Long story short, it's up to CCP. They decide how the CSM will be used. Over the course of the CSM's history, it has been used in both ways. During the term of CSM6, the infamous "Summer of Rage" occurred, and CCP relied on the CSM to help them reconnect with the reality of EVE. At other times, the CSM has had minimal impact, and its members complained of being sidelined.
Let's consider CSM7, which is often referred to as the "do-nothing CSM". The Mittani, who has no small amount of CSM experience of his own, recently made the following observations:
"...I can state the obvious: CSM7 has been either (charitably) a damp squib or (uncharitably) a goddamned joke - and not even a suicide joke. I'm not sure what a year of arguing with Trebor and Issler Dainze does to a man, but the short history of CSM7 seems to be summed up as 'Seleene and Trebor conspire to steal the chairmanship from Two Step in the first week of their term, succeed, and then nothing much gets done as the whole group has been poisoned with betrayal right out of the gates'."The Mittani wasn't alone in being disappointed by CSM7; the discontent was felt across the board. On the other end of the spectrum, people like Ripard Teg, who was elected to CSM8, frequently castigated CSM7 for its failure to communicate with the EVE playerbase, suggesting that their silence left the impression that they hadn't done much.
The decision of 12 out of 14 CSM7 members not to stand for reelection, the sharp decline in the number of EVE players running for CSM, and the unexpected nosedive in the CSM8 voter turnout all contributed to the impression that the members of CSM7 were discouraged and EVE's playerbase had lost faith in the CSM.
To spin things in the other direction, supporters of the CSM and some members of CCP developed the concept of the "peacetime CSM". According to the "peacetime CSM" theory, CSM7 had little to do and players had little interest in the CSM only because CCP was doing so well. CSM6 had to deal with the Summer of Rage, so there was more interest back then. The story goes that CCP's good behavior and good decisions during the term of CSM7 meant there was no controversy and no reason to pay much attention to the CSM. Needless to say, very few people bought the "peacetime CSM" explanation.
When the meeting minutes of the CCP/CSM Winter Summit were released, a clearer picture developed. Most famously, CCP announced that the promised POS revamp--which CSM members assumed would be their signature achievement--simply wasn't going to happen. CSM member Two step made his displeasure known by starting a threadnought on the topic.
I have been critical of Two step in the past, and for good reason. Indeed, in my very first post on the CSM, I singled out Two step for his terrible opinions on wardecs. Though I am critical of people when they say and do terrible things, I also give them credit for being right when they're right. When I was interviewed by Xander Phoena and asked to give my opinion on CSM7's failures and achievements, I named Two step's threadnought as CSM7's biggest achievement. (Whether my fairmindedness is rare or common among EVE commentators, I leave for the reader to judge.)
CCP's decision to scrap the POS revamp wasn't the only explosive material in the meeting minutes. It was revealed that the CSM, rather than having influential input into game design changes, had been frozen out (pages 19-22):
Two step: "What we were told at the summit was [the feature] was going to be player-to-player [service] contracts, and the next thing we hear, without any input from us, was that it was going to be bounty hunting. Our expectation was going to be that we were going to be consulted about decisions like that -- and we didn't even know there was a decision being made."Both CCP and the CSM have a lot of incentive to "talk up" the influence and importance of the CSM. Members of the CSM, in particular, will have a natural tendency to exaggerate what the CSM did, and even to honestly believe they had more impact than was really the case. In the aftermath of the Winter Summit, the CSM didn't paint a happy picture. They expressed their frustrations and, in their most candid moments, essentially wrote off the first half of their CSM term.
Trebor Daehdoow: "Just like some previous CSMs, in May we said "Use us!" How much more do we have to beg?"
Seleene: "We made it very clear [at the first summit] that we needed to be involved early, before things started getting settled. When we found out the feature was being focused on Bounty Hunting, [we were very frustrated]. While the feature turned out well, there was a lot of resentment in CSM."
Alekseyev Karrde: "It was definitely disorienting. I recall feeling blindsided by the design changes, and it set the entire process off on an adversarial note which didn't need to be struck."
Seleene: "To use a biblical metaphor, we would like to be part of the group that brings the stone tablets down from the mountain, not just be the ones that read them and say "Oh, that really happened up there?""
Two step: "Part of the problem for us is that we not only don't know about the decisions until after they're made, we don't even know they are being made."
But afterward, they said that things were better, that the problems between CCP and the CSM had been fixed. Some took pride in pointing to CCP's future plans, which included items that they had brought to CCP. Of course, when it comes to CSM contributions, we know that CCP's future plans are meaningless. The POS revamp debacle showed us that. The influence of a CSM can only be measured by looking at the concrete changes to EVE that were actually put into place. In judging CSM7, the question is whether their second half of their term was a "write-off" like the first half was.
Enter the Odyssey expansion.
For reasons unknown, one of the centerpieces of Odyssey will be an overhaul of the scanning mechanics. Excited yet? Neither were the people who tried out the new scanner on the test server. The feedback thread was filled with critical reviews. Then came this intensely revealing exchange:
Unforgiven Storm: "After I tested this and read this thread I only have one question in my mind: Did anyone in this team bother to talk with the CSM at all before you implement this? Two Step for sure knows and uses probes everyday and could have told you how bad this new system/changes were, even before you wasted time implementing them..."So CSM7 was frozen out again, one last stab-in-the-back before they left office. Not only did they not have input into the changes, they didn't even find out about the changes until after CCP had decided upon them, coded them, and put them on the test server.
Two step: "I'll answer that, and as you might have expected, the answer is no, CSM was not consulted about these changes. We found out in an article on themittani.com that we would be able to save probe formations. We found out at Fanfest about the probe results UI. We found out about the 7 probes/removal of DSPs from this thread."
Now it's CSM8's turn. From what we've seen, they will face an uphill climb. CCP's decision to put CSM-related matters in the hands of CCP Dolan, a newbie with a less-than-sparkling record (recall the numerous CSM election delays, buggy voting website, "false positives" during the pre-election, broken promise on the new voter turnout efforts, "formatting issues" excuse for delay caused by hacked ballots, etc.) doesn't bode particularly well.
CSM7 may have been a bust, but that doesn't mean CCP will treat CSM8 the same way. Will things improve? Time will tell.