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Massively's EVE Online CSM Interview -- Community backlash


In an effort to get players more involved in the development process of EVE Online, CCP Games began the Council of Stellar Management programme back in 2008. Twice per year, developers meet up with this democratically elected group of players to discuss issues ranging from bug-fixes and balance tweaks to feedback on future expansions and how players recieved the previous expansion. The latest summit was not without its troubles, with chairwoman Mynxee and council member Ankhesentapemkah expressing their concern over CCP's attitude during the summit.

In the first of our two-part interview with EVE's Council of Stellar Management, we asked some general questions about how the summit went and what could be done to improve the CSM process. We gained valuable insight into what exactly CCP committed to do this term, what happens to ideas put forward by the CSM after approval and what's being done to improve communication between the council and CCP. In this vital second part of the interview, we moved on to more hard-hitting questions on player reactions to the summit meeting minutes, CCP's current assignment of development resources and whether the council can really achieve anything over the next 18 months.

Skip past the cut for an illuminating look at the council's opinion on these explosive issues.

"CCP declared that no resources can be dedicated to CSM issues for the next 18 months. Will this undermine the council's efforts over the next year and a half?"

Many players have taken this to mean that no CSM issues will be looked at for the next 18 months. Clarifying the issue, Trebor Daehdoow was quick to point out that this simply means the "CSM would have to compete like any other stakeholder for resources." Mynxee suggested that "considering the apparent fluid nature of CCP's development process, [...] I suspect items will be 'surprise slotted' into the a dev cycle here and there." This sentiment was mirrored by council member TeaDaze, who added that "there will likely be some resources available for fixes, which might allow some CSM issues to get fixed."

Further dispelling the myth that no CSM issues will be looked at for the next 18 months, Meissa Anunthiel raised the point that "most of the things we ask for are fixes, and all teams are assigned fixes in addition to the main thing they're working on." This follows CCP's policy of assigning all development teams bug-fixing tasks relating to their feature, a little-known fact that could have made a recent devblog on the issue go down a little more smoothly if publicised. Chairwoman Mynxee pointed out that many of the CSM's issues are changes that don't fall under the umbrella of bug-fixing. She is also of the opinion that the current process of the CSM passively adding issues to a backlog isn't adequate. She believes the council "should proactively continue to push player issues, question CCP about the status of backlogged CSM issues, and publicly document their activities."

Dierdra Vaal takes a less optimistic view on the council's ability to compete for resources, suggesting that "no matter what we bring up, there's little chance of it being implemented any time soon." He adds that the council can still "give CCP feedback on their ideas, and add player ideas to the backlog." Trebor voiced similar concerns over the council's ability to compete for resources. He stated his understanding that "the amount of resources available that we can compete for is extremely limited, due to fixed requirements for projects like Dust and Incarna," adding that "we will be at a huge disadvantage when competing for resources because we are not on-site in Iceland."

"How have the summit minutes been received by players? Do you think their positions are justified?"

It's no secret that the summit minutes have caused some dissent within the EVE community. Dierdra Vaal suggested that "players seem to be mainly disappointed that their main complaint (CCP's apparent imbalanced effort between new features and fixes/iterating) was not recognised by CCP," adding that he does think that position is justified. TeaDaze went on to clarify that players may have gotten the wrong idea about what the CSM's new stakeholder status meant. "There has been quite a bit of flak levelled at CCP for not committing to CSM fixes," he said, "but it was never a promise of the stakeholder status to be able to guarantee that." As a stakeholder, it appears that the CSM must compete for resources and development time with all other stakeholders.

Mynxee explained that "players are for the most part extremely disillusioned and unhappy with CCP right now in response to the Minutes." She believes player reactions are justified, and went on to voice her discontent with the process. "We were given a process, and we have followed it faithfully," she explained, concluding that "we are still being put off, ignored, or even marginalized by CCP." Meissa Anunthiel added that the "fact that there is no strong focus at CCP to fix the big deficiencies of the game means that we'll be limited to fixes that are limited in scope." In that regard, he believes player concerns are justified.

"Why have this session's minutes caused such a stir?"

