Saturday, August 17, 2013

CPM Activity Report #6 - August 16, 2013

As many of you have noticed, earlier this week the CPM published a letter titled "State of Affairs: Communication & Trust" in our Council's Chamber on the Dust514 forums. If you haven't taken a moment to read through, I highly recommend you pause and do so, as it is the focus on this latest Activity Report.

Those of you that have been actively playing Dust 514 since the beta period or following its development closely won't find most of the content in our public statement to be particularly new or surprising. Many of you are familiar with the ups and downs the game has gone through from build to build, as well as the scattershot communication methods CCP has employed in an attempt to engage the public. The reason for a "State of Affairs" at this point in time is simple – The CPM was originally founded with a specific mission in mind, and the public deserves a reporting on how that mission is proceeding.

Of course, when CCP Dolan first announced the formation of the CPM in his dev blog, none of us on the council had any idea the challenges that we would be faced with when Uprising 1.0 launched on 5/14, bringing the game out of beta and into the media spotlight. For CCP, the subsequent restructuring of the development teams that focused their resources back on to polishing core game play took its toll as well. Understandably, priority was given over the more seemingly-mundane chores of establishing the CPM with a charter, a term limit, a voting procedure, and most importantly – a structured and mutually beneficial relationship with the development teams.

Without further rehashing Monday's CPM statement too much, the reality here is that over several months now we have drifted away from our primary mission. That is, the formation of a structured, efficient working relationship with the dev teams, and the charter that will guide future elected CPM members as they assist CCP in rolling out new fixes and features they can be confident the community will love. While CCP's current hyper-focus on core game play is crucial – the lack of attention given to the creation of such internal structure has allowed many ongoing communication issues to persist, resulting in much of the very same player frustration we've seen since the beginning of the beta period.

Before publishing our "State of Affairs", we had repeatedly raised these communication issues internally, asked for any good news we could share about solutions being put in place, and repeatedly come up empty handed. This ultimately defined the tone and content of our public statement – at the end of the day no news is still news.

Since the posting on Monday, two significant developments have taken place that are worth noting. The first is that CCP Commander Wang quickly and generously reached out to the CPM with a host of badly-needed information about CCP Shanghai's internal design process, which if nothing else will assist in our ongoing pursuit of a structured, efficient means of contributing regularly. The second is that we finally managed to secure our first meeting to be held this coming Monday with the management committee which will be solely focused on discussing the going communication issues as well as the status of the CPM as an institution.

What is becoming clear in the meantime is that there are enough dissimilarities between the Dust 514 release schedule and that of EVE Online that some improvisation on our part will be needed in order to arrive at a process that the Shanghai studio finds useful and is willing to commit to. And no matter that both studios carry the CCP logo and the same commitment to "practice transparency" (one of the company's four core values, believe it or not) – it is also becoming increasingly clear that many individuals in Shanghai are completely unfamiliar with working with a group like the CSM/CPM.

The detectable levels of apprehension about allowing a player group inside the development process pose a considerable challenge especially for myself in particular. Over the last year I've grown accustomed to working with designers, producers, and executives who have welcomed CSM feedback not only about the features in the pipeline, but also the larger road map for EVE Online, including the actual development process itself. The CSM as an institution has survived innumerable struggles and conflicts with CCP during many ugly periods during its evolution, finally arriving in a place with few boundaries and few limitations on what it can observe, comment on, and accomplish. CSM7 was the first CSM to function as an actual stakeholder inside the company, participating not only in the regular sprint review meetings, but also the release planning for the Odyssey expansion. In other words, after years of hard work, the CSM is no longer simply being told what is coming in an expansion and given room to comment, they now have the opportunity to influence what will be created for an expansion. The results of this fearlessness speak for themselves.

Our meeting Monday will begin to reveal whether CCP Shanghai will learn from the CSM success story and pursue the tremendous value that transparency with the CPM will bring – or whether they will stubbornly prefer to start from scratch and go through all of the growing pains the CSM fought through year after year to get to the level of productivity and efficiency they demonstrate today. There is a lot of work to be done to polish Dust 514 and little time left before the community's razor-thin attention span is strained by enormous competition from other games this holiday season. Every incentive exists for CCP to quickly open up to the CPM about what they're planning, what they're working on, and to listen to feedback that can prevent a lot of community dissatisfaction with the dev's hard work this second time around.

