Greetings mercenaries and capsuleers interested in the ground war,
As requested and promised, I'd like to take the time here to report on the activities of the CPM to-date, and shed some light on the good, the bad, and the ugly with regards to the launch of the CSM's sister institution. There will be no TL, DR version – either you care about this type of thing or you don't and those that do will appreciate the extra level of detail. Not only am I bringing you all up to speed to where we stand today, but this will be the first weekly report I shall be providing as to the council's activity and progress. Needless to say the weekly version will be quite a bit shorter, but with as much detail and commentary. These reports will also chronicle the progress that CCP makes in reaching out to the community through the CPM, as this is a partnership that relies on their cooperation as well as our own time and effort.
The six of us have now been in office just over four weeks since we all signed our NDA's at CCP's headquarters in Reykjavik the Sunday following FanFest. Also attending were the incoming CSM8 representatives and outgoing CSM7 representatives present in Iceland, along with several more incoming CSM8 members attending via Skype. Both the CPM and the CSM were introduced all around, there was some general discussion with CCP Dolan regarding proper Skype channel usage, and than both councils were given the task of voting for officers. We're still waiting on Dolan to report the results of the CPM vote, but in the meantime we were able to jump immediately into Skype with CCP and begin communicating daily once we arrived back from the trip.
Many of you are wondering what this CCP / CPM Skype channel is like, and its fairly straightforward. CCP CommanderWang and CCP Frame are the two most active community members that engage the CPM, and are both easy to get ahold of during Shanghai's business hours, or often later depending on how many extra hours they put in during the evenings and weekends. From the development side, we have frequent engagement with game designer CCP SoxFour and software engineer CCP NullArbor, both members of "Team True Grit" who work on Dust514 out of the Reykjavik Office. True Grit is the team responsible for Planetary Conquest, and other aspects of the EVE / Dust link, and its unfortunate that these developers don't also work on weapons and equipment balancing because they are both so helpful and open in sharing their progress with us and inviting us to help with feedback wherever possible.
Beyond these five, we have a pool of other contacts present in the channel that stop by from time to time, though the dialogue tends to be more casual and social than business-oriented. This is to be expected, as the primary Skype channel that the CSM utilizes has traditionally been more successful as an ice-breaker hangout than a primary place of business, and most actual work is conducted in dedicated team channels and conference call meetings. Such advanced structure is not yet established with the Shanghai studio, but deciphering how the Dust514 team operates and working to demonstrate that we can be effectively inserted into the development process is one of the CPM's highest priorities.
The other added benefit to the Skype channel is that whenever there's been a server / patch issue that needs quick resolution, or an unexpected bug that the other teams need rapid feedback from, CCP hasn't hesitated to jump in the channel and ask the CPM to hop on their consoles and help them figure out what's working and what isn't. Ultimately our goal on the CPM is to shift the conversation from a reactive interaction to a proactive interaction, where designers (especially those working on balance / core mechanics such as CCP Wolfman) are approaching us with ideas early in the refinement process and asking for input, rather than us simple reflecting on changes that have hit the server and discussing the impact they've made.
This early "shop talk", once we start seeing it regularly, will be where the input we gather daily from all of you becomes the most valuable. This is of course much easier said than done, and it's taken several -years- and seven iterations of the Council of Stellar Management to open this pipeline and achieve stakeholdership, if we can set up something similar over the next several months the CPM will still be making remarkably faster progress.
Uplink to Uprising
Now that we've covered the overview of our initial communications setup, its time to jump into the events that transpired in the past few weeks. The first order of business tasked on the CPM once our NDA's were signed was to rapidly produce as much feedback based upon our Fanfest playtest of Uprising before it went live on Tranquility, and we drafted up our notes in a shared doc and zipped it off to CCP.
What did it contain? The most critical item at the top of our list was Control problems – both with the dualshock and the M/KB, including numerous aiming bugs and DS3 sensitivity issues.
Also in the critical items category was the need to reduce the enormous "SP sink" built into the first iteration of the skill tree, and we presented CCP with spreadsheets demonstrating the extra investment required to get into particular battlefield roles. We also discussed the urgent need for both character-to-character isk transfer as well as item trade, both of which are actively under development as we speak. Rounding out the document was a list of first-impression balancing feedback, including all the obvious issues such as the terrible HMG performance, superiority of Logi suits, excessive TAC rifle ROF, Laser ADS obscurity, and the need to restore the LLAV built-in repair functionality.
But all of the nuts and bolts aside, the CPM recognized a much more serious problem – the order in which CCP had planned to release the various components of the Uprising expansion. Combined with many of the afore-mentioned issues that needed immediate resolution, the CPM realized the need to postpone the PC release date in order to give CCP time to address several issues (including the skill tree) and the players time to adjust to the new build before their territory was on the line. On behalf of the CPM, I contacted Executive Producer CCP Jian and requested an immediate meeting to discuss the Uprising rollout, and not only did he oblige us 48 hours later, he brought with him an entourage of designers, programmers, and community team members in order to strategize and come up with a course of action. The meeting was a success, and we secured not only the release date change but also the skill tree revamp and a character respec.
Darkest before the Dawn
In the couple of weeks since Uprising's release, communications slowed a bit between CCP and the CPM as we jumped into playing the hell out of the game and the developers jumped into grinding more out of the hotfix and patch backlog, but there were certainly significant developments worth reporting.
An extensive discussion between the CPM and CCP regarding AWOXing culminating in a fix involving the ability for squad commanders to kick members on the warbarge, useful also for those sneaky noobs that find their way into your Planetary Conquest battle despite any corporate policy.
