There are several elements of gaming that can become highly predictable, particularly to a veteran player. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s useful to know that an action will have a fixed consequence, as it helps a player to develop their strategy. However, not everything can be controlled or anticipated, as randomness underpins events like the roll of a dice or the contents of a loot box. While the idea of luck can be frustrating when it doesn’t work in your favor, that randomness ultimately plays a massive part in games continually feeling fresh and exciting.
The challenges presented by randomness
The classic Pokémon Red and Blue titles are the perfect examples of how randomness can dominate the gameplay experience. A player that wanders into a grassy area is liable to encounter a variety of wild Pokémon, with different parts of the map yielding a different selection of creatures. Many of the most desirable Pokémon are naturally the hardest to find.
According to StrategyWiki’s walkthrough, a Pokémon Blue player in Viridian Forest stands a 5% chance of encountering a Pikachu in the wild grass, and they’re much more likely to be inundated by swarms of common (and ultimately annoying) Caterpies and Metapods. That percentage suggests that a player should on average meet a Pikachu once in every 20 Pokémon encounters, but life doesn’t always work that easily.
The randomness of the monster generation means that you could take 100 attempts to come up against a Pikachu, or meet one on your first try. This presents a challenge to players: spend ages waiting for the right Pokémon in the grass, or work with what you have to progress in the game? While the hunt for the higher quality Pokémon can be a hard graft, that gratification of randomly meeting the right one is a big part of the Pokémon series success.
Randomness is also central in more realistic games. The Football Manager series, which prides itself as an accurate representation of the world of soccer, naturally relies on randomization to mimic the unpredictable elements of real life. Opponents are drawn at random in cup competitions, while any club could feasibly welcome a new global superstar through their annual academy intake. Again, the randomness of it all heightens the satisfaction of an attractive cup draw or the arrival of a future star.
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The importance of fairness
Randomness is also extremely effective in ensuring that games exist on a level playing field, particularly in the online casino industry. Online slots are powered by a random number generator (RNG) that determines what symbols the reels will show. Casino reviewers are always on the lookout for sites that can verify their impartiality via the RNG, with providers lauded for their commitment to continually auditing their games to ensure fairness.
Every spin for every player should have an equal chance of winning the jackpot, which can only be achieved with a trusted RNG driving the action. While casino players aren’t in direct competition with one another, it is nevertheless vital that each player faces the same odds of victory. This translates to multiplayer games, where randomness should mean that any player in the game could potentially benefit from a favorable event.
Some may argue that this undermines the value of skill, but that idea of randomness is what makes certain games so exciting. For example, Mario Kart’s use of randomly-selected power-ups helps to give a player a chance at victory when defeat seemed inevitable. Of course, the flip-side to that is an unlucky draw on power ups can steal victory away from the racer who had displayed the most skill, but that’s why Mario Kart is such a compelling multiplayer game.
Randomness becomes even more overt in an online card game like Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment’s spin-off from the Warcraft series. Like online casinos, Hearthstone uses RNG tech to ensure complete fairness in the drawing of cards, as well as in the power of cards that have random effects. This randomness affects both players equally, and stops the player with the theoretically strongest deck from playing their cards in an unbeatable order in every single game.
While players cannot affect the randomness, they can mitigate its consequences. A Pokémon player can target the grassy areas with the most favorable percentage of rare Pokémon. A Football Manager player can invest in their youth academy to boost their chances of producing a superstar. A casino player can develop a smart bankroll management strategy in response to the odds of the game. A Hearthstone player can think more carefully about their initial deck-building.
As for the Mario Kart players? There’s not much you can do about the randomness of power-ups, other than keep your composure and hope that things go your way next time. That’s the key with randomness: by accepting that certain things are out of your control, eventual successes can become that much sweeter.