Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Shuttle Diplomacy

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.


  1. In reference to the low sec question, the thread already has a good suggestion about trade between different areas of high sec being forced through low sec.

    It may be that the low sec "fix" may be one very big change or many smaller changes like the example above that brings more people into low sec

    Regardless I think this could be an opportunity to allow the players a chance to say what they would like and hopefully some good ideas will shine through

    Who knows maybe you and your CSM buddies will have a list of possible proposals to put forward

  2. I'm sure it will get some attention from the lowsec experts, lead by our esteemed chairwoman, Mynxee. And I'll take a close look too. Thanks for the pointer.

  3. I like it - but is there a reason you can't post this to the assembly hall yourself? What is the process for getting something developed that's already been proposed to CCP? Why does it need to be on the Assembly Hall?

  4. I could, but there is always the risk of pushing one's own agenda as opposed to advocating for the player community, and as a noob CSM, I'd prefer to move cautiously. So given the choice, I'd want someone else to raise it and see if it gets support.

  5. Oh, and in answer to your other question, while CSM iterated the proposal, there was no commitment to put it on the backlog (our bad, time was limited). So it would be better to run it through the Assembly Hall again.

  6. Fair enough - but unfortunately I don't know that anyone that wasn't there would have enough information to post an intelligent Assembly Hall thread. I propose you post it and I'll go support it.


  7. Well, I was devious enough to get the entire final iteration included in the minutes, ready for copy&paste. I made a point of ensuring it would be there as an example of what could be accomplished in a short period of time.