Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Pen and the Sword

This post began as a comment on Mabrick’s Mumblings, in response to an excellent pair of articles:

Why the CSM concept is broken, part 1
Why the CSM concept is broken, part 2

Take some time and read them through, my reply is below.  It simply was too long to bury in a comment, and this discussion is important enough it deserved to have a wider audience.

You said it yourself, Mabrick: The CSM isn't "broken" as much as it is perhaps poorly named, and plagued by the fact that players expect something that we try to explain to them they can't have, but continue to ask for anyways. And for the record, I think lobbyist is a perfectly appropriate term for the CSM.

To me personally though, what the CSM really represents is the opportunity to influence.  It is an open conduit between players and developers, one that often goes underutilized because of the other fact you pointed out - most EVE players don't care about the CSM and don't care to take the time to express how they feel about an issue or reach out to a representative out of fear that they won't be responded to.  They will blame the fact that the institution doesn’t serve them, or is flawed, and use this to justify lack of participation in the system, upon which the ineffectiveness of the CSM in that situation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  

In contrast, we’ve had many players come to us throughout the year and take a gamble by offering up feedback or questions to be answered despite the fact that we don’t represent their play style or in-game organization, and seem completely surprised that we would take the time to help them out regardless.

This has come into sharp focus now that CCP is forming a War Council for Dust514 players.  Lacking an elected vote - some could argue that the council doesn’t represent players at all, let alone the 15% statistic you cite here.  But if CCP picks quality individuals - than the "player representative" title will ALSO become a red herring.  :)  Why might not this matter, you ask?  Because the responsibility of CSM/WC members is to advocate for all players, for the community as a whole, regardless of who elected for them.

In fact, I truly believe that when candidates consistently refer to "their constituency" (even including The Mittani, historically) they disrespect both the institution and the rest of the players these institutions are designed to serve by suggesting that they only have a responsibility to those who elected them.   This is rooted in the idea that the election itself is what grants these candidates legitimacy and effectiveness, and I don't believe that’s the case at all.

We can't force CCP to do anything. We don't have hard power.  We don't "manage" the players, and we don't "manage" CCP's messaging (they have their own PR team, and they don't pay us enough to do their dirty work).  But we do have an audience with CCP, and we provide an audience for player concerns.  Influence is our greatest asset, and it is earned, not granted.  Influence is earned by those that listen well and give sound advice to CCP when and where it’s needed.  Whether a "representative" is elected, or selected by CCP, this reality and the responsibilities that come with sitting for office remain the same.

And as we’ve seen time and time again, regardless of how that influence is obtained it can also be lost in a heartbeat through the representative’s behavior – whether through gross misconduct, violation of our legal responsibilities, or even something as subtle as trying to wage war against CCP during a time they are genuinely trying to be cooperative (many of you would refer to this behavior as “sperging”).  CCP guarantees and provides all council members an audience – its up to us and our individual skill to make the most of that opportunity to influence and affect real change.

Am I trying to diminish the importance of democracy in future iterations of the CSM and newly forming War Council?  Of course not, and I really don’t think “its going to be a nightmare” is any kind of excuse for the formation of an electoral system not to be a priority for both CCP and the members of the interim War Council.  I also don’t think it would have been too much to ask for CCP to allow open application for the War Council position, even if the final selection would have been at their discretion.  The worst that would have happened is some extra paperwork for CCP Dolan, and this was my recommendation to CCP when they first informed the CSM of the creation of the War Council at a stakeholder meeting* last Thursday.  

My point in all of this is that both the CSM and the War Council are uncommon and significant resources for players to take advantage of, and CAN take advantage of, regardless of the methods used to create them.   We’ve all heard “use it or lose it” and I think this describes the situation perfectly.   In the days ahead, there will no doubt be plenty of cynics that roll their eyes and whine about CCP’s decision to appoint the War Council themselves, and argue that this somehow undermines its value or usefulness. 

These cynics will be the ones that lose their voice in the long run – because they won’t take the time to reach out to these representatives and take that chance that many of the rest of you have this past year.  And they’ll be eclipsed quickly by other hardworking players who will take advantage of this new opportunity regardless of how it came to pass.

Thanks, Mabrick!  And to the players in both communities – there’s never been a better time to stand up and serve, whether as a representative yourself or as one of the many people we rely on throughout the year to send us your thoughts, concerns, and questions to be answered.

*I also know many of you are wondering “Aren’t we long overdue for another one of Hans’ Progress Reports? “  And yes, we are.  Expect it in the next day or two, its grown into a monster and keeps getting bigger the longer I get distracted.  On top of the time I’ve spent diving headfirst into the Dust514 community and development process, we’re also in the middle of one of the busiest segments of our term working on the expansion that’ll be announced this Saturday at PAX East.  I’m making sure all of our various public appearances, significant posts, and Stakeholder meetings are archived and compiled nonetheless and will be posted shortly.  Thank you for your patience.