Sins of a Solar Spymaster #59 - The Council War

Voting for EVE Online's sixth Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is set to conclude tomorrow and hail the arrival of a new CSM. But in its original incarnation, the CSM was filled with corruption, intrigue and what some might call incompetent decision-making. Join The Mittani (also a CSM candidate) as he reflects on the effects current and past CSMs have had on EVE in this week's Sins of a Solar Spymaster #59 - The Council War.


It’s Council of Stellar Management season, and the contest for CSM6 is turning into the biggest all-out electoral slugfest yet. In New Eden, this shining example of ‘representative democracy’ is prosecuted through an election where lying, cheating, scamming, vote-buying and disproportionate representation of the wealthy is explicitly condoned; in internet spaceship elections, anything goes, as long as it doesn’t violate the EULA. And since this is EVE, that means that the contest for CSM6 isn’t an election - it’s a war.

Battlecruiser

Compared to last year, there’s almost thirty percent more voting taking place this year. Of course, turnout in CSM elections is laughably small compared to the playerbase as a whole; elections tend to see between 7 and 12% of the playerbase casting ballots, and ‘playerbase’ here doesn’t have any connection to the number of human beings making their views known. For example, I know three multiboxers who, among their crew of mining and production characters, have 108 accounts; that amounts to almost ten percent of a full CSM seat in votes from three people.

Yet the turnout spike has raised a lot of eyebrows. Unlike past CSMs, CCP appears to be actively promoting the elections in hope of lending legitimacy to the body. Also unlike past CSMs, the nullsec blocs are actively interested and attempting to leverage power on the council, rather than blithely ignoring it. But why?

The Bad Old Days
The CSM as it currently stands is not the CSM that was originally pitched by CCP, wounded in the media by the T20/Band of Brothers cheating and corruption scandals. The original CSM was mooted as a body similar to today’s Internal Affairs department, a group of elected player-auditors who would ensure that Sabre BPOs were no longer being handed out gratis. After a lot of high-profile press, the ‘watchdog CSM’ was quietly abandoned after the T20 crisis died down and vanished for almost a year.

When it returned and was actually implemented in 2008, the CSM had transformed into what amounted to a focus group with six month terms. Another trumpet blast of loud, high profile media coverage resulted, which nicely covered over the fact that the first CSM was riven with infighting sparked by its controversial and ineffective chairman, Jade Constantine, and the ensuing campaign to oust him from office. The dev blog which wrapped up the CSM1 experience was an exercise tiptoeing around the fact that absolutely nothing of note had been accomplished. The CCP rep assigned to the CSM was reduced to saying that “We decided against enumerating the CSM's accomplishments - this is not a pissing contest. We know they made a difference and we are confident that the council will continue to make a difference.” Yet in every CSM since the first, CCP has worked hard to enumerate the accomplishments and relevance of the council.

Station

By CSM3, the fact that the Council wasn’t amounting to much was becoming a source of outrage. As delegate John Zastrow aptly put it, “I am frankly, disappointed in the CSM. I think the idea of a focus group of players is great, and many games and MMORPGs have done similar things in the past. Some other MMOs I remember would have players elected to be their in-game profession's "champion" and talk to devs about their issues, and that was very effective at getting player concerns communicated. The CSM is an idea with huge potential to be exploited; I just don't think it's been done with EVE yet. Our contact with CCP is hilariously limited. The only time we ever had real back-and-forth talks with devs was at the summit. That's it. A single weekend for feedback. The CSM are among the most dedicated of players. We all worked and strove to make this game a better place but I feel we were and are woefully underutilized. I have no idea why this is. I do know that there are some devs who are very receptive to the CSM's thoughts, yet others gave me the impression they think we're insane, and others still who act like a father humoring his child, patiently smiling as we talk without actually listening to us.”

