Virtual Realities: Memoirs of an internet spaceship politician
by Sugar Kyle CSM9, CSMX
Reality is ugly
The part where we got to work with CCP took a bit of time. CSM 8 was still working with the developers. We were eventually collected by our coordinator into another chatroom on Skype. I'd never used Skype until I ran for the CSM. Now I had quite the list of chatrooms. We had a CSM 9 chatroom where we talked to each other. This was separate from our CSM 9 chatroom with our coordinator. Then there was the CSM 8 to CSM 9 transition room.
Our access to CCP was blocked by the Non Disclosure Agreement. The members of CSM 9 that had been on CSM 8 started to bring us into discussion. We didn't get full details, but we discussed things. We had to sign the NDA and send them to CCP. We also had to send photographs of our passports and a few other little details.
With access to CCP waiting, I was still able to talk to players. I turned my weekly campaign post into a weekly CSM update. I didn't have a lot to say but I could tell people what was happening. Transparency was the name of the game for our term. People wanted to know what was going on and several members of the CSM, including myself, promised to tell them. The previous CSM had also had several people who blogged or wrote on the forums about things. Those of us who did some form of public contact promised to continue that out reach and improve upon it.
I had not expected him to hang around. It would have been nice if he had decided to do so. After all, he had been elected and he was part of our little group. I had not expected him to show up. he had barely been around during the elections and unresponsive. His continued apathy was apparent and I only felt bad for those who had elected him.
People wanted to know if he was around. Some believed that the CSM should present a sold face. Some did not. Our coordinator said we shouldn't negatively about each other. I disagreed. We were individuals. Someone not showing up was not secret information that should be kept from the player base. I said that I would answer people with truth. Stating someones activity always came with a caveat. We did not necessarily see everything everyone did. I could only gauge their interaction in our various group chatrooms. In those areas he was silent. I was not going to cover for him.
The developers were busy finishing features for a release. Our interaction with them was more reactionary. CSM 8 had handed the bulk of what was coming. Fanfest had announced it. Now it had to be finished. We had general chat channels and then chat channels with individual development teams. That left us there and active but not really producing anything on our own agendas.
Sion and I discussed a few projects. He wanted to work on a large, group project about the lack of female players in Eve and how that could be addressed. I didn't have a problem with his project but I was uncomfortable with it. As a female player, I had never been able to understand why there was a lack of female players. I played Eve as I played any other game that I liked. I didn't have a list of things that as a woman I somehow managed to overcome to play. Whatever was chasing women away had not chased me away. I didn't want to be the face of a campaign about female gamers. We had two female players on the council. It was interesting that only a few months later, women in gaming in general would become a huge topic.
We also tried to get the Summit dates pinned down. Availability was hard for some of us. The more notice the better. In the background I spent my time talking to people. I'd often have four or five conversations going at a time. I refused to reject messages. I also answered my eve-mail. While CCP might be busy, they'd be finishing their release soon enough and I'd be ready to both attack and react.
Really the first month went to smoothly. Things never can stay that way.
Rumors are dangerous. It was the first days of June when a rumor rippled across Eve’s community that layoffs were coming. This would not be the first time such a thing had happened. Three years ago, CCP had laid off twenty percent of their staff. Since that point, the comings and goings of staff had become a thing of note. Now there was a whisper that another layoff was about to happen.
On a public forum, not run by CCP, the argument started to rage. The Head of Community relations assured them that no one was being fired. The reaction was disbelief. This followed a set of layoffs that were the last bit of CCP closing a development studio that it had purchased several years before and failed to make thrive.
Why did the players care? Game development studios lay off their employees all of the time. It is a common theme in the tech industry. People flow from one place to another on a regular basis. While heads of companies and major players coming and going are big enough news to effect the stock market, the lay off of developers, game masters, artists, and community staff in a ten year old company is not such news, is it?
In Eve the answer is yes. To the player base this was deeply troubling. Not only was their favorite game at risk but their favorite developers and employees were also. The unique relationship between CCP and it's customers had created players who genuinely cared for developers who became friends and more than anomalous names in the game credits. Also there was a fair culture of cool hiring players into its ranks. That meant people had often been friends with developers before they became developers.
That was all mixed in with an underlying nervousness. CCP had been close to disaster in the summer of 2011. Ever since then there was a concern for the companies health and stability. Without CCP there was no Eve. Relationships, fostered over a decade could shatter. There is often a defensive aspect when discussing video games and activities on the computer or internet. While there is a cultural shift happening, to expression a passionate worry about losing a game is not something many understand.
More might question our connection to our real lives as one of my co-workers did. To him I said, "Do not people schedule their time around when their favorite sports team plays? Do people question their sanity when they travel the country to see games? Place images of players on their walls? Wear their teams clothing? Meet for drinks and meals to watch their game? Paint themselves as their mascots? If I told you that I was going to Vegas to see a concert or a sports team you would not question me. So why is it odd that I am going to a video game convention to meet other fans?"
Between one day and the next the layoffs happened. The CSM did not have prior notice. We learned that few did. One day they believed it was all fine. The next, a lot of people were told that they were done. The community manager was forced to eat his words in an ugly way. Not only did he lose members of his staff, his words were sitting there from the previous day. Words that he could not bring back. Words that ignited the anger from people that felt they had been lied to.
As for the CSM, new to our office it was an ugly one. We could not do anything. We are players of the game as anyone else is. But, people felt we should be able to do something. The pressure of being an elected representative and the assumed power that came with it reared its head. People assumed that we knew what had happened. It was assumed we had been sitting on the news, gagged by the non disclosure agreement. They wanted details. They wanted names of who was let go. They assumed we had all of this.
