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Massively's EVE Online CSM Interview -- The summit


When it comes to getting players involved in the development process, EVE Online's democratically elected Council of Stellar Management has up until now been a clear success. Previous council members have managed to get some important features implemented in the game and helped CCP with feedback on up-coming expansions. Last month, members of the fifth council met with CCP in Iceland for the first of their twice-yearly development summits. In meetings with developers, they put forward issues deemed important by the player-base. Initial impressions from the summit appeared grim, with both chairwoman Mynxee and council member Ankhesentapemkah voicing concerns on their personal blogs. Players were left waiting for the official meeting minutes to be published so they could decide for themselves whether or not those concerns were justified.

The summit meeting minutes were released last week to some strong reactions within the community. The bulk of the negative reactions seemed to stem from CCP's inability to commit definite resources to any CSM issues. The community backlash was further amplified by a later devblog setting out CCP's current development schedule for the next 18 months. Of course, the people best qualified to talk about how the summit went are the council delegates themselves. Having been present at the meetings and knowing more about CCP's future expansion plans than the rest of the player-base, members of the council should have a much clearer picture of the state of play than the average player. To help clarify some of the community's biggest issues, Massively caught up with the CSM delegates and asked them some important questions about the summit and CCP's current development plans.

In this first of our collossal two-part interview with EVE's Council of Stellar Management, I probe members of the council for their thoughts on the summit.

Massively: "Would you say the summit in Iceland was constructive?

Collectively, the council agreed that the summit was largely constructive. Chairwoman Mynxee believes that "In terms of discussions with devs about how players would most likely respond to a given feature or how it was implemented, as well as the ability to brainstorm features or fixes on the radar or simply possibilities for future development, the Summit was constructive." This sentiment was mirrored by Trebor, who added that the council members "learned a lot, and expressed the strong beliefs of the players we represent." Similarly, Dierdra Vaal recalls "some good discussions with developers on subjects like low sec and communication between CCP and the CSM," adding that he believes they "were successful in bringing the main concerns of the player base to CCPs attention."

On a less positive note, Dierdra notes that the council "also had some heated debates that did not end in a common consensus." Council member TeaDaze had a similar reaction, stating that while "many of the discussions were constructive, obviously the CSM would have liked more commitment from CCP to fixing existing issues." The lack of commitment was something that also bothered the other council members. Chairwoman Mynxee believes that in terms of getting CCP to commit to address player concerns, "little to no constructive progress was made." Dierdra Vaal concluded that the proof of this summit's usefulness will become clear this winter, stating that "we will see in December if CCP has made good on the promises they've made."

"Did CCP commit to any CSM requests during the summit?"

CCP's inability to commit any resources to CSM issues has been a big sticking point within the community. Chairwoman Mynxee confirmed to us that "CCP would not commit to addressing any specific CSM-raised issues." Meissa Anunthiel was quick to point out that while CCP didn't commit to address any specific issues, "CCP never committed to anything during the previous CSMs either and yet did deliver things." This seems to be the normal state of affairs for the council. In spite of this, previous council teams managed to push through such important changes as the skill queue and titan doomsday balancing.

In response to concerns, Trebor accurately pointed out that "CCP committed to several action points during the meeting." Mynxee further clarified that CCP "did commit to publishing a number of dev blogs plus providing CSM with some requested statistical information." To combat the issue of poor visibility of addressed issues, the CSM also "requested that CCP produce a list of CSM issues that are currently in the backlog." Going forward, CCP agreed to "make a lot more information available to the CSM regarding the state of our issues in the backlog." A full list of the deliverables CCP has committed to for this term are outlined in a public document all players can download. In addition to the above-mentioned items, it also includes a commitment by CCP to publish several devblogs on key issues like MMO scaling problems and the Tyrannis market blunder.

"With more CSM issues added to CCP's development backlog each year than are addressed, is it feasible to expect new issues to ever be resolved?"