While I will certainly continue to keep you all posted as to our progress this coming week – my sincerest hope is that the next time you hear news it will be from someone helping to manage the CCP Shanghai studio that values our contribution, and is willing to publicly commit to swiftly putting some of these good practices in place. CPM self-reporting only goes so far – and you, the paying customer, have every right to ask those in charge what kind of a voice you'll have in Dust 514's future moving forward.

Friday, August 2, 2013

CPM Activity Report #5 - August 1, 2013

I'd like to begin by thanking everyone in the community for their patience waiting for this latest report, its well-overdue. We're in the middle of summertime, and the last few weeks have been extremely busy for me both personally (just celebrated my second wedding anniversary weekend!) and with CPM responsibilities, as CCP continues to ramp up their engagement both of the council and the community at large. This report in particular has escalated into somewhat of a monstrosity, as each day its been delayed I've been forced to add yet another segment to the stack.

Evolving Events

Let's get started right away, with the first meeting following Activity Report #4. CCP Praetorian had just recently returned from vacation, and was unable to meet with us that week despite our request, so CCP Commander Wang, CCP Eterne, and CCP Frame sat down with the CPM instead to discuss the community event time line all the way through October. This meeting was fresh on the heels of the CPM raising the issue created by placing both Flaylock Pistols and contact grenades on sale in the marketplace during the week where negative feedback about the broken state of both weapons was reaching its peak. There was a clear disconnect between the sale schedule (set by the marketing department) and community sentiment about gear balance, and putting broken (and soon-to-be-fixed) gear at a discount rate struck the CPM as insensitive and damaging to morale.

Although the meeting didn't cover the complete marketing sale schedule (information we're still working on obtaining), it was still a welcomed gesture from the community team, who laid out everything they had tentatively planned to date. This included both the event schedule as well as details about how each event would be run. Without spoiling too much of the team's hard work, the events forthcoming range from bonus XP weekends, to iterations on both the Templar Manhunt and Human Endurance events, and of course the now-infamous Urgent Fury tournament (which I'll cover in more detail here shortly).There's also a pair of events planned for October than will be completely new variants, rather than iterations on ones we've participated in so far.

The good news is that the meeting was quite constructive, and the community team provided plenty of opportunity for the CPM to share our ideas for ways to improve events. We discussed the excessive grind created by daily reward schedules, emphasizing the need for achievements to be set on a weekly basis so that no one is punished for having a day job. Also discussed was the need for gear offerings to cover as many classes and play styles possible, and the thresholds needed for quantity and quality of prizes to be worth the inevitable grind.

While you won't likely hear the name "Templar Manhunt" or "Human Endurance" for an event again, you will be hopefully seeing more accessible (and interesting) iterations in the coming months, complete with new supporting lore. The CPM seized the moment to reiterate the importance of respecting role play during these events, offering players choice as much as possible over which entity they are fighting for and the type of reward they want to pursue. We have yet to see how much this feedback will shape future events, but the community team is certainly better armed with information about what players enjoy (and despise) than ever before.

Community Contact

Last Friday, CPM representative Nova Knife hosted the latest episode of Cast514 – a Dust514 podcast known for its interviews with CCP staff, often breaking first news on upcoming content and game fixes. This episode was no exception, with CCP Wolfman and CCP Hybrid stopping by to discuss their work on aiming, hit detection, and the challenge of balancing a game with multiple input methods. [For those keeping tabs on the Shanghai studio roster - CCP Wolfman currently has his hands full working on Dust514's infantry weapons and vehicle balance (in the wake of CCP Blam's departure), while CCP Hybrid is best known for her excellent work on the PlayStation Move controls.] Sadly missing from Cast514 this time around was Nova's former partner Grideris, who many of you quickly figured out will now be serving the community in a different capacity instead. That being said, CCP Logibro was a slam dunk hire, exactly the type of individual we want to see more of on the community team. The man knows both games intimately, plays both games frequently, and has an outspoken love for the people that play the game as well. His perspective as an avid (and recent) player will serve him well during his time at CCP.

Nova also took the initiative last week to throw an impromptu AMA with the CPM on EVE voice, an event that turned out quite successful, and which we plan to repeat soon. Iron Wolf Saber and I attended the AMA as well – with IWS meticulously translating our speech to text as Nova and I answered the public's first-come, first-serve questions. Take a moment if you haven't already to read IWS's fantastic summary to see all of the questions asked as well as our replies.

