During the preparations for the Iceland summit, I took on the task of building a CSM presentation on lag.
I decided to approach the subject as a game-player. I expected that CCP would expect that CSM would come in with a bunch of half-baked lag-fix ideas (you know, like the ones I put in my election manifesto...), which they would then proceed to shoot down using their information advantage.
So I decided to try another approach. After consulting with the other CSMs, I built our presentation around several key points:
* Lag is one example of a class of problems for which game-design solutions are appropriate.
* Player expert focus groups can help CCP develop solutions that are both implementable (by them) and acceptable (to us).
* The CSM is in a unique position to mediate the interaction between player experts and CCP.
To my great regret, events conspired to brutally time-crunch the presentation; I was hoping to get 15-20 minutes, but CCP's presentation and the associated discussion ran long. In the end, I had only 5 minutes, which meant a rushed presentation and little discussion; CCP's response was basically "meh..."
But the next day, in the Low Sec session, CCP basically asked CSM to do what I wanted them to do for Lag:
CCP suggested that CSM work more with players to draft a well-supported vision for Low Sec, then submit a "foundation story" to CCP as a proposal that reflects that vision.
While what CCP asked for does not go to the level of detail I would want, it's a step along the right path -- as long as CCP is really serious about using, or at least strongly considering, the results.
IMHO, without a real commitment from CCP in this regard, it will be hard to convince the player experts to put in the time and hard work of coming up with a proposal.
Furthermore, for this process to actually work, CCP must provide a method for rapid iteration of player proposals, otherwise the players are just groping in the dark. This is where CSM, with our unique perspective -- we are players, but we are also under NDA -- can perform a vital role.
An example of this came in the 29 Issues session. Take a look at the Show damaged drones in drone bay item. Players want this functionality for several reasons, but one of the most important is that when fighting with drones, you want to be able to recall damaged drones and send out fresh ones -- but once drones are back in the drone bay, their state is unknown to the players.
In the space of 5 minutes, CCP and CSM iterated the proposal into something that could be implemented 100% on the client, with no added server or communications overhead, yet would allow players to launch undamaged drones in almost all circumstances (and, by the way, do the opposite -- launch the damaged drones for repair). It wasn't a perfect or elegant solution, but it provided extra function at very low cost.
Hmm... maybe (nudge nudge) someone should raise it as a proposal in the Assembly Hall (wink wink).
Now consider iteration between CCP and a player expert focus group. There is a trust problem; the players might say "you could do X", and CCP might come back and say "We can't do X", but not be willing to explain why. At which point, the players have no choice to take CCP at their word, and their ability to iterate is compromised; they're in the dark -- and darkness breeds mistrust.
But if CSM, with their magical NDA power, is in the middle as a trusted intermediary, shuttling ideas back and forth, then everything changes. Now CCP can tell CSM that "We can't do X because of NDA issues A, B and C", and CSM can tell the players "X has some problems, but your ideas Y and Z don't suffer from those problems; please explore them further."
Is CCP willing to make a real commitment to this kind of process? At the present time, probably not, for the simple reason that even if the focus groups are purely advisory, interacting with them will be perceived as a loss of control on their part.
But in a social sandbox game like EVE, as in life itself, control is ever an illusion -- even for the devs. Let's hope CCP has the vision to take a leap of faith.