The CSM blogs - Past, Present and Future

This blog is written by the Members of the Fifth Council of Stellar Management.

A Brief History of the CSM

In May 2008, the first Council of Stellar Management took office. The brainchild of CCP Xhagen, the CSM was intended to be a democratic experiment in accountability and communication between CCP and the players of EVE. Was it, as some players believed, just a cynical PR stunt by CCP to paper over the damage caused by the infamous T20 incident, or was it for real?

At first, neither the CSM nor CCP really knew how to deal with each other. The first CSM, working with interested players, created a long list of ideas and requests, only to see them disappear into the backlog. CSM/CCP communications between the twice-yearly summit meetings were sporadic, and the fate of items in the backlog remained unknown until, occasionally, one would appear in the patch notes.

This pattern continued with CSM2 and into CSM3; an increasingly disappointed and frustrated CSM gathered and filtered player proposals, passed them on to CCP, and waited to see what would happen; more and more they felt that the CSM's potential to help improve EVE was being overlooked. This frustration exploded during the CSM3 summit; Zastrow famously beseeched CCP to "USE US!" as a sounding-board.

And over time, the CSM began to be consulted more and more frequently.

CCP held discussions with CSM prior to the introduction of PLEX, and incorporated CSM feedback into their design. More famously, CSM strongly encouraged CCP to introduce the Skill Training Queue, which has proven to be a very popular and useful feature.

In addition, the nature of the Summit Meetings changed, becoming mostly extended in-depth discussions of particular aspects of the game and potential solutions. The CSM still submitted player proposals, but communication about these was handled primarily over e-mail. Only those proposals on which CSM and CCP disagreed were discussed face-to-face.

And yet, there was still the problem of the backlog.

To address this issue, CSM4 lobbied for and obtained official stakeholder status for CSM5.

In the Scrum software development methodology CCP employs, stakeholders "enable the project and are the people for whom the project produces agreed-upon benefit(s)" -- examples of other EVE Stakeholders include Operations, Software, Customer Support and Marketing. As part of CSM's expanded role as a stakeholder, CSM5 and CCP agreed that the CSM should have a champion present during expansion release planning meetings, starting with the most recent one in August, to represent CSM's concerns.

Stakeholder status has also had another effect. Starting with the release of the June Summit Minutes, there has been more CSM/CCP communications than in the entire previous history of the CSM (not to mention a recent deluge of devblogs).

And just before this blog went to press, CCP invited the CSM to return to Iceland in October (11th to the 13th) for 3 days of meetings devoted to working out ways in which the CSM can more closely work with CCP as a stakeholder, and to observe a Sprint Demo held during that week. This meeting is in addition to the already-scheduled December Summit.

The hard work of CSM1 through CSM4 has made all of this possible, and the members of CSM5 intend to keep pushing, helping to make New Eden a better place for all who reside therein.

Results of the August Planning Meetings

As a stakeholder, CSM for the first time participated in the release planning process for the upcoming Winter Expansion. In preparation for the meetings, we reviewed every outstanding CSM item, used crowdsourcing to poll the community about their relative importance, and then filtered and prioritized the results.

What we ended up with was 3 lists of items, roughly categorized by how much work we thought they would be to implement -- Small, Medium and Large. This was CSM's main input into the process, and served as a guide for our champion in the planning meetings.

The output of the planning meeting is a series of "stories", short descriptions of functions that CCP wishes to implement in the upcoming release. An example of a story might be:

"As a player, I will receive a notification each time a Unicorn dies."

A big feature in an expansion will have many stories in it, whereas a typical CSM request will boil down to a single story. Each story has a MUSCoW priority associated with it; "Must", "Should", "Could" or "Won't".

  • Must items are critical items that must be completed before the expansion can be released.
  • Should items are as important as Must items, but do not have the show-stopping criticality of a Must.
  • Could items are "nice to have" items that CCP really wants to do.
  • Won't items are those that CCP decided they could not commit to including in the expansion, but would like to do in the future.

In the Scrum development process, the work of creating the new expansion is divided up into segments called sprints. In each sprint, a team of devs takes on the task of implementing one or more stories.

Since failure to complete a Must blocks the release of the entire expansion, CCP will cancel or delay Could's and even Should's if needed, to focus resources on completing Must items. However, because of their critical nature, there are very few Must items in the release plan, and many Could and Should items will be completed in early sprints before problems with Must items causes CCP to make hard decisions about what stays and what goes. As the saying goes, "Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential." A story is a promise to try and do something, not a guarantee that it will be done.

Another thing to keep in mind when reading the list is the time-frames under which CCP operates. While we are used to thinking of Expansions as happening every 6 months, preparatory work for the Winter 2010 expansion began well before CSM5 arrived in Reykjavík for the June Summit. CCP is a big company now, and it can't turn on an ISK... but it can turn.

