Eve Online's New Eden is currently wrapping up its annual Council of Stellar Management (CSM) election cycle. The CSM is a real-world democratically elected congress. Born out of conflict in EVE's world, the CSM is made up of popular streamers, creators of EVE-specific tools, and members of the game's biggest groups. Through standard campaigning — as well as backroom deals and questionable bedfellows — EVE players vie for the coveted opportunity to help developer CCP Games plan the future of EVE Online.
The CSM is a very important check for maintaining the game's integrity and balance. They are privy to information that the majority of the player base is not and are able to make recommendations of future gameplay changes directly to the development team. Because of this knowledge, CSM members are expected to sign legally binding non-disclosure agreements so they are able to engage in open conversation, with no fear of information leaking to the playerbase at large. Additionally, council members are required to provide proof of who they are and their ability to travel internationally. Twice during the CSM's term of office, they are invited to Iceland to meet face to face with CCP Games and engage in a week-long summit.
Over the past few months, hundreds of players have applied to run for the CSM, with CCP then winnowing the number down to 64 people to appear on the ballot. Would-be CSM members spend months prior to the election campaigning in as many ways as possible, not unlike real life elections. They speak on EVE-related podcasts, interview with reporters for many of the EVE-centred news sites, and produce commercials that air on YouTube channels or on newscasts produced by CCP. Some even submit ads that run on in-game broadcasts in space stations located throughout EVE's galaxy.
Out of all the players who campaign, 10 are ultimately chosen. To choose their representatives, the player base votes in a Single Transferable Vote election. Each player account is allowed one vote, but players can select multiple candidates, ranked from most to least preferred. As the voter's most preferred candidates are elected, an algorithm automatically shifts their vote to the next preferred candidate. This process was chosen by CCP Games to ensure a fair representation of the player base without forcing allies to campaign against each other.
This question of fair representation is a tricky one for EVE. There are many types of players in EVE Online, and CSM members need to represent them all. There are dedicated industrialists, who build starships, move cargo, and make money. There are miners, who lead fleets of resource-processing vessels into the void of space hoping to recover precious minerals to supply the industrial machine that drives New Eden. There are loathsome pirates who want nothing more than to watch the efforts of other players burn. Each of these types of player needs a different thing from the people they elect: Safer production environments, more ways to draw money from their shipyards, mining vessels safe from pirates, or more balanced ships to wage war with.
Some of this year's candidates
EVE also has four basic types of space: High Security, Low Security, Null Security, and Wormhole space, which is like Null Security only even more dangerous. Each of these areas tends to polarise players into seeing the game in a certain way. This can lead to thinking that what is best for one area is best for the game as a whole.
In addition to the different concerns facing different areas of EVE's universe, the game's numerous in-game groups want representation too. These large groups feel that their continued existence in the game is directly affected by having members of their leadership on the CSM council. The Imperium, the group that staged the Burn Jita event a few weeks ago (and the group that I personally fly with in the game), goes as far as providing their members with a suggested ballot. These suggestions include players whom the organisation would like to see installed on the council to advocate for the group and help ensure its continued prosperity.
The CSM election process has been fraught with drama since its founding. In 2008, ancient history in EVE terms, there was a scandal involving CCP employees being involved in player corporations. Certain rare, valuable starship blueprints were given to players belonging to the corporations the devs belonged to. Through some unsavoury means, these dealings became public knowledge. The company handled these matters in a very professional manner, keeping most of the details of the resolution quiet, but the scandal very visibly changed the policy of what a staff member was allowed to do while acting as a player. This scandal happened during the year that the first CSM was formed, and it was likely one of the primary motivations of its creation.
Allowing players insight into the inner workings of the relationship between developers and players did a lot to repair the trust that was lost due to the scandal. Since that time, CSM members have been elected, held to non-disclosure agreements, and monitored for any breach. There have been times when a member found to be breaking this privilege have been removed from the CSM team and replaced with an alternate chosen from the original election pool. Doing this allows the player base to trust that the entities who have members on the council are not getting an unfair advantage, and it goes a long way to ensuring the sanctity of the position.
But tension continues to thrive during election season. This year, the Imperium's ballot caused a bit of a stir inside of the organisation. Near the top of the ballot is a player who is officially an enemy of the coalition. Just over a year ago this person was involved in a rather brutal turning point of a massive war against The Imperium. When instructed to vote for him, many Imperium pilots demanded an explanation, as they considered the player in question to be a bitter enemy. However, due to the similarities between the organisation he belongs to and the Imperium, the move makes a lot of sense in the long run.
This is where the real world politics are most reflected in EVE's elections. Null Security alliances will often trade votes, placing enemy candidates on each other's ballots to ensure that the game is protected, no matter what. These alliances see the elections as a chance for players to move past in-game vendettas and attempt to shape the game in a way that works best for everyone involved.
EVE is a game of risk and reward. When a ship is destroyed, there is no recovering it; the resources put into that ship are destroyed. When a war is waged, corporations wager hundreds of millions of isk (EVE's in-game currency) every day in fleet engagements against one another. This leads to hundreds of billions of in-game credits being lost over the course of a long war. Losing these conflicts can have a lasting effect on the psyche of individual players, and getting people to see past this for an election is a daunting task.
CSM voting ends on March 26, and the winners will be announced in front of the crowds at Fanfest, the annual gathering held in Reykjavik, Iceland, the home of CCP Games. Whoever is chosen, every single player who considers EVE to be their home away from home needs to believe that their representatives have the best interest of the game at heart, because they hold the future of the game in their hands.