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EVE Online: "The War on the Impossible", Part 2: Democracy

Dana Massey | 7 Nov 2007 00:19
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Editor's Note: This is part two in a week long look at EVE Online called "War on the Impossible". For more, check out Part One: Fanfest, Part Three: Ambulation and Part Four: Trinity.

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CCP Games used EVE Fanfest to unveil their plans for a "Council of Stellar Management", a democratically elected group of players who work with CCP to shape the game. In a morning session, the designers introduced the concept to the fans, then in an afternoon session, they admirably brought in two industry luminaries - Jessica Mulligan (formerly of Turbine) and Dr. Richard Bartle (an expert on virtual communities) - to debate the topic.

The Council of Stellar Management will be a nine member group of players, elected after a month long virtual campaign. They will sit for six month terms and do so as their real selves, not necessarily as their characters.

While election to the council is democratic, the council itself is not a democratic organization. It is what CEO Hilmar Petursson called a "deliberative democracy", which is to say that it takes more than a simple vote to effect change. Even a completely unanimous vote of the council again does nothing to guarantee change. Instead, they must first achieve consensus among the council and then convince CCP this is in fact the right course of action. Only then will the recommendations of the council become reality.

CCP pledged not to interfere with the player council and will instead form an internal council, whose role it is to meet with the player council and hear their arguments once the players reach a decision.

Issues come before the player council in two ways. The first, and most obvious, is through the councilors themselves. If one sees an issue they wish to bring to CCP's attention, they sponsor that issue before the council for deliberation. The second means was inspired by Iceland's own democracy where CCP developers noted that once in power; the citizens have no influence over their politicians save for their next election. To counter this in EVE, players can band together and force an issue before the council. In order to do this, they have to essentially start a petition that achieves over a certain percentage (the number was not given) of support from the player base.

However, it seems doubtful that player petitions of this nature will be a particularly strong form of feedback since their very necessity is contingent on having no support on the council. It stands to reason then that they would be defeated, even if forced in front of the council.

The actual goals of the council were left intentionally vague, but CCP believes that some kind of change was necessary based on the scale of what has become more than just their community, but a virtual society. The sheer volume of information on the forums is nearly impossible to sort through and the fact remains that many players are not represented there.

One hope CCP has is that the Council will represent all players, not just the vocal minority visible on message boards or in elite corporations. They emphasized that one snapshot of their player base puts only 9% in those elite groups, which leads them to believe that the average player should have more of a voice in these elections.

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However, they also admit that it is likely to be an iterative process that improves over time, not a home-run on the first glance. Regardless of how many players are actually in the various corporations though, logic dictates these players will have larger bases of support in what is likely to be a very fragmented ballot given that any player with over 30 days on his account can run. It thus stands to reason the majority, if not all, of the councilors will be from those corporations. CCP hopes that over time, though, this balances out.

A focus group is another way CCP looks at the council, as they try to define expectations. It behooves them to listen to their suggestions, but that doesn't mean the Council of Stellar Management now designs the game.

CCP has not nailed down all the rules for the upcoming election, or when it will take place. They did reveal that all voting is anonymous and that each account - not person - gets one vote, a fact which received a few boos from the crowd.

Paradoxically though, while councilors serve as real people and tackle real issues about the "game" and not the "world", the election itself promises some gamesmanship. They noted that there are no in-game rules - save the basic EULA - that govern the ethics of the election. Players are free to bully and buy votes along the path to victory. Corruption, after all, is part of the game.

This is where the idea falls apart for me. On one hand, it would be unethical for the Councilors to be in the employ of a major corporation and push through an agenda to CCP that would be advantageous to one group, but on the other hand, it is totally OK for a corporation to go out and try and buy all nine seats on the council. Either the democracy is fully a function of the game, or it is above it, and as they described it at Fanfest, it is both. That is a recipe for disaster and confusion.

To CCP's credit, they seemed to fully recognize that their plan was imperfect and would evolve. They believe strongly that players need a democratic voice within the evolution of their world and as such, it makes sense they consider outside opinion when they design exactly how that voice will be heard. To that end, CCP invited Mulligan and Bartle who both delivered specific presentations on the larger idea of player involvement in the development of a virtual world and then proceeded to debate the idea with them.

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