Monday, 16 February 2015

The Vision of CCP Leeloo

Picture of CCP Leeloo's avatar
CCP Leeloo, visionary and badass.
"I was afeard of her face, though she fair were,
And saide, 'mercy Madame, what is this to meane?'"
 - William's Vision of Piers Plowman
A paradigm shift is under way in EVE Online. CCP Seagull has been the vanguard of change, not only championing a bold strategic vision of how EVE should develop, but far more radically, transforming the development process, changing the way developers work and collaborate, with dramatic and far-reaching effects on every aspect of the game. Take the Council of Stellar Management, for example. Cap Stable interviewed CCP Leeloo and CCP Falcon on the CSM recently, and true to recent form, CCP Leeloo cheerfully dropped a number of bombshells.

"[The CSM white paper] is one of the things we're about to drastically change." of the things?

No Longer a Committee of Opinion-Havers
"Since CCP Leeloo took over the council... it's gone kind of beyond just game design and game balance, and now, you know, the CSM is talking to the cinematics team, they're talking to marketing, they're talking to sales, so... it's turned into... an all-round sanity check on everything we do that relates to EVE." - CCP Falcon
The usefulness of the CSM to CCP should be obvious; unlike any other form of player feedback, CSM members have signed a non-disclosure agreement, so devs can openly discuss their ideas without needing to worry about message control. For busy developers, this massively reduces the cognitive load and time demands of getting player feedback, compared with e.g. going to the forums. If, in addition, CSM members can be civil, constructive, and cogent, the signal-to-noise ratio should be much better. However, this has been a challenge under the new release cycle, for which the old communication tools (summits and CSM forum primarily) are ill-adapted. This is where Confluence comes in.
"Before the recent changes we've made to our communication... CSM would get information about the features that are coming in the game, either through direct communication ... or at their sprint reviews every two weeks. ... As you can imagine, when you have a release every six or four or five weeks, it's not enough to have one meeting every two weeks for that. We, internally, have this big roadmap where we have all these features and little descriptions and stuff for each release, and CSM didn't have that... now they do. Now they can basically see up to three releases [ahead], and they can see which features are going in... including the visual effect changes, up to big features. We have a weekly review with the CSM... they tell me if there are any features they haven't talked about yet with the team... and I can find [someone to] brief the CSM, and maybe get some feedback from them." - CCP Leeloo
CSM X is going to have access to large portions of the internal wiki, Confluence. This will allow them to see what devs see of each other's work - to-do lists, draft ideas, proposals, progress reports - as they are completed. There is no way anyone with a full-time job can keep up with this volume of information; henceforth, CSM members are going to have to specialise.
"If you've been elected by 40,000 Russian players to represent Russian client needs, that would be fair, if you interact more with [the] localisation team than some other CSM members who've, for example, been elected on their campaign of wormhole changes, they would interact more with actual game design teams. By actually changing the way that CSM communicates with us right now, we are electing people to be individuals inside of this big institution... so we don't actually have to force people to interact with each other if they don't want to, because that's understandable..." - CCP Leeloo, emphasis mine.
This points to a dramatic increase in the added value of each CSM member, and of each vote. No longer are we electing grandstanding space politicians in the hope that they can be assertive enough to win arguments, and that they'll have thick enough skin to withstand or ride out whatever space-drama may come their way; instead we can elect people for their expertise, their interests, and their alignment with our own concerns and priorities for the game. Now they will each be better able to focus, and give their individual, timely, specialist feedback far more directly and efficiently to developers.

Sion recently called for CSM members to be free to comment on each other's work. I have no objection to this in the run-up to an election, but we can't rely on colleagues' reviews as our only source of information; with so much at stake, the resulting drama could make recent flare-ups look quaint by comparison, and reward political machinations and busywork over quietly constructive individual input. We need to hear CCP's estimation of our representatives' usefulness; they, after all, are far better placed to judge whether a CSM member is helping them take better decisions.

Corebloodbrothers: a case in point

As a follow-up to her earlier, somewhat controversial tweet, Leeloo laid out what amounts to another new policy: CCP is no longer going to be coy about commenting on CSM members' participation, contributions, or usefulness.
"Even after the past year I can give you a huge amount of examples of people who worked their asses off, you know, spending hours and hours and hours of their real life doing stuff for us and for the community."
I instantly knew which two names she was going to mention. But the first name out of her mouth was the biggest surprise of the interview.