During each summit, CSM-submitted ideas entered into CCP's development backlog during the term are discussed with developers. A common misconception is that all ideas which make it this far will eventually be tackled by the development team. Trebor Daehdoow explains that the backlog "is supposed to be a bubbling pot from which the highest priority items are scooped and consumed." Dierdra goes on to explain that "backlog items get developed based on priority based on a number of factors," and that "it's quite possible that a newer issue gets a higher priority than an older issue." The council reminded me that CSM issues must also compete with CCP's own issues in the development backlog. "As to whether the pot will ever be emptied," said Trebor, "that depends entirely on the resources that CCP is willing to devote to fixing and polishing existing game features."

Mynxee explained that shortcomings in the CSM process may be responsible for making it unclear which CSM issues are being addressed. "The unfortunate thing is that CSM issues in the backlog are not currently tagged," she explained, "so it is impossible to identify them as such." She went on to agree with CCP Soundwave's position that "It's a shame that the number of issues we've handled and are planning to handle in the near future are not communicated better." The ability for players to easily see which CSM issues have been selected for development would be a major boon for the council's public image, but it can't be done while issues aren't being tagged as delivered by the CSM.

On a more positive note, things may be looking up for the inclusion of CSM issues. Meissa Anunthiel notes that until now, "there was no CSM advocate within CCP to fight for the inclusion of CSM specific items into the release plan," adding that "it is possible to expect new issues to be resolved". Unable to reveal details due to the NDA council members sign, TeaDaze could at most also confirm that CCP developers "have requested input into a few issues which will hopefully get development time in the future." He also included that "there are some administrative changes on the horizon which will make tracking CSM raised issues easier," which is good news for proponents of issues raised through the council.

"Do you think there's a communication gap between CCP and the CSM between summits? What could be done to solve these issues?"

One thing the council members certainly seem to agree on is the need for better communication with CCP between summits. "There is a huge communications gap," said Mynxee, "because there are no effective mechanisms in place for conducting dialog or getting timely responses to questions or requests." The CSM have suggested using in-game channels, voice chat, IRC and other methods to chat with developers between summits. At the summit, however, Mynxee recalled how the "CSM was told that communications with CCP were to be conducted through our two internal contacts via email." She expressed her concern that this is "an inefficient, slow method of communication that severely impacts the council's ability to function in a collaborative fashion with CCP."

Meissa Anunthiel explained that during the first three councils, "there used to be online meetings between Summits where CCP and the CSM met to discuss things." He explained how on a few rare occasions, CCP had called extra sessions with the CSM to talk about important issues. Previous examples included "a 6-7 hour session with CCP Greyscale and CCP Abathur about Dominion during CSM 2," he explained. "There also were a few 'emergency meetings' surrounding the disbanding of BoB, renaming of Kenzoku alliance and the POS exploit." Outside of those brief windows, the CSM has almost no contact with CCP between summits. "It would be helpful if the developers had a direct channel to the CSM and vice-versa," says Meissa, adding that "if non-direct communication would also work, CCP could post in the section of the forum restricted to the CSM."

Dierdra Vaal expressed a desire that "CCP should approach the CSM more for feedback on ideas or certain sprint results." This would keep the council members in the development process of future expansions all the way through their development, giving them the ability to deliver feedback on designs as they emerge. On a more positive note, communication with the CSM is one area where CCP seems to be in agreement that something is lacking. "There has been some discussion about improved communication," TeaDaze told us, "and we are hopeful that going forward CCP will use the CSM to get more feedback on features under discussion." Dierdra also noted that the CSM has "actually started seeing a bit more activity from CCPs side," something he hopes will continue.

Keep an eye out for part two of this in-depth interview

As with each summit, this year's meeting of the Council of Stellar Management with CCP has had its high points and its disappointments. For those expecting promises of issues being looked at or guaranteed bug-fixing resources, it seems they're out of luck. At the same time, however, big strides are being made to improve communication between the council and CCP. Keep an eye on Massively's EVE Online coverage this week for the second part of our in-depth interview with the CSM. In it, we ask the council some hard-hitting questions on player reactions to the summit meeting minutes, CCP's current assignment of development resources, and whether the council can achieve anything over the next 18 months. If you're actively involved in these issues, or just watching the debate from afar, it's sure to be an illuminating look into the council delegates' positions on these important issues.

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