Olmeca’s Post-Vegas Update: Why I’m Still Cautiously Optimistic

This article is my CSM-related situation report. It is good practice for a CSM member to talk to the community in times other than election periods. While some of us, like Dunk Dinkle, enjoy providing weekly updates; I wanted to write up a few long updates throughout my tenure.

On the “CSM Disillusionment”

It is said to be a common feeling for newly elected CSM members to become a bit disillusioned about EVE’s development. I felt like this a bit after the summit. However, the more I spend time in CSM, the more I actually began to give more credit to CCP. I don’t think CCP have been errorless. I have been highly critical of some of their game design decisions, and many of their financial decisions as well. But because of a very unique situation about CCP that I came to appreciate more, I’m not disillusioned with EVE as a CSM member. Let me explain.

Think about a game like WoW. Blizzard have their employees immerse themselves fully into the game. These people can participate in raids, arenas, quests, guilds, and anything else a player can do in the game. Then they can decide what the problems are and try to fix them, or try to create a better experience. The development of any AAA video game one can think of probably works in a similar way.

CCP employees cannot immerse themselves in anything impactful in EVE. They cannot be economic masterminds, build empires, FC hundreds of people, or steal trillions’ worth of Excavators. It should be quite clear why. As actions have lasting consequences in the sandbox, the community would go nuts if CCP participated impactfully in the game and this was found out. We had examples of this before.

CCP CAN ONLY HEAR ABOUT THESE PROBLEMS IN A SECOND-HAND MANNER

It is a common criticism that they should play their game more. The problem here is that no matter how much they play in the non-impact zone, the most important aspects of EVE will always be inaccessible to them. They have to rely on second-hand information and testimony to get the feel of the most important problems of EVE. Moreover, due to its sandbox nature, EVE is a game with overlapping, clashing, mutually amplifying, mutually neutralizing problems. Problems inside problems inside problems.

One can construe governing EVE as similar to governing a city. Imagine CCP as the mayor. This mayor is never allowed to visit the city and truly experience its worst problems. Meanwhile, many of the city’s dwellers have their own visions of the perfect city. And they have their own ideas on how to get this city there. The mayor can only listen to the city’s people to make decisions. Obviously it would not be a straightforward task for this mayor to govern the city.

There are two main takeaways here. Firstly, the deepest problems of the EVE “core gameplay” do not resemble well-defined engineering problems or math problems. They resemble nebulous political problems with multiple dimensions. Secondly, CCP can typically only hear about these problems in a second-hand manner, from other people. Surely they can cure and analyze data, but the interpretation of data also gets political. 

CCP is probably the only game company on this planet that faces such a situation. They have an extremely complex ecosystem in their hands, yet with a true inability to access it. Getting to know how EVE’s development works allows one to appreciate this fact much better. This is why, as a CSM member, my respect for CCP has actually grown. I understand that none of this inspires confidence about EVE’s future so far. I just wanted to share this feeling.


On the Usefulness of CSM

The above situation makes CSM a very valuable resource for CCP. Since EVE’s “core gameplay” problems are complicated, inaccessible, and political; it is helpful to have a selection of trusted expert players to lay them out.

The CSM is often criticized as a lobbying platform for nullsec empire builders. This narrative came forward again this year, particularly after the NPC Sotiyo cargo can volume changes. In my experience, it is mostly incorrect. I haven’t witnessed significant and blatant metagaming. I also imagine CCP would see through that in a heartbeat.

Make no mistake. I still fully think that the CSM is “null biased”. I keep nagging my fellow CSMers with this. And I thank them for putting up with me. However, the null bias doesn’t come in the form of metagaming or lobbying. It comes in a more complicated form.

Since most of the game’s problems are complicated and political, people’s opinions about their existence or severity differ. These opinions are typically shaped by the way people play the game. For example, imagine a question such as; “on a scale of 1 to 10, how much of a problem do you think large bomber fleets are?” I am confident that nullsec empire builders would score way higher. 

I DON’T THINK THERE IS A STRAIGHTFORWARD, OBVIOUS ANSWER

Now imagine a thousand similarly complex questions. Are capital ships still one of the most oppressive and problematic aspects of EVE balance? What is the overall value of ganking activities to the game? How strong should heavy bombs be? Do nullsec empires carry EVE’s interesting end-game content mostly by themselves? And so on.

These questions are such that—depending on your background and your primary activities in EVE—your answers to them might begin to fit a stereotype. Don’t get me wrong. Not every empire builder will provide the same answer to every question. There will always be a diversity of opinions. There will be places which an empire builder answers some questions in a way that is not stereotypical. There will be empire builders which fit to the stereotype to a higher or lesser degree. There will even be cases in which empire builders argue against empire building interests. And some will even use these as examples of how there is no null bias in CSM. But among the empire builders, there will also be a heavy overlap. There will be a lot of places in which five out of seven empire builders agree on the stereotypical response, for example. And this phenomenon yields the stereotype.

