With respect to transparancy and openness in the design process, we've maintained a policy of keeping a barrier between the playtesters and the Design Team members. We don't want to interfere with the playtesters or bias the playtest process, nor do we want the playtesters to interfere with the designers or bias design. Part of the reason for the policy is simply to leave each other alone so we can do our respective jobs. We've also found that maintaining playtester anonymity encourages unfiltered, honest opinions and feedback. We have definitely been able to tell that in the playtest notes. Sometimes the comments are harsh, but we appreciate those comments and don't take them personally as they're honest, insightful, and helpful.
We decided to take a poll of the playtesters to see if they wanted direct contact with the designers and if they wanted the designers to participate in dialog in the playtest forum. Interestingly, opinions were very mixed. Some wanted that direct contact and participation. Some wanted the designers to have read-only access to the playtest forum. Some wanted no contact and no visibility into the playtest forum at all. Without a strong indication in the direction of more access to or participation in the playtest forum, we opted to maintain the policy of separation and anonymity.
Heh...and then at Origins we had a meeting with myself, Hugh the Playtest Coordinator, and the North American playtesters in attendance. It was pretty much a big chat and Q&A session, where various issues were discussed, including questions and issues about the playtest process, design and direction of the set, abstract design issues, and so on. One of the discussions that sticks in my head was about city titles, and to what extent contestable titles are desirable and to what extent uncontestable titles are acceptable. Opinions ranged surprisingly widely. Some felt that contestable city titles are a key element of the game and that only contestable titles should be used. Some questioned the value that contestable titles add to the game, feeling that they just result in randomly turning someone's deck off.
From the Design Team's perspective, it's a conflict between canon and metagame. Since the first Sabbat expansion, there's been a theme in V:TES of having pairs of contestable titles. However, the World of Darkness canon doesn't match that symmetry. The Sabbat are relatively few in number compared to the Camarilla in the World of Darkness, but in V:TES the numbers are roughly equivalent. There very typically isn't a matching Archbishop from the canon to go with every Prince. Over the course of the development of V:TES, the canon-sourced Sabbat titles that match Camarilla cities have nearly all been used up. The other remaining canon-sourced Archbishops would be uncontestable. Once all of the canon-sourced matching titles are used, there are three options. First is using the canon-sourced uncontestable titles. Second is finding appropriate un-titled, canon-sourced vampires to whom you could stretch the canon a bit and assign contesting titles to them. Third is creating brand-new vampires with contesting titles. In the end, the Design Team has chosen to use all three options, sticking to contestable titles where possible as the primary option, and using the other options sparingly.
- Ben Peal and the V:EKN Design Team