Messaging Management

The meeting with CCP Praetorian and CCP Flying Scotsman requested by the CPM took place the following week, on June 24. For those that may not be aware, CCP Praetorian is currently the Creative Director for Dust 514 and CCP Flying Scotsman is Lead Designer. Praetorian also appears to be the man calling the shots in Shanghai while CCP searches for a new Executive Producer. While we had asked for the meeting as an opportunity to discuss lingering communication issues, it was approached by CCP as a standard “what's coming next for Dust514” show and tell session. This first portion of the meeting was certain enjoyable, mostly because 1.4 is sizing up to be a noticeably larger release than either 1.2 or 1.3. We could hear a palpable excitement from Praetorian in particular about the progress he'd seen during his time away and about the amount of improvements they expect to be stuffed into 1.4.

Some of these features have started to hit the forums, IRC channels, and podcasts – but for those that aren't up to speed the focus is clearly on infantry in 1.4. Aiming overhauls are confirmed for both dual shock and M/KB users, as is the overhauled TACNET system to emphasize and reward the use of Active scanners. There's also a new laser sight on the way, and Praetorian also mentioned the need for a balancing pass on all of the infantry weapons because of the new aiming system, though he didn't confirm that this was actually underway. We'll apparently be receiving a new type of map in 1.4, as well as the revamped infantry-LAV collision system (AKA the murdering of “murder taxis”). Last but not least, Praetorian dished on an entirely new feature that will be quite visible within the client – but I have yet to see public reference to this so I'll let CCP share their own surprise when they're ready.

Good news about Uprising 1.4 aside, the CPM had asked for the meeting to discuss communication, and we took the time following the 1.4 news to ask again what sort of structured efforts are being taken internally in order to deliver more consistent and transparent communication from the development teams. This was our reason for requesting Flying Scotsman attend the meeting as well, as ultimately we see the need for strong top-down solutions moving forward. While we continue to see weekly progress as developers ask for more input and share more of their work – this seems to be still viewed internally as a luxury, rather than a responsibility. The tension when we raised the subject was almost immediate - and we were disappointed by the amount of initial resistance faced when trying to discuss the need for community engagement to be a structured part of CCP's development practice. After all, in many cases we're not even asking for additional work out of the developers – we're asking for more transparency. The labor involved in throwing copypasta of work that designers have to show their team leaders anyways is trivial, with sometimes colossal benefit if the community can spot trouble in advance.

The CPM's reason for continuing to beat this seemingly-dead horse is simple: we understand that you, the community, are not going to start feeling comfortable about the game's future until you're comfortable with the leadership overseeing the game's development. CCP has certainly survived its fair share of storms in the past, but these have always been accompanied by a clear indication from those managing EVE Online at the time that problems existed, solutions were in place, and that the house was in order. Dust514 has yet to reach this level of certainty in the wake of Uprising's initial struggle – and players have every right to doubt that their efforts will be put to better use this time around, with only the assurance of the CPM saying “CCP is trying” to comfort them.

The core community that continues to keep this whole crazy experiment afloat with their time and money just wants to know that there's someone in charge who is committed to progress as they are, someone in charge who has a plan, and someone in charge that they trust. And you have every right to ask for that. Let me be clear though - our ongoing request here is not for some big apology or mea culpa. We've finally reached a point where almost everyone we engage with inside CCP is an active part of the solution, not the problem. But its also critical for these improvements to be codified into a repeatable process, turning good habits into routine.

CCP Praetorian explicitly agreed with the CPM during the meeting about the need to engage the community more frequently, and committed to stepping up the company's efforts. Our follow up question was again - “Wonderful, but how? What good habits would you like to make routine? Who will assure the community that they're going to oversee these changes?” We hope to report again soon once we hear more from CCP, as this issues lies at both the heart of why the CPM exists in the first place, and the foundation we need to build a charter moving forward. These are not matters to leave up to chance or individual goodwill – no matter how much we may like the guys that are making Dust these days.

Initializing the Institution

Many of you have been asking about the status of the CPM as an entity, and rightfully so. I took the opportunity while we had most of upper management together to once again ask CCP Dolan about who our primary point of contact would be in CCP, and how soon the public would be receiving more information about how the company plans to continue using the CPM in the coming months, and the process that will eventually replace us with an elected player body. In our initial months there was some question about who we would primarily interface with in Shanghai – but CCP Dolan has stated clearly that for the foreseeable future, he will continue to serve as the CPM's 'handler' (my term, not CCP's).

