Friday, March 21, 2008

EVE's Council of Stellar Management: Making E-Democracy Work

Recently, the EVE Online official forums have been awash with thread after thread about the CSM, and how this or that single detail needs serious review. Some of those concerns are valid, in my view, but many are based on faulty premises when translating the real world ideas of representation to the online community. CCP's undertaking means they are now charged with the unique challenge of predicting the outcome of something nobody has seen before. The following entry will be cross-posted onto the EVE Forums, but I put it here in order to have it all in one place (character limits on the forums and whatnot. Be warned, this is not a short entry, but the big bullet points will be bolded, so you can dodge parts of the incoming wall-o-text. My current concerns and suggestions are as follows:

1. Give Non-Forum, Non-EVE-Mail Means to Contact Representatives: This is a practical point for the preservation of the sanity of those elected. Be it a separate Councilman (or woman) character, or a dedicated out of game e-mail, something as an alternative to in-game conversation and EVE-Mail spam will be critical to allow the CSM members to actually continue to enjoy playing the game.

2. Support and Facilitation of Pre-Election Discussion Make the candidate's chosen character names public. There are many player media outlets out there that would love to have a chance at setting up some interviews/discussions/debates, but we need the info in order to set it up. Also, since I understand that CCP may want to stay out of the campaigning and interviews with their own volunteers, make some other means on the official website to publish articles, link podcasts, and schedule debates. A sub-forum would be ideal.

3. Campaign Rules, or Lack Thereof: It really matters little to me whether CCP does or does not regulate campaign tactics and financing, but what rules are present need to be firmly laid down and strictly followed. Any leeway in the first election will mean an ever-increasing number in the future. Two months is not long to campaign, as-is, and candidates should have their rules (or statement that there are no rules) ASAP.

4. Constituency: While there are advantages to the universal representation scheme currently offered, constituency is something worth discussing. Constituencies are sub-divisions of the whole that would choose their own representatives. Most elected legislative bodies work this way. I generally like the idea of making sure that voices from various areas and walks of EVE life are heard, but I think this idea runs into a few problems. The biggest issue I see is the division of the constituencies themselves. There is no single way to divide EVE players into neat groups. Do you divide industrialists, miners, and pvpers? Many players are some combination of the above, and even those who are reasonably dedicated will often branch out into other fields. These are not hard and fast distinctions, as they depend solely on self-identity. Territorial and Empire vs. Alliance space distinctions bring up similar concerns. In short, this might be something to consider in the future, but I think CCP is wise to keep clear of it for now.

5. Improved Referendum: While the system in the CSM for suggestions from the outside is not a true referendum, I think the term still works for what we have here. Basically, if five percent of the accounts in EVE vote that Issue X should be brought forth to the CSM and CCP, it simply happens. No approval of a CSM member is required. In an ideal situation, the CSM will be diverse enough that most worthy topics will make it through without recourse to referendum, but the best course is usually to expect the best and prepare for the worst. In this case, I am not sure a percentage is the right answer. It may work in the real world for this sort of thing, but EVE's populace is so small and ever-changing that five percent could vary by hundreds of votes from month to month. For the sake of the sanity of those monitoring the referendums at CCP, as well as simplicity's sake, I recommend a flat number that is reasonably achievable, say 7,500 as a ballpark.

6. Term Limits: Incumbency, combined with a lack of term limits, leads to stagnation of political innovation in the real world, as well as a significant boost to the grip that lobbyists have over representatives. With CCP being so keen on progress and new ideas, I believe a hard term limit of somewhere between two and four terms is ideal.

7. Realistic Expectations: The Virgin Worlds interview with Pétur Óskarsson demonstrated to me that CCP has a realistic outlook, namely that the CSM will be an immense undertaking to organize and implement, and may well not be considered a "success" by the community within the first year. This is a good thing. I tend to agree that it is unlikely we'll see anything earth-shattering (at least in a good way) from the CSM for a year or so. Patience is key here.

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