“Null bias” comes into the picture when that stereotype is overemphasized in the CSM. Given EVE’s player distributions, there should probably three null empire builders in it for a fair representation of the population. Given that we get 7-9 each tenure, that background gets overemphasized. 

Some might say a CSM member can represent all players fairly. That’s not true. People’s opinions do get mainly shaped by their background. And when a disproportionate portion of the CSM’s composition fits into the empire builder stereotype in their responses and feedback to CCP, it is impossible to talk about fair representation. Hence the null bias emerges.

I actually do not think there is a straightforward and obvious answer to the above questions. The answers depend on other meta questions about what kind of game one wants EVE to be. There can be varying valid answers to each question and all we can do is to vocalize our own background, perspective, and approach to the game. We can then hope that CCP makes the best of it. That’s about it.

Thus, in my personal opinion, it’s best when CSM representatives are experts in various in-game activities which yield the deep complexity of this game. The higher the amount activities and backgrounds represented by their experts is, the better it is for CCP. Market PvP, empire management, and FCing large fleets are all core activities to EVE. But so are other less represented activities. We need more solo PvPers, hiseccers, lowseccers, wormholers, whalers, soloers, etc on CSM. And we need them to be EVE experts. Not just socially skilled, loveable people. 

By the way, I believe CCP does have a filter for the null bias described above. In matters of conflict of interest, they do take anyone’s feedback with a grain of salt. I also believe the filter doesn’t always work. And exactly this point is why diversity on CSM matters.

The CSM is bound to be “null biased” as long as the members are chosen via elections. The reason for this is that the null empires have better social structures to push their people to care about voting. Social mobilization and coordination are prerequisites for being a competitive empire, and that will never change. So putting a FW or hisec population in an electoral race with null empires is not dissimilar to a monkey competing with a bear in a tree-climbing race. The null empires, by their very nature, will have an advantage.

That said, given CCPs current capabilities and dev time, elections still look like the best way to choose the CSM. I can imagine alternative systems to choose members, but none of them are cheap for CCP to implement. We all know how scarce dev time is. I also think a “null biased” CSM is better than no CSM for the betterment of EVE

So, null empires will always start the race ahead. Changing the election system is not viable at the moment. Yet the current version of CSM is better than no CSM. What else can be done about null bias? 

BE THE VOICE OF YOUR PERSPECTIVE

If you enjoy niche playstyles like me, there are still a few things you can do. It goes without saying that you should start by voting and making your buddies vote. Secondly, structure your opinions and use your voice. It was incredible for me to witness how many CCPers were actually reading the posts on Reddit that I spent hours writing up. Most of those posts were written before I was on CSM. This means that you don’t have to be on the CSM to be heard. 

In my personal opinion, despite being a very polarizing figure, the very way I was elected with a lot of votes and positivity helpd to shape dev perspective significantly in the past year. But I might not have time to do the same next year. So if you are as disturbed about null bias as me, and care about game balance, be the voice of your perspective. Sit down, articulate it, campaign for it. And even if you don’t get elected, it’s not in vain. That’d be the best way to beat the “null bias”. 

In my experience, people who aren’t nullsec line members or empire builders are less interested in the social side of EVE. They tend to spend less of their EVE time in socializing and talking, and more of it to actually playing the game. Naturally, these people also participate less in balance discussions. Some even give up on the CSM election process and the campaigns, as they think it is a lobbying mechanism or a popularity contest. Unfortunately, that actually results with more “null bias” in the CSM. 

So here is my hope that a greater amount of independent players begin to participate in game balance discussions soon.


On The Necessity For Consensus Among CSM

If I had to choose one notion for what I am a CSM member for, that would be “asymmetric warfare”. My primary motivation in the CSM is to represent everything asymmetric. Be it smaller groups against larger ones, niche playstyles against more common ones, subcaps against caps, solo vs. many, and so on. As I mentioned above, the crowded side has enough CSM representation already, and CCP could use the diversity. 

Before and during the CSM elections this past year, one thing that people kept underlining was how the CSM needed perfect consensus to function optimally. In my opinion, that’s not true. Pushing for consensus is another way to make the entire process is “null biased”. Consensus as a concept helps to force candidates into submitting the majority opinion in the CSM. 

Meanwhile, diversity can be better and more productive. But only when members diverge on opinions (e.g. bombers are currently out of balance), and not facts (e.g. whether there are counters to Stukas on a grid). And only if you can get the divergence of opinions across civilly; without straining personal relationships.

We began the year with myself trying to convince other CSM members, in the hopes of creating consensus and common ground. It turned out that people typically don’t change their opinions via debates over the internet. To this day I disagree on many issues with many CSM members, although there is also significant common ground. Once in the summit, we managed to establish mutual trust. Meeting people face to face helped a lot. In the summit, the divergence turned out to be, in my humble opinion, productive. And I’m trying to hold onto the same spirit. 


On Where The Game Is Going

I agree with many others that there was a lack of big and exciting content among Vegas announcements. Remember, this is the company that introduced entire game areas like FW or wormholes as expansions. So why there isn’t similar content today? There are two underlying reasons for that.

