Randomness (RNG) in competitive online games

Most games have elements of chance. Some use randomness or pseudo-randomness a lot more than others, like RPGs compared to FPSes or RTSes, and, if we get onto board games, randomness can make games long, boring and predictable (ie. Risk or Monopoly) or can make them a cultural phenomenon that puts a smile on everyone’s faces (Dungeons and Dragons) but it does seem a bit strange that multiplayer games, which are aimed to pit your skill against someone else’s to see who is better, keep random elements in. I have been thinking about this for a while and this morning I realised why randomness is kept in games. Randomness can make you rage at a game, but a game without it would make you rage more.

Let’s examine Dota 2, because that’s what I’m most familiar with. Most heroes have an element of randomness, particularly heroes who can quite easily do a lot of damage. Take Phantom Assassin. A very easy character to play who can critical hit for huge amounts with very little input from the player, and if she is particularly lucky, or the recipient is particularly unlucky, if she crits 3 times in a row the person is dead. She only has a 0.34% chance of doing this so people shouldn’t expect it but, on the flip side, should anticipate that maybe it could happen.

If she just crit, reliably, every 6th attack or something along those lines then people would be able to manipulate that to their advantage and, when people did, their enemies would feel like they have been outplayed. They would blame the Phantom Assassin player and become frustrated with themselves instead of blaming it on randomness. With randomness in the game it allows people to think that they can come back if their enemies just get unlucky and it stops people from feeling like they aren’t good enough to compete. Moreover, when people do badly they can blame it on poor luck with the RNG (Random Number Generator) but when they do well due to randomness they can take full credit and feel better about themselves.

For really high level players they can take randomness into account when doing anything and everything is still a test of skill and sportsmanship, so it doesn’t affect things too much for them. For really low level players it gives them an easy starting point to learn and for them to first feel like they might be able to be good at the game. Furthermore, if there is a very obvious skill difference, with a little bit of luck, lower skilled players might be able to outmanoeuvre higher skill players, even if they don’t win over all.

The card games, which are almost defined by randomness, place a great deal of importance on planning for the worst case scenario. High level players are defined by their ability to create decks and how they react to bad situations. As you draw more cards the likelihood of getting the card in your deck that you need increases and so players need to hang on with their bad cards until they get the chance to go on the offensive. You can’t remove randomness from card games in the same way that it shouldn’t be removed from other competitive games.


One comment

  1. rktekrvn · October 9, 2015

    Being able to deal with shortcomings REAL FAST is what gaming is all about. I like your take on randomness in games since it is really one of the things I find interesting. I’ll never get interested in something so plain and simple to do. :D. The versatility of a game is what sharpens the abilities of the gamer 😉


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