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Should games be designed to be won by skill or by perceived"luck"? Find out in this latest blog post Michael. This post was first published as part of a series that discusses social game design.

Michael Fergusson, Blogger

September 17, 2010

3 Min Read

I thought I’d share a link to an article with you that I came across. It’s from the CEO of Manifesto Games (and he is also a game design expert), Greg Costikyan, about randomness in game design and whether it’s good or bad to include it in game mechanics. Can it be used to game designers’ advantage to improve the gameplay experience?

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, when it comes to events that have randomness in them, like most games, rather than seeing them as such, people will impose patterns on the events by default, because our brains evolved to see patterns in most events even if there were none present. As Costikyan also speaks to our previous points, randomness is viewed by some as not just merely a feature of gameplay, but also as “divinatory.”

So why is this post worth a mention? From a game design perspective, the concept of randomness continues to fascinate us, and is especially useful, when trying to determine if games should be designed to be won by skill and not by perceived “luck.”

As Costikyan explains, we’re likely to think less of a game if we think we won it based on luck. However, sometimes it favours the game designer to imply this sense of luck in game designs because it engages the player more in gameplay (when in actuality, other elements are actually at work, like intention, choice, strategy and meaning).

If a player thinks they can predict the outcome of that next dice roll, even better! Ayogo has released lottery games (based upon random number generators) and found that people use the forums to share “strategies” for picking the numbers!

Even in a game of chance that relies on so many small random occurrences that they smooth out over time, (so the outcome of the game is more and more likely to be dictated by strategy than by chance), the outcome in rare cases can be dictated by chance. This oculd surely be frustrating to some players.

To echo Costikyan’s thoughts, there are instances when a degree of randomness plays an important, and useful, role in a design, even if players might find the game unsatisfying. Leveraging this knowledge and working it to harness it to beneficial effect is a goal many game designers should think about.

Some have argued that Costikyan’s analysis is based on competition based games, and that we also have to take into account the social interaction component of why we play games.

While Costikyan hints at this point in his “levelling the playing field” game example, it’s worth mentioning that there is commonly a need to relieve social tensions which tend to build up in competitive situations and randomness is one way of doing that. So for example, I win because of my brilliant play, and lose because of bad luck. I’ll let you dive into the article. Let me know what you think. Email me at michael at ayogo dot com or better yet, leave a comment.

Link: http://playthisthing.com/randomness-blight-or-bane

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Michael Fergusson


Michael is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Ayogo Games Inc., and is dedicated to the idea that playing is one of the most productive things we can do. He's been an entrepreneur and innovator on the Web for over 15 years, and the games he has developed have been played by millions on computers and Smartphones all over the world. This year, Michael has been invited to speak on game design at SXSW, Vancouver's F5 Expo, Games and Health -- Vid Week, Banff Television Festival and NextMedia in Toronto, and has been featured by Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CBC, and the Globe and Mail. Michael lives in Vancouver with his beautiful wife and four amazing children.

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