Greetings, Mortals! We’ve heard a lot from you lately on wanting to know more about the game’s balancing mechanics, so we’d like to give you a peek under the hood through what we would like to call... <dramatic music> “The Balance Charter.”
The primary aim of the Balance Charter is to open up our balancing methodology to you, our community. We’ll showcase our process, answer some of the commonly asked questions and brought-up issues, and show appreciation for your neverending support as a team.
We’ll start with a quick intro into the overall card balancing considerations and a lengthy FAQ section after that, which will help you through our thinking processes behind how we craft the game meta and economy, how we decide when to nerf or buff cards, and many other game balancing topics.
So, let’s get to it!
Balancing Gods Unchained
When it comes to balancing the game, there are two main elements we have to consider: numbers and experience. These are the two sides of the balancing coin if you will.
The numerical balance consists of hard math facts, how much damage a card does, how much mana it costs, and other similar stats. Experiential balance focuses on how the game feels from the human perspective, how good a card feels to play, and the synergies it can create regardless of numbers.
- Numerically we think God's Unchained is pretty well balanced, albeit there's always room for improvement. Of course, just the fact that one of the players has to go first poses a significant challenge, mathematically speaking.
- Experientially GU has not improved at the same rate as numerically. Things might be well balanced but not have the same level of fun/excitement, and our current focus is to fix this to the best of our abilities.
When balancing a game, one of the two inevitably takes priority, and we do our best to keep these elements as close as possible. The game would be stale and repetitive if we only focused on delivering perfectly numerically balanced cards. But if we focused too much on making cards flashy and prioritizing player experience, the game would be frustrating and even unplayable for half the player base.
The Perfect Balance?
Does a perfectly balanced state exist for Gods Unchained? The short answer is: no - at least not in a way that we, or anyone who enjoys the game, would like it to be. A perfectly balanced game is quite dull - flipping a coin is perfectly balanced but becomes boring quite quickly. In a perfectly balanced game, every action will have its ideal counter, and the matches would be over before they even start. Moreover, overcoming bad matchups are some of the most rewarding and exciting experiences in TCGs.
Our team's goal is to create a game as close to being numerically balanced as feasible while maintaining an exciting landscape and meta, and it boils down to three fundamental truths that must be kept to achieve it.
There are different metas at the low, middle, and high ranks. Making players of every skill level follow the same meta will turn the game into a grind. Having a game space that allows you to climb through ranks, adapt your strategy and learn new skills along the way is a journey we want to see in Gods Unchained.
Limiting hard counters:
It’s a certainty that specific decks and compositions will have hard counters, but when the overall meta boils down to effectively a game of rock paper scissors, it becomes stale. The deck you select and the god you build it around should not determine the outcome of the match. Skill expression must take priority in every match, with the better player winning in most, but not all, cases.
Supporting all archetypes and play styles:
Control players, aggressive and defensive players, will often have different aims and desires within Gods Unchained. We aim to support a meta that allows all play styles to flourish without one being overwhelmingly dominant.
Balancing Tools At Our Disposal
We have two primary tools that are commonly used by our game design and balance teams.
Balance patches seek to nerf or buff certain cards. The changed content is usually numeric, though it can include changes to effects and abilities.
Content patches inject a large chunk of meta-changing content into the game. These can include card packs, reworks, and so on. Content patches aim to shake things up and bring a fresh feeling to the game.
Game Balance FAQ
Now that you know the high-level considerations in our game-balancing methodology, in this section, we will answer some of your specific questions and give our thoughts and takes on them.
What is the definition of perfect balance in Gods Unchained?
At GU, perfect balance when talking purely about stats, balance, and archetypes would be 25% aggro, 25% control, 25% midrange, 25% combo, spread equally between all the gods. Players should know that even in disadvantageous matchups, you have lines that can give you a solid chance at victory.
We want a diversity of options for deck-building for each god, and there’s no singular strategy or a singular deck defining the meta. We try to aim for as close to zero polarized matchups and as many viable archetypes as possible from the available pool of cards.
What kind of meta are you aiming for?
All the gods should have at least more than one viable playing style with different gameplay strategies for the most experienced players. Simultaneously, all the gods need to have some engaging archetypes to make the game enjoyable to our casual and lower-ranked players. Skill should significantly impact win rate, and each match on the ranked ladder should present a different challenge, even if it’s a rematch against the same deck.
What are some macro tools for balancing?
Internal and external data sets, card comparisons, private server testing, numerical updates, our opinions, and common sense. We try to take a dual quantitative and qualitative approach when gathering data. We have close contact with the best players in our ecosystem, so while we review data, we may ask them to repeatedly test cards and form a complete picture of any particular card’s issues. Macro metagame balance is a bit more difficult, as we need macro numbers to assess what needs to be done correctly.
What are some frameworks or rules that you balance around?
As a team, we’re very open-minded, so we prefer not to have “stops” when making changes. We prefer analyzing, step by step, what could go wrong if we release some strange and spicy card/archetype during the balancing process and deduce if the outcome is worth it. For example, turn 4 victories should be a rarity. Certain domains get a better “rate for value” than others. Nature gets better stats per mana cost, and Light has a better rate per ward. Tech & hate cards can be healthy but should not be powerful by themselves.