Corebloodbrothers, the Provibloc representative on CSM, has kept his promise to continue running his regular newbie-friendly EU timezone fleets, in which he is a paragon of calm, clarity and class, a truly likeable FC - and through which, he stays in very close contact with his constituency. His enthusiasm and commitment to the NRDS life are impressive, but he keeps a very low profile on EVE media, so he isn't much of an evangelist for the Gospel of Providence. I was pleased with a couple of small but important changes that were clearly to his credit, and confident that in the still-secret Sovereignty discussions he was in my corner as the CSM's only actual representative of small sov-holders (Sion and Endie's pious protestations notwithstanding). But until last month's winter summit, I had not heard any other CSM member make a single positive comment on his work. This has hitherto constituted a damning indictment of any CSM colleague, as they are sternly (and rightly) warned off actual public sniping during the term. I was growing concerned that his commitments to work, family and Provibloc were preventing him from pulling his weight in his other-other-other job. I was wondering who might knock him off my no.1 voting slot, or even whether he would appear on my ballot at all.

Then, up pops Sion Kumitomo in Core's CSM X campaign thread.
"He's dedicated, articulate, and passionate, and he represents his constituency well... Core deserves to be back for CSM X."
This was a pleasant surprise, and a feather in Core's cap. Goon as he is, I have a lot of respect for Sion's intellect and dedication, and see no reason why he would lie about this. But why had nobody had anything good to say about Core previously? Then, along comes Leeloo:
"I'm gonna even bring a few names up, I mean, Corebloodbrothers, he did an insane amount of work, and I don't even know where he takes the time because he has like a family, and a super-important job and stuff like that."
Holy mackerel - first on the list, followed by Corbexx and, er, Sugar Kyle?? I can think of no higher praise. I am certain that CCP Leeloo knew exactly how unexpected this was; I was left bemused as to what she'd observed that the rest of the CSM hadn't. But Sion made the situation a lot clearer:
"I thought he was mostly out of game. He wasn't at meetings, didn't talk in channel much, and rarely posted. ... At this last summit, ... I discovered that he was unable to attend remote meetings due to work, and instead of dropping feedback in public areas, he tended to contact CCP directly and privately." - Sion Kumitomo, emphasis mine.
I have absolutely no problem with this. So Core is better at working than at being seen to work - no news there, and far better this than vice-versa. Why should his feedback on devs' ideas be discussed in committee? If CSM IX was as fractious as it seems, I don't blame him for choosing not to waste his energy on back-and-forth with disputatious colleagues. Give the devs your clear & well-reasoned opinion, and let them weigh it accordingly alongside others. Remote discussion with some groups can be productive; with others it can be a pointlessly soul-sucking waste of energy, for a person who really does have other things to do with their time.
"With [the] current tools that I'm trying to put together for [the] CSM, this is possible... they are often seen as a team, that's supposed to work together, and we saw that doesn't happen all the time(!)... we should just let people do what they've been elected to do." - CCP Leeloo
On which note: did I mention my admiration for Sugar Kyle? It just went up to eleven. We can't realistically expect every CSM member to be Sugar - that much hard work gathered in a single room would probably cause some kind of explosion - but as a community, we are very fortunate to have one.

A footnote: Drama Cyno is Down
"There are drama queens on the CSM - that's true. There are people who are less active than others on the CSM; that is also true... and sometimes, that can be a problem for the whole institution. I mean, nobody likes people who like attention too much, for example."
Regarding Sion and Xander's differences, much as I value their respective qualities and the candour of their communication with the community, I was never going to actually vote for either of them, so I don't need to decide how I feel about all the drama on that front. As for Funkybacon, I know all I need to know at this stage; finally, it really doesn't matter what he did or didn't do during the term, because he's not running for CSM X. Pettifogging quibbles aside, his contributions clearly left much to be desired, and when he started whining in public about the pointlessness of the CSM, CCP Leeloo was well within her rights to point out that unlike many of his colleagues, he had done nothing to address the problems he complained of - compare her willingness to publish Sion's similar but more measured and constructive comments without demur. If she did this job with her "trollface" on, that's very much the CCP communication style - to call it "unprofessional" is, in my view, unfair.

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