Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Terms and Limits

Well, here it be September and I hadn't said anything yet. Let's get to changin' that, shall we?

A thought occurred to me as I was preparing my post on the CSM minutes released several weeks ago. Ok, check that; a thought occurred to me while I was at work and thinking about what further editing I was going to do to my post on the minutes. I've actually had it written for a few weeks and have sort of let the whole thing simmer. Getting the BB37 Review and then my response to BB38 up in a timely fashion had something to do with that as well, but I digress...

No, I was considering the various viewpoints expressed by our delegates during the summit, and how each area of game-play had one or two corresponding representatives weighing in more often than others. The transcript format made this especially apparent as it highlighted which delegates became more vocal during sessions addressing specific aspects of game-play and which voices faded into the background. I found this extremely interesting and actually encouraging, as it demonstrated that certain entities representing certain power blocs weren't dominating the conversation as was previously feared. Well, ok, maybe a little, but not nearly as much as the doom-and-gloomers would have you believe.

As I was considering why this was so encouraging to me, I had to boil it down to the function each CSM was performing during the summit. In the end, these player-elected representatives are sent to Iceland and tasked with providing CCP the player perspective on all of the various elements of EVE. It was a task that most of the CSM performed admirably. In most cases, no one was "blatantly" pushing an agenda to the exclusion of other viewpoints, nor were they reluctant to raise an objection or voice an opinion when the situation called for it.

The thing that got me thinking was the experience driving each delegate's perspective. Well, that and the fact that somebody (not naming names) described 16-17 titans as "not that many." Despite the fact that the summit was largely agenda-less, that didn't prevent different delegates from honing in on some of their hot-button issues. And at times, these issues were beaten into the ground in discussions.

Again, in and of itself, that's not a big deal. It would be unreasonable to expect someone to accurately and fairly represent every single issue within the limited amount of time available during the summit sessions. There is a practicality issue there, to be sure. But two things worry me about the trajectory  these examples suggest the CSM to be following. The first is the idea that next year, the same people will be beating the same hot-button issues into the same ground. And that is something that nobody wants. Not me. Not CCP. Hopefully not you, either.

The second is the fact that while we have several different playstyles and arenas of expertise represented, there is one that is noticeably absent: the itinerant, inexperienced capsuleer.

I spent my first two years in EVE bouncing around from opportunity to opportunity. I was in a highsec newbie corp, then moved to a major nullsec alliance. After a brief break from the game, I returned to the sov nullsec arena before leaving for a solo journey. From this solo journey, I (re)joined forces with some of the friends I had made from my very first days in New Eden as a scattershot corp based in highsec but with excursions into lowsec and nullsec. That lasted until I discovered my current corporation and alliance, and returned to sovereign nullsec where I am still flying today.

I was a gypsy for a long time in EVE before I found my home. I suspect it is the case for a lot of players out there as well. The wanderlust life appeals to many of us, no doubt, but nowhere is that style of play represented on the CSM. Sure, there are several reasons for this that have nothing to do with the way the CSM is run, most notably the fact that players who operate in relative isolation have a hard time consolidating enough votes to make a serious run for the council. But not only are these players not represented, the people elected to represent the rest of us are drifting further and further away from the "new player experience." And I'm not talking about the introductory tutorials.

One might make the case that having someone like Kelduum Revan on the council, someone who interfaces and works with new players everyday, would go a fair measure towards easing this disconnect. But I don't believe that goes far enough. Because in the end, you'd still be talking about someone who is years down the road from anything resembling the type of player he was elected to represent.  

So, how do you prevent these scenarios from happening going forward? With regards to the first issue of a stagnant CSM, the obvious answer is term limits. And not just for players, but for the alliances they are a part of as well. It is the only way to ensure that the CSM does not become the personal sounding board for a particular player or alliance year after year after year. That's not to say players or alliances couldn't sit on the council for more than one term, but having that input and opportunity to interact with CCP for many years can only do more harm to the integrity of the CSM and EVE at large than good.

Now, there are two arguments against limiting CSM terms that you're likely to hear in any sort of debate on the matter. The first is that limiting terms prevents council members from accruing the experience necessary to have a meaningful impact on CCP during the delegation cycle. There are several reasons this is pure bullshit, but I'll only mention two here.

Firstly, there were a couple of stand-out delegates participating in this year's summit who had never been elected before, but who did an excellent job of giving feedback and input where necessary. Clearly experience was not necessary to deliver on what they were elected to do.

Secondly, one thing that jumped out at me from the first 30-ish pages of the minutes was that in several instances, some of the experienced CSM delegates were basically asking CCP to tell them what to do. In fact, there are a number of times when CCP Xhagen tells the delegates that what the CSM is asking CCP to decide for them is up to the CSM themselves! Experience, it would seem, is not a guarantor of wisdom.

The other argument that you're likely to hear regarding term limits is the idea that limiting terms somehow removes accountability from the delegates. And while logical on its face, this argument turns out to be yet another steamy mass of manure. Here's why:

First and foremost, CSM delegates do not act alone. They act in concert with one another to achieve aims and ends decided upon in advance of the summit. And they are accountable to one another. If a CSM acts in manner inconsistent with either the purpose of the Council or the code of conduct of a delegate, he can be removed by other Council members.

Additionally, even if a delegate went rogue and pursued a selfish agenda, 19 times out of 20 that selfish agenda is still going to benefit that delegate's constituents. And though it might not be the most productive way for a council member to proceed, it would still be performing the task the delegate was elected to accomplish. 

So now that the veterans are sorted, what about the newbies? How do we ensure they are fairly represented and their voices are heard? The answer, again, is a term limit. But a term limit of a different sort.

Determining what constitutes a 'newbie' in EVE is fairly subjective, but it would be fair to say that any player with under a year's worth of game time would qualify. And that one-year mark would be where I would draw the line for anyone intending to represent the "new" players of New Eden. Anything over that and your "new pod" veneer has already begun to wear too thin, your veteran stripes emerging to the fore.

I do believe that a 'day one' player would not make an effective Council member. The issue isn't that they're not well-versed enough in EVE's idiosyncrasies to weigh in constructively. It's that they're not versed at all. A player with less than three months in the game is simply not going to know enough about EVE to be able to contribute on a meaningful level. So you need a lower bound as well as an upper one. A player with no fewer than three months in game and no more than one year strikes the right balance between freshness and depth of perspective.

These are opinions, of course, and as such are open to debate. And I invite you to participate in that debate, both in the Comment section of this blog and in the broader community. Because as EVE matures and the CSM grows in responsibility and stature, these issues are going to become increasingly important. And that is why we as a community need to start having the debates of tomorrow today. Else, we risk a problem we'll be unable to solve on our own terms.