Creating Chance in Games: Uses for Random Number Generators

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Ensuring randomness is unsurprisingly complicated. While unpredictable things happen every day, from stubbing a toe to running into an old friend, manufacturing randomness requires quite a bit of software. Random number generators (RNGs) are digital solutions to ensure randomness where necessary.

In terms of gaming, RNGs have long been an aspect of gameplay. For example, consider Magic: The Gathering. The card game relies on die in order to create random results, which will affect even the most seasoned player with the best decks. As such, randomness is used to mitigate the predictability of the game.

Not only does this prevent skilled players from winning uniformly, but it also keeps the game fresh. In the realm of video games, RNGs have been used in Pokémon and Final Fantasy for the last decade with little critique from gamers.

This has changed slightly as eSports have become more popular. Now that players and teams are financially and professionally incentivized to win, they look to minimize the number of uncertain outcomes in a game. The integration of RNGs in first-person shooters, battle royales, and more is designed to add elements of chance to the game, but some see them as compromising their hard work. 

Even so, RNGs aren’t likely to go anywhere. Keep reading below to learn more about five of the most common RNG uses in digital games today.

Online Roulette

RNGs provide an infallible way for online gaming companies to ensure randomized results. For example, roulette players bet where a ball will land on a wheel numbered zero to 36; a croupier sets the wheel in motion and releases the ball. From there, gamers wait to see where it will land. 

At brick-and-mortar establishments, the laws of physics slow the wheel. Online, random number generators do this work to ensure the wheel stops at an unpredictable pace. In this situation, RNGs also act as a security measure for casinos, making sure players can’t identify patterns and pull a hack like the 1984 Press Your Luck debacle.

Bullet Trajectory (CS: GO & Call of Duty)

As mentioned above, one of the most highly criticized areas for RNGs is within competitive gaming circles. In such areas, many gamers believe there’s no place for chance, as each has trained long hours to ensure their accuracy with a virtual weapon.

Even so, developers of Counter-Strike and, more recently, Call of Duty, have opted to incorporate RNGs into their shooting physics. The idea is that no sharpshooter would be able to accurately place a bullet right in their crosshairs each time. At the moment, no eSports council or league has made an official statement about the future of games that incorporate RNGs.

Ability Effects (Dota 2 & LoL)

Like with Counter-Strike’s integration of RNGs and shooting accuracy, Dota 2’s incorporation of RNGs and hero abilities is just as controversial. RNGs are used in the game to determine a character’s abilities, found items, and more. Many new gamers find the randomness to be jarring, deterring them from advancing further in the game when they aren’t sure how an ability will pan out. The same goes for League of Legends, which uses RNGs on certain skills like Gank Planks ULT.

Others have said that unpredictability can enhance a player’s skillset. In effect, they’ll enter a situation with a ‘known unknown’, which means they’ll know there are a few possible outcomes and must plan for each.

Treasures & Hidden Objects

What’s in that box you’ve spent hours and hours attempting to get to? An RNG will be the ultimate decider in whether it’s a flaming sword or a pebble. This is one of the least controversial aspects of RNGs in digital games, as ensuring fully randomized items (as Easter eggs, treasures, or hidden objects) is one way to level the playing field.

This is the same for loot boxes, which have become more popular in recent years for potential customization. Though now a popular application for RNGs in digital games, these types of hidden objects have been part of gaming for a long time. Looping back to the Magic: The Gathering example from above, booster packs can be considered one of the pre-digital, randomized treasures.