready to leap over the table and take one or two CSM members by their collars and let them know that they were acting like jerks, but the developers (represented in each session by department heads and rank-and-file employees across a wide swath of departments, including Programming, Design and Community Development) always maintained an imperturbable stoicism, like Greek heroes holding their ground against a lethal hydra of nerd rage.
It’s not easy to stand there and take a verbal lashing from your harshest critics, but instead of banning dissenters from the forum and retreating to their development cave to pretend that the naysayers don’t exist like some developers (you know who you are), CCP flew some of the most vocal critics to Iceland to let them scream in their faces so they could understand their concerns, and every player there respected them for it.
The occasional emotional brush fire notwithstanding, the atmosphere of the meetings, now past the halfway mark, was overwhelmingly positive - two groups with different perspectives coming together to understand why the other side felt the way they did, and trying to figure out how they could synthesize both perspectives into a concrete policy or game mechanic that would improve EVE.
CSM rep Tim Heusschen told me that he was particularly impressed with how seriously CCP took the CSM meetings; his favorite moment was seeing two developers grab pens to write down a suggestion he made. In fact, the developers took away a lot of good ideas, including one that a dev told the Council “is so good on so many levels that it arouses me somewhat.”