Kwalee Gameplay Guru, Andrew Graham, talks about trends and topics in the games industry.
Randomness in multiplayer games
On the face of it, randomness seems to be an unwelcome guest in a test of skill between two opponents. However, this is not always the case.
A game can be seen as a device by which we can determine who is the most skilled player. Randomness introduces ‘noise’ into this function, so that on occasion, the less skilled player will have the upper hand. This can be an equaliser over the short term – it gives inferior players the feeling that they are doing well, allowing them to get more pleasure from the game. However, better players will always succeed over the longer term. Poker is a good example of this.
Low scoring games, such as football, are more susceptible to noise in the final result. This can increase the potential for upset and drama. The underdog can score a flukey goal and win the game, so there is always hope for the supporters of the inferior team. High scoring games (such as darts) will more accurately reflect the skill of the players on the day, but there is less tension. Imagine darts where there is only a single dart thrown by each player. It would be a short game, but the drama would be intense. Of course if any competition is close, it will often come down to one critical play and this is where the drama reaches its height.
Interestingly, often when a football game is drawn, they will switch to progressively more ‘noisy’ game modes : extra time, the penalty shoot out and, once upon a time, they even resorted to the tossing of a coin.
Another purpose for randomness is that it adds unpredictability where predictability would ruin the game. For example, if players knew what letters they were going to receive in Scrabble, then no skill would be required. The randomness is essentially an automatic level generator. If both players receive the same randomised pieces (e.g. Boggle) then we have unpredictability without giving any temporary advantage to one player or the other.
A purely random game (e.g. betting on the roll of dice) can still have a strong appeal. We secretly credit ourselves with some kind of skill if we correctly guess how the dice will roll. Randomness seems to have a fascination in itself. There is something compelling about watching random processes working themselves through. Peggle, for example, can keep people hypnotised for hours.
So, it is no coincidence that so many games involve the rolling of dice. Randomness is an integral part of the most successful and enjoyable games.