Blog Banter 34. The future role of the CSM.

I am on record being quite cynical about the CSM and their role.  In that view, CSM are a marketing trick to make CCP look good by pretending to really “listen” to their customers.  Players are suckered into believing that they have a real stake in the future of the company and game and therefore are less likely to unsubscribe.  A CSM as a marketing trick deserves no further discussion and the recent Blog Banter 34  “How would you like to see the CSM grow, both in terms of player interaction and CCP interaction?” should not be an interesting one.  After all, it was spawned by an employee of CCP and hence serves the purpose of enriching his own wallet.

And then I thought about it more.

CCP as a small tech company has arguably created an online game that in complexity has no equal.  Forget WoW and its countless clones, forget FPS, RTS and console games.  The depth of EVE Online is much closer to e.g. Second Life than a game as its content generator are people, not script writers.  I would like to go one step further – EVE Online has many times be compared to be a spreadsheet with a nice background.  I doubt anyone at Microsoft understands everything people can do with the tools they built into Excel.  But whereas we all readily accept that MS is a toolmaker company, I certainly still compare game companies as content creators.  And that is where my (and I think CCP’s) thinking failed.

See, if CCP realizes that they are building tools instead of content, they give up the notion that they know everything.  Creation of focus groups, polling customers and having “test labs” are common practice for software companies and I assume CCP does this also – in addition to statistical evaluation of player behavior of course. The CSM is another way by which CCP can poll what their customers really are doing with the toolchest they have built for them.  I challenge for example any chosen CCP employee to a discussion on Wormhole warfare mechanic with Two Step, cloaky combat with pjharvey, military leadership with Ender Black and fan fiction with Seismic Stan or Miss Thalys.   These players / tool users / customers are better by many miles in what they do than any one of CCP employees.  They will be a much better source of what we – the users – can do with CCP’s toolchest.  And why should this be so surprising?  After all EVE Players consider themselves as the smartest online players out there – I think with reason – so CCP should develop the humility to acknowledge that and deeply embed CSM into their learning.

And so, to bring it home, how would I “grow” the CSM as it was laid out in the blog banter?    I would like to give each CSM member more or less specific portfolios they shall report on – these are fairly easy to prepare (WH life, null sec mechanics etc).  CSM members open themselves to EVE players and seek input based on their portfolio, assimilate and discuss with the other council members into discrete sets of recommendations.   If blood spills then between them, so be it but subsequently, CSM members bring topics and recommendations towards CCP and report to the players the responses.  This portfolio-based approach will limit the partisan nonsense that some CSM members spew (removing ABC ores from WH because it breaks nullsec markets for example) and overall create a collaborative environment with CCP and the players.

Fundamental to that is that CCP changes its understanding of what they are – a tool maker, not a game company.

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