Whether his location in the Iceland office will be a hindrance to his ability to facilitate information flow between the CPM and Shanghai development teams has yet to be seen. Dolan obviously now juggles both the responsibilities of managing the CSM and the CPM, and appears to be the only individual inside CCP with this job description. What this means for all of you in the community, is that CCP Dolan will also be your point of contact from this point on in terms of information regarding voting, a CPM white paper, term length, etc. You're more than welcome to start letting him know how much you'd appreciate news regarding this process.

I suggested during the meeting that CCP Dolan take the time to write a dev blog, announcing several CPM-related news elements. Soon after our formation, the CPM voted for officers, so I think its about time that he share the results of that vote – as well as discuss his tentative plan for our term length and estimated election period. We're well enough into our term here that officer titles aren't particularly significant, other than they at least reflect some the responsibilities we've taken on the past few months. We can sit around and talk about ourselves all day long, but in the end its most vital for the community to hear from CCP how they envision the CPM contributing in the months ahead, and whether they've found our contributions valuable. Dolan first mentioned “CPM/CSM report cards” at Fanfest 2013, and I think we're certainly far enough into our term to warrant a checkup.

Tournament Tribulation

There has been much rumble in the community recently about the upcoming Urgent Fury-sponsored “Dust Prime” tournament, and I'd like to take a moment to outline the CPM's involvement in the tournament planning. We were first notified of the event via an emailed preview of the dev blog sent July 18, the day before our meeting with CCP's community team to go over the upcoming event schedule. As evidenced by the completion level of the dev blog, it was obvious that most of the event details were already in place. The tournament was finally announced on July 26th to the public, but information has remained fairly inconsistent between CCP's own reporting and the details on the Urgent Fury website, which is notoriously difficult to navigate.

We requested more information about the terms of the tournament on multiple occasions, specifically trying to get to the bottom of whether it was CCP or Urgent Fury that had control over the variables. The response we received was the same announcement the rest of you saw publicly, that the teams were being reduced to 8 members and that domination would be the game mode used to compete. This caught us (and many of you) by surprise, and the CPM communicating strongly that changing the terms of the tournament in the middle of the sign-up process was a bad idea. 8-vs-8 is a format would not only allow more corps to participate, but it also works better for competitive FPS play historically, and both CCP and the CPM heard this feedback loud and clear. In the future though, we believe the discussion and decision-making needs to take place ahead of the launch of tournament sign-ups, rather than add to an already confusing situation.

At our request, the tournament format was restored to 16 vs 16 as originally announced, and the rosters size was increased to 32. This decision was based on additional feedback we'd heard strongly and agreed with: the 20 man roster limit was too restrictive for a 16 man team, four spares didn't free each corporation up from the possibility of forcing players to schedule time off work or school in order to participate in the tournament. We certainly appreciated the less than 24 hour turnaround on reversing the decision to change the tournament structure mid sign-up, but lesson to learn here is once again the importance of consulting the community (or the CPM as its representatives) earlier during tournament planning, before an event is established and scheduled with a vendor.

Proven Progress

I'd like to conclude by sharing a conversation I had last night with CCP Commander Wang, who prodded me at a late hour with some questions about an upcoming event, and the rewards planned. Without spoiling the details of the event, I would like to at least raise up the inquiry and subsequent chat as a perfect example of the sort of casual, productive conversation we love to encourage whenever we discuss communication with CCP. Over the course of maybe 30 minutes back and forth, we were able to hammer out a prize line-up and event terms that I think more of you will appreciate. I hope Commander Wang found my input helpful, and that we see more of this kind of impromptu conversation across the board – with the design teams as well. The CPM is working hard to articulate to CCP that improving communication doesn't have to be labor-intensive, it doesn’t have to mean hanging out in Skype or IRC all day long, it doesn’t have to mean scheduling a meeting with a large group. Often its the simple gestures – a quick but timely sanity check about a project in play – that make a huge difference in preventing the sort of issues we've seen with the latest tournament.

As always, never hesitate to contact us through the usual channels with your feedback, suggestions, and questions. Many of us also enjoy joining squads with other community members – send us an invite and we'll see you on the battlefield! Thanks again for sticking through this as I catch up on my reporting, I'll see you next week.