The Council Of Stellar Management In EVE Online
The sixth election for the Council of Stellar Management (CSM) has concluded, and the results announced at Fanfest in Iceland. Predictably, the forum equivalent of a fire immediately broke out across the regular EVE forums, Scrapheap, and the other communication venues that EVE pilots like to use. The hubbub might be a bit overwhelming for new players unfamiliar with the concept, so a general explanation is first in order.
What The CSM Is
The CSM has evolved over the years since it was first introduced as part watchdog, part public relations gimmick. The focus has evolved since then: currently it is a sort of rarified focus group, with some mild input into CCP's internal task prioritization. EVE developers bounce ideas off them, give them previews or mockups of upcoming projects, and perhaps the occasional reality check.
Sometimes, the CSM can rake CCP over the fires. This has not really happened, by itself, but rather with the CSM as the face on a massive player backlash that took place last summer. By interacting with CCP in person, the CSM can present information in a way that is impossible to ignore. Whereas CCP staff needs to opt into ready criticism in an eighty page threadnaught, it is harder to ignore an angry video CSM pounding his hands on the table about something.
What The CSM Is Not
The CSM can help nudge CCP and give them sanity checks, but they can't make them throw the baby out with the bath water.
Another thing the CSM can't do is cause CCP to change a massive corporate initiative or expend a huge amount of extra resources. This is mostly because CCP can't let a council of video game politicians choose their business plan for them. Something like "cancel Incarna" would never fly, nor would "re-build faction warfare from the ground up" unless it was already CCP's intention. The costs are just too great, and would cripple CCP's ability to pursue plans that keep their company healthy and growing.
The CSM election process is deceptively simple: during the voting period, each account that is subscribed gets a vote. The nine people with the most votes get a seat, the single person with the most votes is chairperson of the council, and the five runner-ups are "alternates" in case the main candidates need to bow out. The CSM votes as a group on issues for CCP to consider, and once a year flies out to Iceland to talk about things in person.
It's a good system, though there are occasional problems. The biggest one: in order to reduce GM workload, CCP now allows people to temporarily reactivate their accounts for the purpose of buying and activating a PLEX. Unfortunately, those accounts are able to vote. The result is that an unknown amount (but I'd bet on a figure in the hundreds) of old accounts temporarily re-subbed for the purpose of piling on the votes. I'm not sure who this state of affairs favors, if anyone, but I am sure that it runs contrary to the spirit of the elections. Some may disagree with me.
Of Majority And Plurality
Another issue that may or may not be a problem (depending on your perspective) is that due to the inherent nature of the game, the scale of the organizations involved, and the type of player attracted to the different segments of the game, null-sec alliances have a huge leg up when it comes to voting. Null-sec alliances already have the messaging and organization required to get out the votes for their candidates, and their players tend to be more plugged in and engaged with things that are happening in EVE Online. Anecdotally, there was a world of difference in the degree of interest between players at Fanfest (predominantly alliance and low-sec players, very partisan CSM opinions) and the players at CCP's PAX East gathering (largely high-sec, little interest or knowledge of CSM).
The reason this could be viewed as a problem is that a well-organized segment of null-sec could potentially edge out high-sec candidates completely. The result is that, though the CSM remains a democracy, the election results reflect a majority rather than a plurality. In fact, this is more or less what has happened with the sixth CSM council.
A Clash Of Cultures
There is a persistent distrust between the inhabitants of the various areas of the game. People self-identify with the place where they live, and many eventually subscribe to various prejudices about other EVE players. High-sec dwellers see null-sec players as greedy and resent their constant, disproportionate demands on CCP's resources. Null-sec players resent how safe high-sec is, and see high-sec dwellers as clueless about many areas of the game. All ten low-sec players dislike how their area of the game has been pretty much ignored for half a decade. Wormhole players actually care about fixing POS. The list goes on, with varying degrees of truth.
In any case, no group of players that identifies themselves as an inhabitant of those areas is going to be happy about tinkering around with their area that comes from people that primarily live elsewhere. That's perfectly natural, though the hyperbole around that can get tedious to read. This fundamental disconnect and lack of trust between major populations of the game is the source of a constant rivalry, much akin to the sort of rivalry that other MMOs have between PvE and PvP players (though that rivalry exists in EVE Online as well).