In addition, the CPM and CCP engaged in their first joint playtest session, with several developers joining squads for non-competitive PC matches to gather performance data and to observe the build live on the servers. Not only was it enjoyable for both parties involved, CCP was able to use the test to identify and fix a memory leak.
Forums have now been set up for the CPM, and white tags were also assigned so that everyone can easily spot the CPM comments in each thread. I also drafted both a forum-use guide and in response to a request from David Spd, compiled a series of CPM introductions where you can find out all the ways to get in contact with us.
The forums consist of both a public Council Chamber as well as a hidden forum in the same category titled "Internal CPM deliberations and information keeping" that can only be accessed by CPM members and CCP personnel. The hidden forum is the area where we can raise issues and discuss works in progress without troll clutter and with the freedom to talk openly behind the protection of the NDA. The real benefit in terms of advancing communications with the CPM is that many CCP employees are much more likely to to share information in a clean, organized subforum where they can easily find feedback from the CPM without having to deal with pings and flashing from Skype while they work. The establishment of the CPM internal forum has already begin to accelerate the flow of information in both directions thread by thread.
That being said – I want to be explicitly clear with everyone that despite the obvious progress in setting up basic communications, much of CCP Shanghai's internal working structure, personnel roster, team composition, and work practices are still a mystery to the CPM. This is compounded by the fact that just as in Reykjavik, almost all of these are usually moving targets. We diligently share intel and compile our own notes as we get to know the various developers and community staff, but we simply lack the years of time spent working with this studio that the CSM has spent working with CCP 's headquarters. And while we certainly have as much curiosity as the rest of you do about how the sausage gets made and how we can help, it's going to take time (and CCP sharing more information with us) to get us to the point where our understanding of how Dust514 is built is as transparent as the CSM's understanding of how EVE Online gets built.
Which brings us to this week.
Called by CCP Commander Wang and CCP Frame, our second seriously productive meeting with CCP took place in the middle of the Tuesday night for those of us in North America, the crack of Wednesday dawn in Europe, and the middle of the Wednesday afternoon in Shanghai. We had met with CCP Dolan once in the weeks between to discuss clerical matters such as officer voting, forum setup, and need for more information so we can better focus our ongoing feedback, but that meeting was more of a chance for the CPM to air its concerns and to outline the support we needed from CCP.
In contrast, this week's meeting was a chance for Wang and Frame to discuss not only the recent Human Endurance and Templar Manhunt events and for the CPM to share feedback, but to outline their vision of future events (unfortunately the details of which are on their timetable, not ours). The CPM discussed everything from the need for more enticing and usable rewards (higher dropsuit count, more variety/choice so that we aren't stuck with gear we're not specced for, etc) all the way to the fact that many of the events held so far feel like an excessive grind and were too limited in availability across timezones.
However, the highlight of the meeting was learning that the Community Management Reports (CMR's) would be finally be furnished to the CPM, starting the next day, and each following week from here out. The CMR's are a weekly compilation of the Community team's assessment of player activity and feedback, and those that attended Fanfest 2013 and attended the roundtables were shown an example of these reports in person. Each CMR contains an analysis of the most popular topics on the forums, initially produced using software metrics but accompanied by an impressive amount of human-compiled clarification and supporting documentation, including many dozens of direct player quotes from the most productive and focused threads. The first CMR was indeed furnished to us as requested the following day, and landed at 23 pages of material. Interestingly enough, this is not a document that is produced for EVE Online nor given to the CSM, this is an exclusive tool that Wang and Frame utilize on the community's behalf to make sure the development teams are consistently provided with a big-picture snapshot of the state of player feedback.
At times, working to secure stakeholdership for CSM7 felt like an ice climb - upward-ratcheting progress through extremely well-placed steps and constant awareness that aggression and speed brought too many dangerous risks. In contrast, establishing the CPM has been more like spelunking - a hazardous rappel into unmapped territory.
In this case, finally being given a copy of the CMR was like igniting a signal flare in a dark room, shedding first light on the process used to turn your forum comments into developer advice. If you attended the Fanfest 2013 CPM roundtable – you remember my insistence that the CPM get a chance to observe and comment on the CMR each week, a request I made again with CCP Jian during our talks surrounding the Uprising pushback, and followed up with CCP Dolan as well. Securing access to this document is a major step forward for the CPM and undisputed evidence that CCP is taking their commitment to increased communication seriously.
Till we meet again....
We'll be spending the weekend reading the CMR through line by line, learning as much as we can about its application, and providing our own feedback to CCP internally on the material contained in the report. Our goal here is to find ways to improve the quality of feedback reaching the developers, make sure that what the community teams hear from the community reflects what the CPM hears from the community, and to help steer public conversation towards specific fixes-under-development and the most critical unresolved issues. We don't know exactly what we'll find out or what we'll be able to share quite yet, but I'll be sure to check in with you next week with our first impressions.
Thanks for taking the time to educate yourself on the CPM and its early development, and I look forward to sharing more as this process unfolds. I'll wrap this up with a tip of the hat to all the trolls still standing on the sidelines smacktalking CCP like an enemy combatant. While they continue to wail about the fact that the devs don't listen to them, we continue to make weekly progress obtaining more and more information about what's going on figuring out better ways for everyone to help. I know at least a few of them will learn to HTFU, get onboard, and get in touch with us - the rest will continue to be left in the dust*.
*I couldn't resist. ;-)