Firstly, CCP doesn’t want to commit to ‘false promises’ anymore. This is actually positive. They could have announced way more content and perhaps not delivered. But this time, as you may have seen on CCP Rise’s presentation, they focused on actually allocated dev time and how it’ll be used. He laid out a few months of upcoming changes and some more potential ones. The potential ones aren’t ‘false promises’ as they will be things which Team Talos does after delivering the first few months. They still might not be brought into the game depending on developmental specifics or prioritization. But contrary to many commentators, I don’t think something like heavy bombs is a ‘false promise’ like shield slaves have been. The main distinction between them is that the dev time required for potential Team Talos changes is already set aside by CCP.

Secondly, CCP has been working on non “core gameplay” issues. Both internal tech updates, and issues such as NPE, took a lot of dev time past year. It’s not like CCP doesn’t understand most of EVE’s “core gameplay” issues. But right now there are even bigger issues. Once these issues are addressed, I believe the game could take a better turn with more dev time focus on “core gameplay”. Naturally, this would require some patience from the veteran player. Currently, there are still enjoyable things in EVE for me. I just hope it’s the same for others. 

THERE ARE STILL PATHWAYS FOR EVE TO RECOVER FROM STAGNATION

I went into this year with a few major problem areas in this game in my mind. Capitals are too oppressive vs subcapitals. Being on the defense is too advantageous compared to being on the offense. Being a blob is too advantageous over being a smaller sized group. And being a bureaucratic static empire is too advantageous compared to being a less organized nomadic group. 

The “smaller sides” in most forms of asymmetric warfare has had huge hits with farms and fields, Rorquals and injectors. Lots of people in that side saw their playstyles invalidated due to complex ecosystemic issues. Many has already left the game. 

I do not see a significant paradigm shift with respect to any of these complex problems above given what was announced in Vegas. There are even further losses for asymmetric warfare; particularly boosher changes. I have to agree that the ability to move fleets infinitely with booshers was unsettling and out of balance. It was also problematic that Stukas shined in both ganking and fleet versus fleet warfare. A balanced fleet composition should probably master only one of these areas.

But out of hundreds of “core gameplay” problems with EVE, I do find it disturbing when CCP chooses the one that would nerf asymmetric warfare against supercap umbrellas even more. My impression is that this is how “null bias” in the feedback they are receiving prevails. Nevertheless, there is a silver lining in that long-range citadel-killing compositions (Ravens et al) were nerfed alongside Stukas. I think these compositions were uncontroversially broken. So while the best doctrine to operate under supercap umbrellas is severely nerfed, the change at least brought down some more problematic uses of booshers as well.

I am proud to say that there are also significant gains for asymmetric warfare. Cyno changes, boson changes, subcap warp speed increases, and so on. I am also particularly excited about heavy bombs. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this many positive steps in my CSM tenure. Something like the cyno changes was unimaginable in previous years. I must say I find this trajectory a bit underappreciated by people who want to kill ships in nullsec. I can say that CCP is paying more attention to enabling asymmetric warfare than ever. Hopefully, there will be more changes in accordance with the same spirit.

Once more of the dev time comes back to “core gameplay”, there will be more room for CCP to solve problems in a more ‘positive’ manner (by creating new tools and mechanics) than a ‘negative’ manner (by nerfing existing tools and mechanics). Nerfs are often easier to implement. However, nobody likes getting nerfed. For us the enthusiasts of asymmetric warfare, it is politically more plausible to ask for new things rather than asking the opponent to be nerfed. More available dev time will hopefully make such requests more reasonable.

All this is why I’m still “cautiously optimistic” TM. Not because there are super exciting things in the near future. But because there is still hope that the game will start growing again reasonably soon. There are still pathways for the game to recover from the stagnation it’s currently in. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be fast. But it’s possible. I will hold onto this possibility for now.

1 Response

  1. Beta Player says:

    I hate to break it to you, but plenty of studios don’t have game developers playing their game. I have never actually seen this happen mostly because A) the developer has to work full-time, B) they don’t have the time to play like most players, C) they are often burnt out on the game to even play it during off-time, D) Do not have the same passion due to working on the same title for so long, and E) spend most time playing other games to see what the industry is doing.

    The CSM is bias because it was designed that way. Almost every other MMORPG volunteer feedback program is recruited based on topics of interest from the game. That means recruiting for Low-sec, High-Sec, Null-sec, and maybe even professions like Industry, Market, PvP, and so on. It’s very easy to fix the bias and ensure it’s not heavily on one topic versus the other.

    CCP, like almost every other developer out there, faces the same problems as the rest of us. They need player feedback. There is no excuse for not having that. They are not intentionally hindered because they can’t play the impactful systems. EVEN if they could, they likely still wouldn’t on the level of those in the CSM or other players. Thus, they need to find ways of ingesting, digesting, and spitting out that critical feedback.

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