It is unfortunate that the populations of null-sec and high-sec are always at loggerheads over minutiae.
"A lot of people have a really naive view of democracy. They think that in order to get votes we need to be nice to everyone instead of riling up our base and vilifying the people our base doesn't like."-The Mittani
This CSM is more controversial than any preceding it. Much of the drama is personal. People don't like null-sec blocs more or less guaranteeing themselves the vote. People don't like that this CSM seems less interested serving the general populace, so much as serving their own votes. Most of all, a whole lot of people really, really don't like The Mittani, who was elected chairman.
Since the first two CSM elections, null-sec alliances have sort of taken a back seat with regard to the CSM. It seemed clear that there was little actual power in the council, and that was both bad and good: bad because it meant that players could not effect meaningful improvements, and good because it meant that players would not screw things up or pursue any kind of partisan agenda.
The Fifth Council
That all changed with CSM 5, considered the most effective CSM yet at getting CCP to change their game plan for the better. During one of the meetings in Iceland, a CCP developer asked about the idea of removing jump bridges from the game. Jump bridges are essentially private star gates that players can build at POSes in systems they control to make travel around their territory safer and faster. Though null-sec did not always have them, modern alliance players are extremely dependent on them. To the CCP developer's surprise, the CSM answered that they had no problem with jump bridge removal.
Though all indications are that this was a casual conversation in a purely hypothetical vein, this conversation caused tremendous fallout. Regrettably, none of the CSM members present at that meeting were null-sec players, at least not in the view of much of the EVE community.
For all any casual reader knew, no CSM member at that time had ever seen a jump bridge, let alone used one or had any experience with what life in null-sec space is like with or without it. Jump bridges are near and dear to alliance players' hearts, and the reasons mentioned for removing them were somewhat nonsensical: that they made logistics too easy. Possibly, this was intended in an economic sense rather than alliance logistics involving POS and station upgrades, meaning that the flow of goods between high-sec and null-sec was too high. The discussion in that meeting also involved possibly doing something about jump freighters, as well, which would certainly curtail the free flow of goods.
Such a cavalier disregard for what makes life in null-sec more bearable was and is politically dangerous. This perceived threat came from a long-ignored electoral body that is as easily accessed by null-sec dwellers as those living elsewhere. The current null-sec climate is one where alliance leaders succeed in large part because of their ability to attract huge numbers of members, and the ability to motivate the same.
Coincidentally, numbers and motivation are the same things needed to win an election. In the view of those alliance leaders, it was the CSM's job to present a strongly negative reaction to any proposal to remove jump bridges and jump freighters. That didn't happen, and so we have what followed.
The Sixth Council
Threatened by outsiders tampering with the nuts and bolts of their day to day existence, the big alliance blocs of null-sec sprung into action. Discussions took place on some level between these organizations, and candidates were fielded. Organized candidate support took place, and some groups even counted exit polls.
I think that history will judge this CSM as one of the most effective and, importantly, one of the most decisive.
- Two veteran CSM members, both with established records covering a breadth of issues that I think shows them not to favor null-sec to the exclusion of everything else.
- One ex-CCP member that has previously led a null-sec alliance.
- Six rookie CSM members with null-sec allegiances.
Us Vs. Them
It seems quite clear that the bloc mobilization worked, and is likely to work in the future should the big alliances feel the need. High-sec players are in large part too disorganized and disinterested to get out the vote. So the null-sec voting bloc is here to stay.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ignore the hypervitriolic posts on the forums. Null-sec players, especially at the top of the power pyramids, want this game to be as good as it can be, because that makes their large control of relative power within the game worth that much more. In economic terms, if EVE's relative value as a game goes up, so does the value of power within that game.
Nobody on the CSM wants to ruin EVE. Nobody there wants to delete high-sec or do anything so hare-brained. I think that the major influx of null-sec candidates is just to ensure that there is not a repeat of the jump bridges conversation, or anything similar, without at least the dissenting viewpoint being represented. Harrying the null-sec candidates is needlessly self-destructive.
Call me an optimist, but I'm actually pretty excited about this CSM. Though I will certainly understand if you disagree, this is EVE Online after all. In any case, they are here to stay. EVE as it presently exists does not support a mass of high-security players voting in lockstep in sufficient quantities to compete with the kind of clout that null-sec is bringing to bear.