We've just entered a two-week voting period in EVE Online, in which every subscriber is being given an opportunity to vote for their choice of representatives from the player-base. This democratic process allows players to decide which of the 31 candidates gets to represent them in the regular Reykjavik summits between developers CCP and the inaugural Council of Stellar Management (CSM). Nine councillors must be chosen.
Players will be deciding who they trust with their voice, and who they think will have the best influence on the issues raised at the talks. That is, of course, if they bother to vote. Just as in the real world, voter ignorance and apathy seems rife, and even the hardest of hardcore players seem indifferent to the entire affair. Has CCP done enough to promote the entire business?
We asked CSM organiser, Petur Oskarsson. "The answer to this is twofold. Those who have dipped their toes in the EVE water are very quick to understand the idea, and see its merits or flaws," he argues. "EVE is a very open game when it comes to content, and you can’t play the game without interacting with another player, it is simply impossible.
"Additionally, the development philosophy for EVE is special. When expansions are released the focus is more on making the game deeper, not broader... Instead of adding new solar systems, things are added that can be done within the existing systems, such as mining a moon, or building a space station. This sounds a lot like our current Earth problem, how we have to use the land we already have, instead of being able to spread out more.
"The potentials (and dangers) are obvious to everybody. Being able to speak directly to the developers regarding the issues and concerns the players have about the game is a very powerful tool, a tool that can be used for both good and bad," Oskarsson warns. "Those who are still EVE virgins have a very difficult time grasping this concept. Both the structure of EVE makes the concept alien, and the thought of people wanting to spend time doing a developer’s job."
So how do you make videogame elections make sense? Through a simple analogy, says Oskarsson. "Relating to the real world in those situations seems to work best - imagine if you were unable to suggest an improvement in your town or city; not that you don’t have any power, but the system that allows you to make a suggestion simply isn’t there. Most people can relate to that."
As it turns out, there are 31 candidates who can relate to that, and want to be the ones making the suggestions. Some of the CSM candidates are new players, and "people's voice" Vox Pop is an account created specifically for the election, but many have a very long track record in EVE Online. Candidate Serenity Steele, for example, was the entrepreneur responsible for the ISS project, in which public money was used to fund some of the first player-built outpost space stations. Whether the long-term failure of the ISS as a neutral money-making enterprise will affect Steele's candidacy is hard to predict.
One personality who is likely to remain popular is Hardin, of the consistently stable and popular Curatores Veritatis Alliance. Hardin has become well-known within the game for running his alliance, and for getting stuck into almost every aspect of the game world, from missions to large-scale player-versus-player combat.
It's that large-scale PVP that Hardin sees as one of the key issues for discussion at the summit: "Certainly lag is one issue that affects most players in some shape or form, and I want CCP to remain focused on tackling it, even if that is at the expense of some new content," he says. "When I first started playing EVE five years ago, a 15 vs 15 fleet fight could result in some serious lag, but today you can have relatively lag-free 100 vs 100 fights. However, as CCP has improved the game, we, the players, keep pushing the boundaries. It's not uncommon for 400 pilots to contest a system, at which point the game degenerates into a slideshow. So CCP has to ensure that its main priority is continuing to optimise and streamline the game to reduce lag - otherwise the game will become a victim of its own success."
But does he think that the CSM can really change the game for the better and fix the problems that already face the game world? "The cynic in me says 'no'. The idealist in me says 'I hope it does'," says Hardin. "Certainly, many view it as nothing more than a PR stunt. However, I think CCP may just underestimate the power embodied in a body elected democratically through a popular vote. They may end up listening, even if they never really planned to in the first place. Certainly, no other MMORPG that I know offers its players an opportunity to directly influence the game's future development."
Jade Constantine, another relatively famous name in the space-lanes, will also be standing. A vote for Jade is a vote for supporting the little guy. Constantine runs a 150-man alliance, and isn't interested in the grand 1000-man territorial alliance game: "I decided to run for CSM because I believe in EVE, I love the game, I have a strong sense of the heart and passion of the server and, having risen from obscurity to fame and glory myself, I want to ensure these same opportunities are protected and enhanced for newer players and those just starting out in EVE today.
"The CSM needs a voice for independent, non-huge-alliance players," Constantine continues. "It needs an advocate for small-unit PVP and conflict dynamism, and it deserves a candidate with the experience, maturity, good humour and enthusiasm to see this inaugural CSM session achieve its full potential for the benefit of every player." [Talk about on-message. This one will go far - Ed.]
"Dynamism" has become Constantine's buzzword, and it's a concept that CCP really should pay attention to. "The main thing is, I'd love to see the game break its addiction to POS warfare and move to a more dynamic form of sovereignty conflict and assessment that brings the focus back to players fighting players rather than players fighting structures," Constantine says. "I think we've moved far too far down the route to 'Sim City in space', and a lot of the current space-alliances have become overused to safety and security and the knowledge that their holdings are effectively invulnerable and persistent. I think we've got to return to the notion that if you put something in open space, it's open to attack, and empire builders must be able to defend their empires."
Meanwhile, Goonswarm candidate Goumindong could prove to be popular, not only because of the vast size of the Goon faction, but also thanks to his contribution to the debate about ship-speed, or "nano", in EVE Online. "It ruins the ability of non-nano ships to partake in PVP, it creates a hegemony of the old and rich, it removes otherwise viable fitting options of for all sub-battleship ship classes, and as a 'no lose' choice they encourage and promote everyone to follow the same model which is boring, stagnant, and offers no legitimate meta options except bringing more nano-ships," says Goumindong. "There needs to be both a reduction in speed and a proliferation of more counters."
He's not wrong. This is one of the most significant issues in the game today, and it's the one that I personally would like the CSM to go chasing after. A PVP game is nothing without broad balance, and EVE currently lacks precisely that. (We'll be writing a more detailed article about PVP in EVE in the coming weeks.)
In a few months' time, we'll be able to see whether CCP's project to give more power to the players will work out for the best, as the CSM is elected and then convenes in Iceland at CCP HQ. Can the players make their issues heard? Will it really change the course of development? For the moment, players seem sceptical, both of the council idea, and of the notion that players can actually influence the direction CCP will take the game.
Band Of Brothers pilot Chowdown says, "Well, I am not really a hater, but what I have seen so far, in my opinion, is a council put together that will not bring about change." Meanwhile, StateCorp pilot D'Jannek says, "I can't see the devs taking too much notice of their complaints on actual game balance issues, and I foresee it just being a popularity contest - pretty much just Goons versus various forum celebrities."
There might some truth in this, but I believe that CCP are only formalising what was already there in the symbiotic-antagonistic relationship between what the players want, or think they want, and what the developers want, or think they want. Perhaps, if that dynamic can be made explicit, and dialogue can really be integrated into the design process, EVE Online will evolve into something bigger and better than it is today.
Let's cast our votes.
EVE Player Council voting closes on 19th May. Check the MMO channel next week for an update on the results. Screenshots by roBurky.