Robert Woodhead

The internet spaceship politician who reformed EVE Online’s election system

The internet spaceship politician who reformed EVE Online’s election system

EVE Online's political system wasn't entirely healthy a few years ago. The election system was plagued by one problem that was consistently causing some of the best candidates to be overlooked for election to the Council of Stellar Management, EVE Online's player-run parliament which represents the players of EVE to the game's developer, CCP Games.

Just like the United States' election system, EVE used a one-person, one-vote style of election. The result was something that Robert “Trebor Daehdoow” Woodhead, a long-serving member of the CSM, called a “suicide effect,” and he set out to use his political influence to help fix it and improve the CSM forever.

The suicide effect

If multiple people decided they wanted to run for the CSM to represent the players of a particular location in EVE (e.g. null-sec or wormhole space) they could ultimately end up splitting the vote and ensuring that neither candidate had the critical mass of votes needed to get elected.

Woodhead likened it to the debacle faced by Americans who want to vote for Libertarian candidates. They want to vote for their favorite candidate, but doing so is tantamount to throwing a vote in the trash because it's commonly understood that Libertarian candidates have no chance of winning. So they're essentially forced to vote for the lesser of the evils they expect might win, a process Woodhead referred to as “tactical” voting.

With that system, you can argue that the strongest candidates aren't winning, and that was the case in EVE. It wasn't always the strongest or most popular candidates who were elected to the CSM. It was often the candidates who simply had no competing politicians to split their constituency's vote.

“We went from the first-past-the-post, American-style of election, to a single-transferable vote, like an Australian-style multi-seat election,” said Woodhead. “It's a way where instead of voting for one person you vote for up to 14 people in order of preference. If your first preference can't get elected then your votes move on to your second preference and so on.”

The change had immediate benefits as players within EVE actually began cooperating with one another for publicity, rather than competing as they would in a US-style election. Players would announce that they hoped voters would select them first, but also their political allies at lower priority.

“It had exactly the results I had hoped,” Woodhead said. “It elected a bunch of diverse and really hard-working, knowledgeable people. The strongest people got elected. We got the best blogger in the game, Ripard Teg. He couldn't even get elected a couple years ago. This year, because people didn't have to tactical vote, he came in second.”

All-star bureaucrat

Woodhead was one of the rare generalist candidates to be elected under the old system, and he still seems to barely believe it even happened for him.

“I was a member of a medium-sized alliance,” said Woodhead. “And I actually ran because I was considering quitting the game, because I was frustrated over certain things. I decided to run basically so I could have a platform to air some of my concerns. Much to my surprise I actually got elected. I actually thought I was being punked when I got the email saying I got elected.”

“There's definitely sort of backroom politicking going on,” he said. “For example, my alliance leader was talking to other Alliance leaders saying 'please have your guys vote for Trebor [Woodhead].' Whether or not there were any backroom favors going on, I don't know.”

Woodhead said that he found out mostly by coincidence that he was a very effective member of the CSM. He was organized, a good writer, he had a mind for political logistics, and he developed some crowdsourcing initiatives that take the pulse of the community so they can prove beyond doubt what the CSM's constituents are looking for. In other words he was an all-star bureaucrat.

While previous CSM leaders were widely known for their popularity and controversy, Woodhead seems more of a quiet, behind-the-scenes type. In this case, that seems the more effective approach.

Stellar Management

All of the areas of EVE which he said he set out to improve through the CSM are areas in which EVE has made great strides over the past few years.

His chief worries upon getting elected to the CSM were everyday, run of the mill issues like EVE's infamous user interface, which has become less infamous in recent years. As well as the crippling lag that could affect entire areas of the server when large-scale battles occurred. The latter has been particularly skillfully handled by EVE's brilliant team.

But his final mission may well be his lasting legacy: he wanted to make the Council of Stellar Management a political body that was actually useful.

“Now I'm on my fourth and hopefully final term,” he said. “I've done almost everything. There are four officer positions and I've held all four. I've done pretty much everything that I set out to do. I wanted to make the CSM useful as an institution, responsive to the community, and listened to.”

After four terms in office, Woodhead may finally be ready to walk away from the responsibilities. Having achieved the goal of reforming the CSM with the latest congress, CSM 8, he says he's ready to give up the power of office.

“If at the end of this term things are going as well as I hope they are… it's time for me to ride off into the sunset and let other people do the hard work,” he said. “We've got a really hard working bunch this year.”

It's the alliance leaders and warlords of EVE who control true power within the game's universe, but in the real world it may be EVE's politicians who can affect the most change.