The Council of Stellar Management's impact on the game

James Egan
J. Egan|04.30.09

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The Council of Stellar Management's impact on the game

Massively: Was giving the players this degree of input a frightening prospect for the developers and the designers?

Pétur: [Laughs] Yes. I've been hearing the other companies in the industry asking if we've completely lost our minds. Of course it's a difficult step, but we wouldn't have have a game without the players, so I think it's a logical step to take. Even though it's a frightening one.

Massively: Now that you've been doing this for a while, is it still as frightening now, seeing what the CSM is coming up with?

Pétur: No. They still surprise us sometimes but in a good way. It's becoming a very valuable tool for us to have. It's important.

Dr. EyjoG: Pétur and I work in the unit of Research and Statistics and what we are increasingly finding happening over the past two months is that the developers come to us and ask 'What do you think the CSM would think of this?' And now we can answer, 'Well, just ask them.'

Pétur: There are at least three cases off the top of my head where the CSM was asked by the developers themselves about a feature they were thinking about, what the players' take on this might be.
Massively: EVE is different from most other games in that it's a large sandbox world where players share and fight over the same resources, does the CSM play any role in player crisis management?

Pétur: Well, maybe not 'crisis management' but like with the Player Owned Structures exploit that was uncovered in December where players could create valuable materials out of nothing. We presented the report on the exploit to the CSM first and then changed it and enhanced it with the CSM comments, and then we released it to the players. This is a two-way communication. We explain what we want to say and find out whether or not they understand it, what they misunderstand. It helps to clarify the message we want to give.

Massively: What would you say have been the major achievements of the Council so far?

Pétur: Apocrypha, the latest expansion, includes an important feature called the Skill Training Queue. We did know that some players had been asking for this for some time, but we didn't realize how important it was for the players until the CSM. And that's why it was prioritized and delivered.

"They still surprise us sometimes but in a good way. It's becoming a very valuable tool for us to have. It's important."

Dr. EyjoG: For me, the biggest achievement is going into the third term, we will have the third elections in May, which means this has become an integral part of EVE. If the project were to be abolished, everybody would say that we need this. Where is it? That in itself is the biggest achievement. Then I think the in-person meeting have been an eye opener both for the players and the developers about how important this interaction really is. Those are two broad, really big achievements that I think are really important. And really new in the industry. Somebody might say well, you could use focus groups and so on. But with the CSM, they are working for six months on what issues they want to present. They meet every week discussing and deliberating among themselves, sometimes arguing or not agreeing. So it's a difficult process. It's a lot of commitment on their behalf. And it's worked. There are 128 topics they've brought up in the Council.

Pétur: Yeah, I was running the numbers the other day and it was 128 topics that the CSM has brought up. Of those, 97 have either been injected into the backlog or given different prioritization in the backlog. 20 topics have been implemented, 9 topics were rejected but mostly because of technical issues where the CSM didn't realize exactly how the technology underneath EVE worked. So [in those cases] changing or implementing what they were asking for was too much work, just to change a little thing.

"You can put a lot of trust in the players in terms of them finding good solutions to the problems they're facing, and therefore their comments about how to improve the game environment in general are so valuable."

Massively: In the presentation you gave [at GDC 2009], you mentioned that only a small percentage of the players are voting. With only that number voting do you feel that the number of players that might have an interest in this could be more than what's represented at the polls?

Dr. EyjoG: I think for us, it's a challenge for us to communicate with the players. We have a lot of new players and you need to be part of the community to know about this. So we need a new venue for doing this. We're working on in-game voting.

Pétur: Being able to vote in-game is something that brings this to all players so you don't necessarily need to read the forums regularly to know about this. Why the low participation? It might be that we've only used one venue to promote this -- the forums and website -- we are addressing this with more news of the CSM and in-game voting, and we'll see where that takes us. And where we go from there.

Massively: Do you expect to have this in place for the next elections?

Pétur: No, the next vote is in May so we don't expect to have it ready for then. It's in the development process now and we really want to get the election process closer to the players, so they don't have to dig through the forums and webpages.

Massively: Has the Council come up with anything that completely surprised you, completely outside your expectations?

Pétur: [Laughs] That's maybe more of a question for the designers themselves. But what they did that surprised me personally was when they ran into a problem in the beginning when they were actually trying to settle down on how the Council should work, they went way above and beyond what I was expecting in finding a solution to the problem. I would've thought they would have a Chairman and he or she would direct that meeting, give permission to speak and so on. What they did when they found out that didn't work is that every single person that brings up a topic is the Chairman while that topic is being discussed. So the Chair is always changing depending on who brought up the topic! That is one example of how they surprised me a lot.

Dr. EyjoG: It just shows that you can put a lot of trust in the players in terms of them finding good solutions to the problems they're facing, and therefore their comments about how to improve the game environment in general are so valuable. Some people have criticized us for not giving them "real power" and we always commented that in the end it's our responsibility and we can't put that responsibility on their shoulders. But not listening to them would be the stupidest thing we could ever do. So we listen to each and every concern and we make sure that when we answer them, the answers we put forward are precise, both in terms of software and game design. And if they don't like our answer we go back and work with them in finding a clear answer. Whether or not they'll agree with us, they'll understand where we're coming from. That's what this is all about, it's about communication.

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