What are some promises and rules the card-balance team follows?
Few. Genesis is an “evergreen” set, always in meta and playable on the ranked ladder. Direct opponent-turn interaction would fundamentally break the game. True infinities should not exist, either. Everything other than the things listed here is fair game if it improves the game's overall health.
How do you choose when to do the following?
- When a card or an archetype is way too high in popularity and win rate, we look at the stats on the overall ranked ladder and the win rates of the top players. A card showing overwhelming popularity for a domain (close to a 100% inclusion rate) is also usually problematic. More informally, we also examine whether playing against it makes a significant portion of the player base want to punch their monitors.
- When a card or an archetype is too low in popularity/win rate according to the overall ranked ladder, and it’s not performing its intended purpose in the meta or making a deck more viable. Occasionally we buff cards of particular archetypes with favorable matchups with problematic decks. However, this is not a healthy balancing pattern over the long term as it begins power creep and is generally viewed as a last resort.
- Text change
- There can be very different reasons behind a text change. Mostly when the card design is unhealthy for the meta or if we need to design something different to balance out other cards in the same domain. Otherwise, old ideas no longer fit into the current ecosystem and can end up as unusable dead-end cards. This is the most common case for a complete card redesign, but we don’t love doing it. You may have noticed that there have been far fewer text changes in Mortal Judgment than there were with Divine Order.
Is insider trading possible?
First, we have a stringent insider trading policy that all employees must abide by: https://www.immutable.com/employee-trading-policy. And while theoretically, one could buff a particular card, buy a bunch, and then sell it post-buff, it would not be worth getting fired from the best game studio in Sydney to make a quick buck that’s less than our team salary and permanently ruin our careers!
What percentage win rate is considered in the “safe zone” and “OP/dead.”
Ideally, the overall win rate of a god for all ranks should be between 48% and 52%, but 45%-55% is a good target range for our top-ranked players. An 80% win rate is adecent high threshold for our top players. A “dead deck” should be under 25%—an overpowered one, probably close to 75% across the ranks. On the ranked ladder, a singular deck should not be pushing over 60% win rate across all ranks, although a single skilled player pushing 75%+ is not a concern.
But a top player could even have an 80%+ win rate on Weekend Ranked, and still, the deck they are playing with is healthy for the metagame, so there are many factors to consider. Ultimately, if a set player is getting excellent matchups, getting more luck than average, and they pilot the deck very well, we expect them to do very well and be rewarded for that.
“Dead” decks are interesting. We’ve noticed our player base slipping away from decks with a 45% or lower overall win rate, even though single players might perform a 60%+ win rate over hundreds of games with these same decks. We usually don’t consider a particular deck completely unviable unless it's pulling under 40% and has no individuals performing well.
What is the role of the Genesis Set in card balancing?
The Genesis set is the high watermark for the game. Individually, cards should not exceed other cards in the meta. We want to create different, interesting combos that achieve our goals of creating meta variety without breaking our hard rule of individually exceeding Genesis cards.
Many of the top Genesis cards are the best at accomplishing several roles. Demogorgon heals you up, stalls the game, and maintains control. We’re starting to bring in individual cards that are potentially better at one element - say, healing - but never at all three. We intend to keep this as a loose rule for the future.
How do you try and avoid card inflation/devaluation?
This does not fall within the scope of the card-balancing team. However, this is closely connected with power creep. Cards often lose value when a new card pushes them out of the metagame, and value is transferred from the old card to the new one. This is more of a set design issue than a game balance one, as I believe the best way to avoid this is to provide new strategies with each set that interact well with the game and existing strategies. Inevitably some cards will fall off, and new ones will take their place as the game continues to expand. The cards that will hold value are the keystone pieces of each set and possess wide utility.
How do you take community feedback on board?
Community feedback is very important to us, so we scour Reddit, Twitch, and Discord, taking notes and analyzing the most interesting contributions. We take what the community says as pointers toward potential problems rather than looking at the cold hard facts only. Especially experienced players are an essential source of valuable and constructive feedback.
What is an effective way for players to provide feedback?
The most important element for providing effective feedback is data. Feedback that includes screenshots win ratios and a comprehensive explanation of the scenarios that happened with a card/archetype is beneficial to us. The feedback must be as objective as possible as we frequently see emotional requests for nerfs, buffs or other changes. E.g. “This card is bad” is less useful than “This card has average stats but is traded too efficiently by other options and leaves me behind on the board.”
A high number of similar requests also catches our attention. Just one user asking for a change can be an outlier, but it's worth looking into if everyone is saying the same thing. Lastly, complaints about balancing extraneous things like secondary market value aren’t usually what we consider relevant, as their focus is not on the game's health, which is our primary goal as the card balancing team.
Over the past year, we’ve focused on refining our balance processes both pre-and post-release of content. Our long-term goal is to get our balance work to the level where post-release balancing is no longer an expectation and instead is used as a bandaid tool.
For now, if you reached this far, we’d like to thank you for being an engaged community member. Please join our ongoing balance discussions in Discord under the #balance channel.
See you there!