Dissecting the CSM Summit Minutes

CCP Games released the minutes of the recent Council of Stellar Management (CSM) summit meeting, held in Reykjavik on September 12-15. This summit was unusual in that all 14 CSM representatives were invited to attend, and all did so. I suspect this was because CCP wanted to get a broad set of reactions to imminent and significant developments in EVE Online - not the least of which are the potential effects of clone states and the free-to-play Alpha option, to be available in November.

Reading the CSM minutes is like looking at government documents made publicly available through a Freedom of Information Act request. They are heavily redacted, and whole sections are deliberately obscured, for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, they are worth scouring in detail, as the minutes do reveal some useful bits of news - and more importantly, they provide insights about where CCP is thinking about taking the game.

The minutes are also useful for seeing what is not included, as this reveals some clues about what is unlikely to be a priority for development resources for a while.

The Interesting

One revelation that piqued my interest was the organization of the CCP development teams, and their respective areas of focus:

  • Five-0 - sandbox gameplay
  • Size Matters - monetization-related features
  • Psycho Sisters = User interface / user experience (UI/UX)
  • Genesis - new player experience (NPE)
  • Phenomenon - AI and PvE
  • Astro Sparkle - currently working with Genesis on NPE, but normally covering events
  • Tri-Lambda - art, audio and graphics in various sub-teams
  • Team Tech Co - infrastructure, API, and the back-end of the game
  • RnB - the Launcher and core engineering of the client

This division of labor says a lot about CCP's focus through the end of the year, especially the emphasis it implies for NPE and PvE.

The new New Player Experience

With the imminent release of a free-to-play option, which CCP hopes will attract a wave of new and returning players, the NPE is getting a lot of attention. CCP wants to retain a higher number of players in the game, and a revitalized NPE is essential to that effort. There were two summit sessions focused on NPE, but those minutes are redacted, with a pending dev blog promised.

CCP Seagull later released a video update that describes a story-driven new player experience that sounds very engaging, especially when compared to the current NPE:

After this epic-sounding introduction to EVE Online, new players will be directed to faction warfare (FW) as a logical next step, according to the CSM summit minutes. I think this is a good idea, in general, as it will push new players towards forming social connections in player corporations and PvP engagement, instead of missions and solo play. It also is a logical next step within the lore of the game. Anything that encourages more of an emotional investment should result in higher retention rates.

Dynamic PvE, at last!

In addition to providing an interesting and engaging introduction of the game to new players, CCP clearly wants to provide more interactive gameplay options as well. One huge step towards this goal is the addition of "procedurally generated PvE", starting with non-player characters (NPCs) conducting mining operations in space. Players may interact with these operations, either to attack or defend them, as they wish. The idea is to make NPC actions in New Eden feel like a more integrated and natural part of the player experience, instead of reserving them within separate game mechanics.

This is a very exciting development, and promises to have major implications for why and how people play EVE Online. If implemented fully, dynamically generated and responsive PvE options would provide a potentially unlimited array of options within the game. I've written about dynamic PvE before, and will not recount my opinions here again, so I found this explicitly stated direction from CCP, referenced several times within the minutes, to be particularly interesting.

In addition, the minutes contain numerous mentions of changes to the standings system, to make it more relevant within the game. Specific changes are still undefined, however, and it's apparent that CCP is wrestling with design options. If the intention is to increase the consequences of player choices, I suspect that will be met with resistance from players who want unlimited freedom of action within the game mechanics. It will be interesting if prospective changes to the standings system becomes an openly discussed topic at EVE Vegas at the end of October.

The Unknown

Not surprisingly, there was an extensive discussion of clone states during the CSM summit, and the minutes describe CCP's general intent to allow Alpha clones to experience as many gameplay options as possible, including suicide ganking.

The minutes imply, but do not explicitly state, that players will not be able to multibox Alpha and Omega clones at the same time:

CCP asked the CSM what they thought... about the effects of allowing Alpha accounts to be run alongside Omega accounts. The CSM put forward that... without the restriction the meta would shift to requiring multiple accounts. There was an extended discussion on the various areas that CSM members could see Alpha State accounts being used to fill in roles that could be prone to abuse if they were able to be run alongside Omega State accounts.

