even though i don't comment too often in the foundry, i tend to lurk around here sometimes, and one thing has been bugging me lately.
whenever a map gets made, the playtesting starts only at the final stage. putting a map into beta means that everybody agrees the map is probably balanced, that the graphics are done, and that we only need to find out if we didn't miss any imbalances, before the map is put to play. other then xml-mistakes, spelling mistakes, or a slight adjustment of a bonus, we hardly ever change anything once it goes into beta.
now obviously, that's what a béta is about. the final stage of playtesting before the release. however, this does mean that we won't see a map into action until its nearly finished. to make up for the lack of actual testing, we've ended up with a lot of theories about what balanced maps are(usually based on previous experience), and thus we've ended up with a fairly conservative map making process. we apply the same set of theories to every new map that comes along, because we know it works.
however, this prevents us from finding out if some seemingly unbalanced settings can actually lead to a fun and balanced game. what i would suggest, is having an alpha "testing stage". were we can actually find out if new gameplay techniques work. basing the gameplay discussion not on theory, but on actual experience with the map. i can imagine that a map like city mogul can be improved a lot, since its our only map with such a bonus structure. wouldn't it be great if we could test out in the gameplay stage if a bonus of 30 or 50 works better? if adding a few more neutral countries would ruin the pacing, or would give the time needed for a balanced fight? would a map like arms race work better if each spy had different targets? if we maybe added a third spy? what is the effect of having the cannons of waterloo bombard eachother or not? etc. etc.
right now, all of these questions are theorized while we make the map, and then only changed if they don't work out in the beta. it seems to me however, that we could produce much better maps if we can test out a few different versions in an alpha stage, before deciding to stick with the version which plays best. Instead of assuming a map will be unbalanced, we can actually find it out before it enters the final forge.
so my suggestion would be to add an alpha testing stage to the process during the [gameplay] development of a map. a select group of people(or everybody, depends on how you want it), can test out the map on different settings, and the map maker can easily upload a new version every day with different suggestions or gameplay fixes. it wouldn't be a beautiful map - the graphics aren't done yet - but for the gameplay a map with army circles and clear borders is enough. This way, we can actually see what impact big changes have to the map, instead of knowing it only in theory.