Meissa Anunthiel thinks players may have been misinformed of "what Dust development entails in terms of resources 'stolen' from EVE." He went on to explain that "the perception that nobody at CCP cares about fixing things" isn't valid, adding that "there is a difference between what most of the CCP employees would like and the direction chosen for CCP by management." Initially taking a more positive stance, Sokratesz looks on the player response to the minutes as a sign of the council's growing popularity in the public eye. "CSM 4 did a good job of improving contact with the players, and the campaign for CSM-5 has attracted a lot of attention," he said. "This has caused more people than ever to interest themselves in the minutes, and therefore the replies are a lot more numerous than before."

Sokratesz expanded his answer, explaining that "people are content with the CSM in general, much more than before," and that "most of them believe we have done a good job in bringing the concerns of the community to the attention of CCP." On the other hand, he notes that "everybody is disappointed with CCP" and feels that "especially upper management is completely out of touch with present-day EVE." Most players, Sokratesz suggests, "feel that Dust and Incarna are taking up way too much valuable developer time; time that appears to be better spent on fixing the current issues with EVE." These are all sentiments to which he himself ascribes. "I believe that most of the above is justified," he explained, adding that "even if I were not on CSM and were a regular member of the community, I would feel the same."

"In his latest devblog, CCP Zulu detailed the number of developers working on each project at CCP. Players have suggested that the number working directly on in-space EVE is too low. What does the council think of this?"

The council members overwhelmingly agreed that the real issue was how those developers are assigned. Mynxee summed her position up by saying that it's "not the number of the developers but the focus of their work that CSM believes is at issue." Dierdra Vaal agreed, stating that "the amount of developers is less of an issue than the choice of features they're assigned to." TeaDaze suggested that "there is a level of miscommunication from CCP on what actually constitutes EVE," concluding that "CCP class Incarna as part of EVE so those developers are technically working on EVE too."

This is an issue we faced here at Massively too, when a quote from CCP Explorer stating there were only 54 developers working directly on EVE led us to use the figure in a very misleading article title. We incorrectly implied the 70 developers working on Incarna weren't working on EVE. For those of you that were annoyed by that article's title, I personally apologise for the title and for not taking your concerns regarding it more seriously.

There's a general consensus that the 70 developers working on Incarna are still working on EVE, but many players are still angry that those developers were not assigned to in-space issues and features. When it comes to Incarna, Dierdra Vaal thinks the development time may be misspent. "I personally quite like the idea of Incarna, and I do not fault CCP for spending time developing it," he said, adding that he "would have preferred CCP to spend this expansion focusing on low-hanging fruit (rockets, assault frigates, etc) rather than yet another new feature."

Trebor clarified that "two whole teams of EVE devs that could be working on EVE issues are instead working on Incarna," adding validity to concerns of Incarna eating into in-space feature development resources. "These are the people whose time the CSM would, under normal circumstances, be competing for in order to address issues in our backlog," he explained, adding his disappointment that "they have been preallocated to Incarna and are unavailable for at least 9 months."

"What would you say to players who are angry over CCP's assignment of developers?"

TeaDaze believes that the community backlash from CCP Zulu's devblog may have been because players lack a context to put those figures in. "There isn't any context on the size of the EVE development team for previous expansions," he said, adding that "Apocrypha has been the only other time CCP have discussed their developer count, but that was a fairly unique expansion by all accounts." Trebor went on to try and add some context to the 54 developers assigned to work on in-space EVE features, noting that "all 54 of them have been preallocated to Dust linkage, EVE-Gate, a new feature, and infrastructure work."

"At first glance," said Trebor, "it appears that apart from fixes that emerge as a by-product of their main responsibilities, there are few resources available to address player-raised issues." He went on to explain that "the infrastructure team is working their asses off trying to fix lag," and "most of the other issues in the CSM backlog are not ones that the CCP Lagbusters can be expected to address."

Trebor hastened to repeat the often-forgotten fact that 20% of all developer time is spent on bug-fixing. "CCP has stated that their developers work on an 80/20 rule of 80% work on features and 20% bug-fixing," he reminded me. However, he clarified that "the 20% allocated to fixing older bugs will apparently not be used to address items in the CSM backlog," stating that "CCP does not consider them bugs; they are 'design defects'."

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