We had little. We knew some of the developers who had left simply because they left our chatroom. The layoffs were kept personal. If was for each person to share or not if they had lost their job. We did request a meeting and we were granted, on Wednesday for Friday. "Things are a big crazy today," we were told. Of course it was. But, we had to ask questions. The player base was frantic. What we wanted to know during our meeting was how was CCP doing? How had these layoffs affected their health? This was information we wanted to share with the players who did not know what projects and gaols might now be in danger. It was uncomfortable to intrude but to not was to risk people making up their own reasons and facts. That would be as unhealthy if not more so.
People wanted us to fix it. How could we, players, fix it? How could we step into the companies decision? What power did people think we had?
And then one of our number wrote an article about the layoffs. I was not surprised. Sensational journalism seemed to be a theme with a few of our members. Yet, it seemed wrong. Friday morning he published his piece hours before our Friday afternoon meeting. It was one he could not attend. His work schedule conflicted with many of our meetings. It was a common problem due to time zones. But, our meetings were recorded and the recordings made available a few hours after the meeting. It seems as if he could have waited.
But waiting would have left him trapped by the NDA. The dear non-disclosure agreement. At the time I did not appreciate how it could tie the hands of someone that wished to be a report. By writing his article before he received any news as a member of the CSM he had sidestepped his potential obligation of silence. It was neatly done in its own way. The best of both worlds. Or it should have been. He dove in and ripped apart CCP as a company. He took the layoffs personally. Two years before, he had applied for a position at the company. The person who got that position was one of the people laid off. It seemed that seeing what would have come of him after uprooting his family and moving to Iceland fueled his rage. He was angry, disappointed, and condemning and he made no effort to listen up on that.
In a technical sense he was well within his rights. He, after all, was free to express his opinion as he saw fit. He broke no game rules. His article was of a similar vein to what he would have written before he was on the CSM. The only problem is that people change. The very people he blasted were people he would work with. Even if he did not call them out by name his sizzling tirade against their company after watching their friends lose their job left them hurting.
We also had our meeting where we found out what was going on. In that meeting we discovered that the community manager had not been aware of the layoffs.The entire office was deeply unhappy about the layoffs and people had taken the article personally. 'They don't want to deal with you all if that is going to be your attitude," we were told. It made us worry. In our private channel with the current CSM spoke to itself, members confronted him for his article. "Why didn't you wait for the meeting?" They asked. "People are upset and don't want to work with us."
"I'm not sorry and I'd do it again," was his response. It was vicious match as he faced down those that confronted him and told them he'd do it again. He then went onto his radio program and continued to whip the dead horse. It was ugly, emotions were charged and people were upset.
"We have to do something," said some members. "If CCP wants him kicked we need to do it," was said. The CSM should take care of its own problems. "We can't have CCP remove him so we should ask." But, he had broken no rules. He shouldn't be kicked. I believed he should temper himself and remember that he was working with the very people he spoke against. But, that wasn't a reason to kick him. Still, some felt it was. I didn't. After all, if we were free to speak our minds how could we kick him? Oh, he was an unpleasant person. After the arguments and tirades that he made during the election this didn't surprise me. It did disappoint me and I nipped any future plans of working with him. The other members of the CSM created a separate chat room to discuss the situation without him in it.
What to do? In the end we had a meeting with our liaison and discussed what was going on. To many decisions and options were coming up. If it had come to any type of vote or public commentary I would have argued against kicking. We cannot support freedom of opinion and then tell people that they cannot have a particular type of opinion. How much I liked or disliked him didn't matter. How much anyone liked or disliked him didn't matter. His voters had elected him. I wasn't willing to support removing him.
It never escalated that far. He alienated himself. The rest of the CSM kept a separate chatroom from him as well as one with him. It was the second time his writing had caused friction. It made me examine what I said again. My own writings may have been bland. Perhaps, people wanted fire. Instead, I chose to simply state myself and pull the emotion from what I wrote.
The entire situation created doubt. How far could we push before the developers and the company pulled away from us? They did not have to work with us. No one was forced to talk to the CSM. But people on both sides beloved in it. How fragile was our relationship with CCP? The article had been sensational. The writer was a sensational type of person. He was loud, aggressive, and proud of both. It could be unpleasant to be around him. But that comes from personality conflicts not any true wrong of the person. Members of the CSM were not elected to be pleasant to CCP. They were elected to represent. If there was a failing in the writing it was that his article did not represent much but his own anger. It became too personal and that came with a cost. It should not have. He should have been able to be a CSM and be the player that he was. Should was not good enough. The nice clean line between player response to developer or company action had blurred.
Our relationship with CCP was young and it looked as if it was also delicate. My happy go lucky skipping into the future full of sparkles and spaceships dream popped. Each CSM built upon the previous, for good and for bad. CCP knew some of us but for the most part we all stood in a room and slowly got to know each other and some of us didn't get along. It left a lot of questions about how to approach the hard topics that would come.
They would be approached. I did not want to be accused of protecting CCP. I was not there to be their friend. It was exciting, without a doubt, to spend time with the developers of the game that I loved so much. It was tempting to fall head first into that new relationship. But that wasn't why I was there. But how far could I go until I alienated myself?
Somehow, I would have to strike that balance. I'd have to maintain a relationship of good nature and ease with CCP while holding the needs of the players that had elected me. One of the things I least wanted was for someone to look at my time on the CSM with the scorn that I had looked on others.
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