Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Another Facet of Randomness

Last time I published an article about randomness, it referred to the level of player control over random elements to provide them with the most favorable result possible by manipulating the probability somehow. To support the point, I brought up mechanics like Discover from Hearthstone and how such a mechanic allowed the player to choose the best of three potentially bad choices, dampening the unfavorable result of the randomness.

This article will cover randomness in a similar vein but instead talk more about the consistent benefits before randomness is considered, which in itself serves as a check against an unfavorable result. In some cases, the benefits do not exist and the random chance is all-or-nothing. In others, there are some benefits. The benefits of "succeeding" at the random chance are also worth considering, since the degree of the benefits can vary wildly. Ultimately, the question this article will attempt to answer is "Is the gamble worth player investment and what can be done to make the player feel good about taking the risk?"

Consistent Results and Randomness

As a general rule, I think the degree of randomness could stand to be minimized where possible. However, I also think that having only consistent rewards for an activity with no randomness can cause issues of boredom due to repetition even if the activity itself has variance. Thus, I concluded that there could be a balance between having decent, consistent rewards for an activity plus a chance for additional rewards. Later parts of my recent article series are consistent with this philosophy and my suggestions in them serve as decent examples to dampen randomness in a reward system to reduce frustration without eliminating it which might reduce excitement.

For example, World Quests in context of both the Titanforging and Legendary systems, may lack sufficient base rewards since not every player needs the gold, Order Resources, reputation, and un-upgraded gear. For such players, World Questing as an activity basically becomes an all-or-nothing chance to acquire much better gear and the low chance of that happening probably isn't helping matters. The issue consistently applies to other forms of content as well such as Mythic+ dungeons, though the amount of players who don't benefit from or care for the more consistent rewards differs. This is why my solution was to provide a form of currency that everyone can benefit from to upgrade their gear over time (for Titanforging) while also minimizing the degree of some of the randomness without actually providing a powerful reward frequently by awarding only a piece of it more frequently instead (for Legendaries).

Blizzard has implemented and is planning to implement a number of systems that provide both consistent and random rewards for an activity in World of Warcraft as well. For example, Justice, Honor, Valor, and Conquest were all once a form of currency acquired from doing certain activities in the game and could be traded in for specific gear. To be fair, there were issues with the systems such as the fact some iterations required daily play to maximize currency gains and other iterations required a substantial amount of grinding in other ways to spend the currency on some items, such as reputation in Mists of Pandaria.

However, the idea of a dedicated player spending time to get a piece of gear of their choice through such a system has since been largely abandoned at least in the first few patches of Legion and the system's role has diminished since the end of Mists of Pandaria. This system returns much like it did in the latter part of Warlords of Draenor in the form of Relinquished gear tokens in 7.2 with a new Apexis Crystal-like currency. Meanwhile, Paragon reputation serves to provide additional consistent rewards for farming reputation beyond the maximum possible amount, making it a little more worthwhile to acquire that particular type of reward.

Ultimately, the answer to the question posed above is that a gamble can be made worth it if what the player consistently gets in return for their investment of time, resources, etc. is worthwhile in itself. In addition, the return for a player's investment could have a chance to be much greater, resulting in them feeling good about the experience.

Final Statements

Randomness appears to be a relatively popular topic and will probably continue to be so at least in the realm of the World of Warcraft. Recently, I was asked a question about whether WoW is becoming more like a Skinner Box. Technically, the game seems to have always had that element due to its many reward systems and empirical RPG elements leading to them. There could stand to be alternatives to operant conditioning, like engaging gameplay or the like, which is a point I made when criticizing leveling and will probably expand upon in the future.

However, since this question was recently asked in what appears to be a context related to the randomness of some rewards in Legion, I think there might be better and worse ways to utilize operant conditioning itself. For example, balancing randomness in ways such as methods discussed in this article for the sake of the player's sanity and level of engagement, if it's present, is important since badly designed randomness can definitely detract from the playing experience. In the future, I will be publishing an article discussing how WoW has been "Diablofied" and hopefully this article will provide some context of why I like certain elements imported from Diablo, but don't like others. Until then, in the case of WoW, some of the changes made to address randomness in 7.2 seem to be consistent with improving upon this particular facet of randomness and of that I approve.

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