By CSM4, turnout had waned to a laughable 7% of the playerbase participating, with a paltry 740 votes needed to get on a seat. For perspective, most alliances in nullsec with any space have at least 2000 accounts, some up to 6000. The six month terms, the lack of obvious results and the occasional resignation or ousting scandal had left the CSM at a new low. Drastic measures had to be taken to restore a thin veneer of legitimacy to the body; the terms were extended to a full year and term limits were removed. CSM4 also saw CCP grant ‘stakeholder’ status to the CSM as part of their Scrum development process, which theoretically meant that the CSM had more of a stake in development.

Ignorance Empowered
The CSM5 elections were touted as ones that ‘really mattered’, what with the new term lengths and the stakeholder status. While turnout was boosted over CSM4, only 13% of the playerbase participated. Notably absent from CSM5 was any significant representation from nullsec alliances, who only had one representative on the council. In the early days of the CSM, alliance candidates made up the bulk of representatives, as their superior organization allowed for more effective campaigns. But the alliances had essentially given up on the CSM, rolling their collective eyes as the yearly ‘this time it matters’ campaign kicked off.

Cruising

Unfortunately for nullsec, CSM5 actually did matter - in all the wrong ways. With the year-long term, stakeholder status and a gaggle of bushy-tailed representatives, CSM5 and CCP prepared to tackle all sorts of issues - including the crippling failures of the Dominion system which alliance citizens must cope with daily. This meeting of the minds took place at a summit where the single remaining nullsec representative on the CSM, Vuk Lau, was not present, meaning that whatever discussions that took place could at best be described as ‘completely uninformed by actual experience’. The less polite reaction, from CSM Alternate Helen Highwater, described the CSM5 principals as “drooling retards.” In the aftermath of this, Vuk Lau resigned at the end of his term, forfeiting a free trip to Fanfest in protest.

Meanwhile, the forces in 0.0 awoke, and prepared for all-out electioneering.

The Council War
From the outset of the CSM6 election, it was obvious that the various nullsec blocs had banded together in mutual outrage at what CSM5 had vomited forth.  For the nine seats on the CSM, nine of the fifty-seven candidates can claim formal backing of an alliance, roughly guaranteeing at least a thousand votes or more. Meanwhile, many of the CSM5 delegates declined to run for re-election, leaving several major players, such as Mynxee and Deidra Vaal out of the action, yet trying to influence the outcome through endorsements.

On the first day of official voting, over fifteen thousand votes were cast, compared to only four thousand the previous year. Massive output seemed to indicate that the nullsec alliances had effectively mobilized; by the second day, 21k votes had surpassed the turnout of the entire CSM4 race.  By this point turnout has stabilized into a ‘long tail’ with votes coming in drips and drabs of about 1500 a day.

Fleet

By the standards of most modern democracies, this election could only be described as utterly dirty. Candidates are allowed to offer bribes and ‘lotteries’ for support, as CCP says that one cannot force a player to vote for a candidate; ‘dead voters’ are appearing in the polls as 5-day reactivation offers from CCP have allowed candidates to harvest the votes of unsubscribed accounts. Votes have been sold, smear campaigns have been launched, and conspiracy theories are rampant.

The Usual Disclaimer
As always, I’m biased in my accounts of these affairs - though it’s impossible to be ‘objective’ about an election as dirty as this. Naturally, I myself am running for office, and even have my own spiffy campaign website. However, by the time this will be published, most of the voting will be over but for the screaming and the tabulating; if you’d like to rush to vote for me regardless, however, I will not complain.

Fanfest Approaches
Fanfest 2011 commences on March 24th, and I’ll be there using twitter to report on the hijinks. If you’re planning on attending, you may want to read my trip report from the previous Fanfest to have some idea what to expect. From a more ‘serious spaceships’ perspective, the most valuable time spent at the 2009 Fanfest was the roundtables with the devs; if you’re attending, you’ll find me parked at the Large Scale Warfare, 0.0, PvP and Unconventional Gameplay roundtables, which I expect will be fascinating. I’ll also be presenting a bit about Goonswarm at the Alliance Leadership panel on Thursday. See you there!


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