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New to 1E: The Balance Team

by Charlie Plaine, Director of First Edition

25th May 2020

Today I'm announcing some big changes to how errata will be handled in the Department of First Edition. I'll be going into a lot of detail about how I came to this decision, as well as thorough explanations about how the new team will work. If you'd rather just find out what is happening and not why, I'll give you a brief summary before launching into details. Here goes:

The Errata Team will become the Balance Team. This new team's job is to manage the health of the play environment, using any and all available tools. The team will be headed up by the Balance Team Manager, a permanent staff position reporting to the Director of First Edition. The rest of the team will be made up of invested, active, frequent players from different playgroups and will rotate on a regular basis to ensure diversity of perspectives and renewal of excitement and energy. The goal is to have a team empowered to make changes as needed to ensure the game's stability and vitality, without being mired in processes and discussions that can stagnate progress.

I want to make it explicitly clear that these changes are not related to any of the work done by the previous Errata Team under the leadership of Matt Zinno (commdecker). I am extraordinarily grateful for their work, and without their dedication we wouldn't have a stable game. Had we not had Matt and his team, we couldn't have gotten to the point where we are today. These changes are simply taking the advantage of an opportunity to refine and refocus what this team does, giving them more tools in their toolbox to maintain the game. Again, I want it crystal clear this is not a reflection on Matt or the Errata Team members, past or present.

That's the high level version. Please continue on if you're interested in all the details about how things work now, why these changes are being made, and how they'll work.

Lwaxana Troi

With that summary out of the way, let me get into the details. Currently, all errata goes through the Errata Team. This came about after years of different departments and individuals being in control of the process, none of which were terribly effective. Control of errata has been held by the Rules Team, the Design Team, and the entire Department before the creation and management of the Errata Team. A dedicated team to manage Errata was by far the best way to handle changes to cards, but this did not come without problems of its own. While they did great work, the team wasn't given the freedom, processes, and tools they needed to really shine in their role. Again, this is no fault of the team or its leader, but rather the lack of tools and momentum to push the work forward. This plan aims to address those issues by redefining the mission of the team, and distributing the workload.

First, we'll be splitting up the control of errata slightly. There are three (3) types of errata that we have identified over our years:

Non-Functional: These are errata meant to fix mistakes, adjust for rules changes, or the clarify points of confusion. Examples might include correcting typos, removing words that are deprecated, or other similar changes. Lwaxana Troi is a good example of this type of errata. In any case, these errata do not change the function of the original card, only clarify it.

Redevelopment: Sometimes, through rules changes or design, old cards no longer have any functional purpose. In this case, the card might be issued errata to give it an updated function. A recent example of this kind of errata would be Operate Wormhole Relays; a likely future example would be Raise the Stakes.

Balance/Functional Errata: This is what most of of us think of when we think of errata, a change to the function of the card. Typically this will be because the card has had a degenerate effect on the health of the game, but might also be because a card no longer functions correctly. April's update to Dyson Sphere Door would be a fine example of this kind of errata.

In the current model, the Errata Team was responsible for managing all three (3) types of errata. Often they would have the support from the Rules or Design teams, and always from the Playtesters, but the buck stopped with the Errata Team. In our new model, the Balance Team will oversee the latter category only. The Rules Team will manage non-functional errata, and once a card has been identified for redevelopment, it will be managed by the Design Team.

You may be asking, "but why re-brand the team if you're just changing what they oversee?" The answer is precisely because we're changing their scope. The Balance Team will no longer just have the power to issue errata; they will have access to all of the tools in our toolbox to manage the health of the game. The Balance Team's mandate will be to maintain a healthy play environment by correcting severe distortions to the game. In particular, the Balance Team will look to address any deviation that reduces the diversity of competitive decks or pushes the overall power level beyond a healthy state. To do that, they will be able to issue errata, ban (or unban) cards, and add (or remove) cards from the watch list. The Balance Team will also be able to work with design to create specific counter cards to troublesome strategies, as well as with the Rules Team to issue corrective rules changes. Much like OTF was created to allow the use of all tools in the toolbox, the Balance Team is intended to be able to use the same.

The definition of a "healthy play environment" is going to be necessarily difficult to pin down, and will vary as the game state evolves. But in general, the Balance Team will use the same metrics the Department uses now to identify issues: average number of turns, diversity of deck choices, availability of strategic counters, win rate, and reliability. In general, as of now, we consider the game's current health to be FAIR - not in peril, but could stand improvement. We'll be developing better metrics and keeping you informed of them as we undertake this change.

As mentioned above, the Balance Team will have the full suite of tools available to make changes. Additionally, they will be given regular and reliable access to Playtesting to ensure their changes are tested and vetted before being released. By having a regular team with such abilities, they will be able to focus on one problem at a time to enable smoother testing and more reliable results.