While no final decisions have yet been made about restrictions on Alpha accounts, a policy of preventing simultaneous multi-boxing of Alphas with Omegas would be a good thing, in my opinion. But the truth is that we still do not know for certain what restrictions, if any, will be imposed on Alpha clones, until the feature is released in November.

The minutes have entire sessions redacted out, pending future public announcements. These sections include:

  • The details of the revamped New Player Experience - dev blog promised Soon™
  • Security monitoring, for obvious reasons - (thank you, good Steve Ronuken, for the tasty Honey Roasted Parsnips recipe)
  • Mining and industry - likely focused on the introduction of Engineering Complexes, slated for the November release
  • Team Size Matters on monetization features

I'm concerned about the lack of information thus far about Engineering Complexes, though we have been promised a dev blog within the next couple of weeks. The minutes state: "Engineering Complexes [will] be weaker than citadels, have longer vulnerability windows, and bonuses to manufacturing instead, but otherwise be quite similar." This does not bode well to their suitability for solo high-sec manufacturing, and my days of Tech II production may be nearing an end. But I'll reserve final judgement until I see the dev blog and the presentations at EVE Vegas.

More intriguing is the mystery around monetization options. With the expected inflow of new players paying nothing for game access, more opportunities for buying do-dads and add-ons (like ship SKINs and avatar clothing) is not unexpected. But the secrecy surrounding this issue concerns me - what is CCP thinking? As I've mentioned before, free-to-play rarely comes without some aspect of pay-to-win. Is CCP moving in this direction? Only they and the CSM know.

The Unspoken

With 14 people voicing their opinions, even four days of talks aren't enough to cover everything. The following issues may have been discussed at one point or another, but there were no explicit agenda items covering them, and they aren't mentioned anywhere in the minutes, as published.

  • War declaration mechanics - never mentioned in the minutes, at all
  • Support for non-corporation social groups, such as NPSI fleets - also not mentioned
  • Lowsec and faction warfare - the minutes state that the CSM was disappointed there was not a dedicated session for low-sec and FW, with CCP Logibro replying that CCP is "unable to commit to anything in the shorter term". Clearly, piracy and FW improvements are not immediate foci for CCP.
  • Exploration - other than something Alpha clones could do, no mention
  • Harvesting options - no new options discussed, unless it was included in the redacted session on Mining and Industry

Of these issues, the lack of discussion of wardecs is most disappointing. This continues to be a badly broken mechanic that no one wants to talk about. It's becoming the forgotten stepchild of EVE.

The 0.0 Factor

CSM 11 is composed of virtually all null-sec based players, except good Steve Ronuken. As a result, I have been concerned and cynical about this group's ability to represent the entire player base. After reading the CSM summit minutes, has my opinion changed?

In short: yes, it has.

Clearly, this group of CSM representatives retains a heavily null-sec driven perspective. The notes from the session on null-sec indicate a lively and highly informed exchange of ideas on this topic. That is the style of EVE Online gameplay that they know best, as a group.

But the minutes reveal that enough CSM members possess sufficient understanding of other types of play to contribute to the discussion of features that benefit those of us who do not dwell primarily in null-sec space. The discussion of wormhole mechanics, for example, indicate good perspective on the issues there. The discussions on PvE and NPE also encourage me - there is enough useful discussion on issues that are not exclusive to 0.0 to satisfy me, a player who spends most of his time in wormhole or high-sec space.

I still think that, other than Steve Ronuken, the current CSM has little interest or understanding of players who reside mostly in high-sec - the lack of discussion about wardecs is ample evidence of this. But there are enough good things coming out of the CSM discussions that will positively impact all types of space to satisfy me, for now.

On to Vegas!

The CSM summit minutes prove to be an interesting teaser of what we can expect to see at EVE Vegas at the end of October. I suspect we'll see some details about the November release, and perhaps a revised developmental roadmap for the coming year and beyond. If so, then I can't wait to attend - this is going to be a very interesting event indeed.

Fly safe! o7