The idea that people get the representatives they deserve is not a new one. But do we really deserve the Council of Stellar Management (CSM)?
Better cover some basics first. Just what is the CSM? Don't be ashamed if you don't know. Many players don't so you will be in good company. Let us start with how the CSM formally describes itself.
"The Council of Stellar Management (CSM) is a player-elected council who represent the views of the members of the EVE Online community to CCP. To quote part of the CSM white paper summary:
The purpose of the CSM is to represent society interests to CCP. This requires active engagement with the player community to master EVE issue awareness, understanding, and evaluation in the context of the greatest good for the greater player base."
This is all marvellous and worthy. The white paper (PDF) is fascinating and really worth the read. It is also flawed. It skips past refuseniks like myself who find the idea of joining the grand civilisation it speaks of as a constraint on our independence or just simply irrelevant. I don't know the size of the constituency my playstyle inhabits but my guess is it is not insignificant.
The other obvious thing is it is written in English. 25% of the people who view his blog do not come from an English speaking country. Maybe it is my bad maths but I would guess the proportion of people who play Eve where English is not their mother tongue or even understood would likely be much higher. So the original premise behind the CSM is innovative because it acknowledges the benefit of player representation, but then it excludes a proportion of the player base from the outset. But at this point you might conclude it is better than nothing.
Now let's look at the CSM itself. The institution is funded entirely by CCP and they also provide support and infrastructure. There is no independent bureaucracy - the CSM forums are moderated by CCP for example. So without CCP financial input, the CSM would not be viable. Candidates are elected through the STV system. The candidates are not entirely unreasonably vetted by CCP before they can stand but it means they have the ultimate veto over players voting choices.
A successfully elected representative will be obliged to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). The primary purpose is to allow CCP to share sensitive information with the elected representatives for their opinions. Information that they cannot then share with the players who elected them. So at this point the mandate the representative was elected on becomes secondary to the CCP narrative. If your policy is "Fix Warddecs!" and CCP say it is covered by the NDA because "reasons", then you are effectively silenced. The CSM is for all intents and purposes a CCP controlled institution following the CCP agenda. This is not to say CCP are evil. They want to make a great game that we enjoy and the CSM can and does provide feed back in the manner I posted about earlier.
To recap where we are. The CSM isn't designed to represent parts of the player base and it culturally excludes others. If you get past those hurdles you may still never hear the outcome of your representation because you representative may be shackled by CCP's NDA. But still maybe better than nothing because at least someone is looking at what CCP is up to in theory. Let us think about how it works in practice.
The CSM In Practice
At this point we are thinking about human level. Some organisations are stronger than the sum of their parts. Others are only as strong as their weakest link. This year's CSM has had some hard working and diligent people on the council. But it hasn't taken much for it to be sabotaged by weak individuals (or at least the perception of sabotage through an NDA breach). This is not a unique event. The temptation to use NDA information for personal or group advantage is overwhelming for some. In consequence, the working relationship with CCP is in tatters to the extent that they didn't even get a mention in the Eve Vegas keynote speech. A point that was made by the some CSM members at the roundtable.
CCP's use of the CSM is consequently limited to only where trusted relationships can be forged between individual CSM members and individual Devs. In fact they don't need to use the auspices of the CSM to even do that. I don't think it is a coincidence that CCP has set up subject matter focus groups independently of the CSM. It wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude they were set up precisely because of the problems they have with the CSM. Even if that is not the case, the focus groups' existence undermines the role of the CSM regardless.
Are CCP right to turn their back on the CSM? It is actually hard to judge. CSM members have no accountability and there is no notion of collective responsibility beyond abiding by the NDA once elected. They do not have to participate nor report back to the players who elected them. They are not even bound to tell the truth. They can choose to hide behind NDA as even when it is not appropriate. A CSM member may say one thing in public, and then something completely different to CCP. We can't know. Without accountability there is no basis for trusting your representative to do the job you elected them to do.
Lets recap again if you are still following. The CSM is not representative and it is not bound to represent those who elect it. It isn't trusted by CCP who are circumventing it by selecting their hand picked friends to "represent the views of the members of the EVE Online community to CCP" The institution is not fit for purpose.
What to do
The sad thing is the CSM is in principle a great idea. To say goodbye to it is to cull something that made Eve and CCP unique. Can we avoid that? What lets the concept down is the CSM is CCP driven rather than Player driven. If it is to continue there needs to be clear blue water between CCP and the CSM that isn't muddied by NDA restrictions that inevitably cause all the dramas. The CSM needs to represent the diversity of New Eden as well as the power and egos. It needs to be accountable, responsible, professional and credible if CCP and the players are to engage with it. It is a big ask. If you read Reddit then maybe you think it is fantasy. But if we truly believe Eve is the amazing community we say it is then it must possible you would think.
As for the CSMXI campaign, I will follow it with interest if only for the drama but as things stand I will not be voting this time. This is not because there won't be some good candidates. There probably will be some excellent ones. Take a look and see for yourself. No, I won't vote because I genuinely have no idea of what I would be voting for.