The Results

14 CSM-related items made the Winter Expansion list; 1 Must, 9 Should's, and 5 Could's. Items that are in italics are actively being worked on in current sprints, and items that are boldfaced have already been completed.

4 items are related to suggestions made by CSM at the June summit:

  • Could: As a User, I can create a calendar event and send it to the corp communicator officer to accept or deny. 
  • Should: As a User, I can see in the new forums how long I have been a player on the forums and how many posts/threads I have posted/started.
  • Must: As a User, I have access to archived forums.
  • Could: As a Player with a non-recurring subscription plan I have a non-suppressible dialog box alert about pending expiration me when I log in and have less than 24 hours of my subscription.

The remaining items all come from the CSM prioritized lists; 5 small items and 4 mediums (one of which generated two stories). All but one of these items have either been completed or are in active development:

Other CSM Items Completed

In addition to the above, 5 CSM items have been implemented over the summer and are awaiting deployment, either as part of a Tyrannis point release or as part of the Winter Expansion.

You may have already noticed the forum timer has been reduced from 5 to 2 minutes, and CCP Soundwave recently blogged about the end of Ghost Datacore Production.

In addition to these, you will be able to Align to BookmarksView the fittings in ships in your Hangar without boarding the ship, and Assign labels contacts in EVE-Gate.

EVE needs more SiSi's

The Singularity server is where upcoming changes to EVE are tested before being unleashed on New Eden. In particular, in recent months, CCP has performed a series of Mass Tests to help diagnose lag problems and test potential fixes.

However, CCP has had trouble attracting enough people to these Mass Test events to get truly meaningful results, and this issue has been a subject of continuous discussion between the CSM and CCP during CSM5.

The improved communication between the CSM and CCP (and more recently, between CCP and the players) has resulted in several CSM initiatives that have been helpful in the war on Lag, such as:

As a result, CCP reports that the data they are getting is much more helpful in diagnosing the many causes of lag.

However, helping to fight lag is not the only reason to log on to SiSi.

As the new features of the Winter expansion (and in particular, CSM-related items) are deployed for testing, your feedback is essential.

Bug reports and suggestions speed the development process, and this improves the odds that more new features will make the final cut.

If you want to get alerts about new features on SiSi and other CSM-related announcements, use the ADD MAILING LIST button in EVE MAIL to subscribe to the CSM-NEWS in-game mailing list.

The Road Ahead

With seven months remaining in CSM5's term, what do we hope to accomplish? Our plans fall into three categories: community advocacy, process improvement, and administrative.

CSM5's primary focus will continue to be working with the community to identify and champion desirable game changes and fixes, bringing important community issues to CCP's attention (along with suggested solutions), collaborating with CCP and the community to support events such as mass testing, and keeping the lines of communication open and transparent.

To achieve this, we also need to work hard to improve our internal processes, in particular with regards our relationship to CCP, in order to set precedents for future CSM-CCP interaction.

An example of this relates to the recent August planning meetings. This was the first planning cycle in which CSM was a stakeholder, and we have identified several problems with the way CSM input is handled, though some of them can be attributed to teething pains. In particular, the fact that CSM is only indirectly represented in the planning meetings means that we operate on an unequal footing as compared with other stakeholders. Furthermore, while CSM is being kept informed of the status of CSM-related items in the Expansion backlog, we do not have access to the full backlog, or to the intentions of other groups inside CCP prior to the planning meeting (other than what is disclosed to us at summit meetings); this means that opportunities for cooperation between CSM and groups inside CCP may be missed.

We intend to encourage CCP to address these issues, as well as continue to advocate for greater resource allocations for issues of importance to the EVE community. CCP's invitation to visit Iceland in October for an extra set of meetings to discuss better ways for the CSM and CCP to collaborate speaks for itself.

Additionally, even though communication between CSM5 and CCP is much improved when compared to previous CSMs, we will continue to encourage CCP to communicate better, both with us and with the players. CCP's willingness to permit the CSM backlog to be made public was a pleasant surprise for the CSM, and we hope for more pleasant surprises in the future.

We are also working to streamline the administrative processes of the CSM. While it's not very glamorous, activities like updating CSM wiki pages, documenting work processes to ensure consistency, preparing for the December Summit, and communicating with the players are an important part of the job of the CSM -- it's not just luxurious economy-class trips to glamorous Reykjavík, after all.

These activities will not only help CSM5 to achieve its goals, but will help lay the groundwork for CSM6 to hit the ground running -- just as the hard work of previous CSMs was crucial to our efforts.

We are dedicated to the task of continuing to improve the CSM's ability to be an effective voice for the players, and a positive influence on the game we all love.

Sincerely,

The Members of the Fifth Council of Stellar Management