Dev Diary – Bans and Erratas

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  • Two weeks ago we announced several new changes to our Bannings and Errata list for UniVersus (you can read that article here). I’m here today to discuss some adjustments to our process for managing bannings and errata, detail how we come to conclusions about what things to ban or change, and finally outline how you can expect to receive this news in the future. Let’s start with the “why.”

    When to Ban or Errata

    For games to feel fun and be successful long-term, players need to feel like they get to demonstrate mastery through gameplay. That starts with how you design the parts of your game players play with, but a design team is only able to test so many different iterations of those pieces before they’re published for players to use. For example, in a popular console game you might have a team of a few dozen designers building a game that will be played by millions of gamers. Game mechanics or designs that worked well in a small design team may turn out to be powered incorrectly once millions of players play them over and over.

    Unlike digital games, tabletop games like UniVersus can’t solve these game balance issues by releasing updates that “fix” cards. UniVersus cards are manufactured and in players’ hands; they can’t simply download an update and play in a new, balanced environment. Instead we rely on bannings and errata to make changes to cards or mechanics that lead to play patterns or formats we feel miss the mark.

    What does “missing the mark” look like? That could mean strategies that cause games to end much too quickly, before both players have had a chance to demonstrate mastery and feel they’ve had fun in the game. It could mean games that go much too long leading to boring game play and difficulties in tournaments ending on time (*cough* Kirishima *cough*). Individual cards could be problematic, leading to unfun interactions that remove too much skill or take away deckbuilding choices from players. In those circumstances we may choose to ban or errata cards to properly balance the game and bring back the “fun.”

    Making Decisions

    The act of banning or changing a card is not one we take lightly! Players may feel disappointed if the deck they’ve built their identity around changes, or if their favorite character is no longer available for play. In general we want to use these tools to the smallest level necessary to solve the problem, but to not shy away from using them when needed. That’s a very tricky needle to thread, so to evaluate what changes might be needed we combine data from three sources to inform our decisions:

    • Data from tournaments
    • Community feedback
    • Professional gameplay assessment

    Tournament data allows us to get an objective look at what’s happening in competitive events. It tells us which characters show up the most at events, character win percentages, symbol representation, cards that appear to troublesome degrees, and even which characters do better against others. This is helpful to give us a snapshot of the real world of events. As an example, if several weeks worth of events showed a single character was winning 60% of the time that would be a strong signal we needed to examine what was causing that disproportionate amount of winning.

    Community feedback helps us understand how players feel about the formats they’re playing. Highly competitive events, like RLEs, might paint one picture while feedback from our local play communities indicate another. The recent RLE in Florida is a great example: while Ojiro 2 was the most popular character, he didn’t do well in the top cut. However, at local tournaments Ojiro 2 was much more present and players vocalized fatigue with Ojiro’s play pattern. This is an important distinction: a card that might be contained at high levels of competitive play can still feel oppressive at local levels, and that can in turn drive players away from the game. Including community feedback in our analysis before making decisions helps ensure we don’t make myopic decisions centered around only one player demographic.

    Finally, we rely on our own professional game play assessment to help make decisions. The recent Ready, Get Set, GO! (RGSG) banning is an example of this. While it caught some players by surprise, after examining the first two sets of data from tournaments and the community we experimented with the new format based on Ojiro 2 errata. It quickly became clear RGSG was going to be a problem, and additionally it leads to incredibly unfun game play. Our assessment made it clear we also needed to take action on that card to give players the chance to experiment with a new format before we make any additional changes.

    Bannings and Errata Moving Forward

    One of the biggest pain points in our last Bannings & Errata announcement was that you didn’t know when to expect it. This led to some harmful community impacts with some players unsure what to expect, and many complaints about confusion. Moving forward we’re going to fix that by adjusting to a regular cadence for these types of statements. Beginning this month the first Tuesday of each month will be our official announcement day for updates to the banned and errata list. In the event of a holiday in which our office is closed on the Monday preceding that Tuesday, the announcement will instead be the first Wednesday of the month. Additionally, changes will go into place the Monday following the announcement. This gives players a final weekend to play the format as they know it, and minimizes negative impacts to people who may have made plans to travel expecting to be able to play a particular strategy.

    For the month of May 2023 we have no additional changes to the B&E list at this time. However we are keeping our eye on several cards, characters, and play patterns for potential issues that impact players. Make sure you keep in touch with us through our official social media channels below, and we’ll see you back here in one month!