Let's take a look at how the team will be composed, and how we'll use a rotating staff to keep the team fresh and energized.

Operate Wormhole Relays

Balance Team Membership
This new team will be led by a "full time" staff position, much like currently happens with the Creative, Playtesting, and Rules teams. The Balance Team Manager will report directly to the Director of First Edition. They are responsible for managing the work of the team and building consensus on problems and solutions. They will liaison with the Rules Manager or Director on solutions that fall outside their normal scope, and with the Playtest Manager to ensure solutions are vetted before implementation.

The team itself will be made up of three (3) or four (4) other members, all of whom should be active and regular players. Team members will rotate on a staggered basis, ensuring that every few months a new individual is brought in to keep fresh ideas and perspectives in the room. As much as possible, the membership should include the following:

A Design Consultant - An member of the 1E Design Team that is not the lead designer of an active project. He or she will be able to provide insight to the team on the design of hard/soft counters, as well as liaison with the rest of the design staff on larger issues. Of all four members, this is the one that should be left open if there is a staff shortage.

A Rules Consultant - Similarly, there should be an active member of the 1E Rules Team on the Balance Team. This personnel cannot be the Rules Manager. He or she will be able to provide insight to the team on sticky or complex rules interactions, as well as liaison with the Rules Team regarding possible changes.

High Level Players - The other volunteers should be high level players from different playgroups and/or geographical areas. At least one of these individuals should not be a Design, Playtesting, or Rules volunteer; preferably, neither volunteer would be. These players primary job are to provide the competitive perspective and consider ramifications of problems and solutions at the top level of play.

Ideally, this mix of volunteers will represent a diversity of opinions, both in terms of potential problems and potential solutions. As the plan is for the Balance Team to use the same consensus building model employed by Design and Rules, having disparate opinions will only strengthen the final product.

As the only permanent member of the Balance Team, the Balance Team Lead will be selected and vetted by the Director of First Edition, as is every other key leadership position. This individual, once selected, retains the position as long as both they and the director wish to continue the relationship. Once the Balance Team lead is selected, they have the full authority to staff their team as they see fit, so long as they work within the guidelines established above. After the initial team is formed, the staff will split themselves so that their initial terms end at different times, as evenly as possible. This ensures that the team is regularly getting fresh staff instead of having the entire team change at once.

For example, lets say the initial team is Alex, Belinda, Cory, and Darla, and the Balance Team lead is Esther. If they begin work in January, Cory might choose to rotate in April, Darla in July, Alex in October, and Belinda the following January. From that point on, all members that join the team serve for one year. If Frank replaced Cory in April 2020, Frank's term would end in April 2021.

A team member (aside from the lead) can not serve a term of more than one year consecutively. After serving a term, he or she must be off the team for at least one year before returning to the team, even if doing so in a different position. For example, if Alex leaves the team in October 2020, he cannot rejoin the team until October 2021. Even if Alex originally joined the team as a Rules consultant, but subsequently left rules and wishes to rejoin as a high level player, he must wait the one year period between terms.

The goal of rotating the staff is to avoid historical paralysis with errata and balance issues by having a single team with good channels of communication with the other departments and the players, working only on balance issues, led by a single individual accountable to the Director. The team will be empowered to act using the full toolkit of options, and strike a good balance of perspectives, recognizing the benefits, difficulties, and costs that come with change. Rotation of staff will ensure the team is tuned into the tournament environment, and provide a natural counter to complacency and inactivity, keeping the team highly active.

Dyson Sphere Door

In terms of the practical impact, both to the department and the player community, it is going to be minimal but a net positive. Design will still be guiding the overall direction of the game with new expansions. Creative will be working hard to provide the best stories to tell, and Art will find the best images in which to tell them. Rules will maintain the long view of the game, ensuring a secure foundation. While I anticipate there may be some initial flurry of activity, the Balance Team will allow us to be more active in stabilizing the environment than we have been for years, but only with the goal of correcting severe imbalances.

One potential challenge is the Bylaws of the Continuing Committee, which are currently written to require an "Errata Team" and an "Errata Team Lead." It is my hope that these strict definitions can be amended in a future update, but for now the teams will officially retain these titles. I still plan on referring to everything as the "Balance Team," because there is power in a name.

I have currently started recruiting an internal candidate to become the new Balance Team Lead. It's important to identify a candidate with experience managing a team of volunteers, experience with both Rules and Design, and a deep connection to the game. Once a candidate has been selected, we'll immediately begin the process of recruiting volunteers for the Balance Team itself, with the hope to have them recruited and active by the end of June. In the mean time, we'll continue working on the game as we have been, with a team of passionate and talented volunteers putting time in from their other jobs.

I am excited to being transitioning to this new team and empowering them to begin their work. It is my belief that this new team and methodology will lead the game to a far healthier and more stable place by early 2021 than we could achieve without such measures.

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