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RNG in Today's Games - Boon or Bane?

An image of a sack of dice, used to represent the concept of luck.


Whether in real or virtual life, luck has always been an important factor influencing all sorts of outcomes. It brings cheers and yet it also brings jeers, depending on which spectrum of luck one is receiving.

In today's (digital) games, luck and business seemingly cannot detach from each other. In this article, we analyze the current implementations of luck inside today's digital games and their accompanying outcomes.

The Business of Luck

Scarcity drives demand, and that's where business comes into play. Classically, this has always been achieved by restricting the quantity of goods. However, in the digital gaming sphere, this can additionally be done in another way - by restricting the likelihood of players getting a virtual item in the game(s) they are playing.

Games, especially RPGs, might require you to obtain certain items or resources to make progression. Naturally, from the game design's perspective, you certainly don't want every single player clearing your game in just a handful of minutes (unless the game was intended to be that way, of course). On the other hand, make that required resource too rare and players may abandon your game simply because the game objective appears to be practically impossible. Here's where the ideal bait is presented: lottery ticket(s) for a chance to get something you've always coveted.

Essentially, today's digital games operate by giving you a controlled degree of chance to obtain something you want to obtain in them. There are various options: you could either spend one flat sum to absolutely get that virtual item, or you could participate in a virtual lottery for a chance to draw whatever you want.

The key question in this case is: "Why does this work?" The obvious reasons could be:

  • The gamer prefers a shortcut to gain access to the in-game item (due to whatever reasons)

  • The gamer values the item greatly to the extent where they are very willing to attempt to get it (e.g. because the item is highly likely not to be available again after its limited availability period)

Naturally, as players translate real money into attempts on obtaining in-game item(s), this in turn translates to revenue for the game developers.

Are today's games overdoing it?

It is fair for players to want to be able to decide how much they wish to commit to a game; it is also fair for game developers to want to earn money from their games. However, the boundary between these 2 opposing sides of a coin seems to be pushed unfavorably against players in today's digital gaming sphere. Today's games appear to be utilizing the time-vs-money tradeoff in their game mechanics more frequently and/or extensively.

Case Study: MapleStory

To illustrate this, let's examine Nexon's MapleStory, a free-to-play MMORPG game that has (and is still) around for more than a decade. Back in its classic-server times when it first started, it was very grindy (typical for most MMORPG games, of course), and it offered a cash shop for people to purchase EXP coupons or certain useful utility items (e.g. Gachapon tickets, Ability/Skill Point reset tickets) with real money. Back then, these items did have value but did not heavily influence the game, as people could party-up in boss expeditions to kill boss monsters together with combined combat power. Over the years, it has eventually overhauled itself with various new luck-based mechanics such as equipment Potentials, equipment Additional Stats, new special equipment scrolls (generally expanded equipment options), and each with its accompanying gacha mechanics and microtransactions.

From a typical MapleStory player's perspective, if they do not wish to spend money on it, they can opt to spend time to grind for materials that can be used to craft certain items for enhancing their equipment. However, these craftable items are not comparable to that in their Cash Shop, where similar equipment-enhancement items sold in the Cash Shop have better perks, such has higher success rates or greater stat boosts. With such mechanics, players are increasingly disadvantaged dominantly by the fact that they opted not to pay to speed up the game progression via a more-likely-to-succeed enhancement of their equipment. In MapleStory's context, the amount of time required to compensate for not spending actual money is considerably disproportionate.

Furthermore, MapleStory has been embroiled in scandals regarding their item probabilities in the past, with the most recent one surrounding a highly important core item in their game - the Equipment Cube. This cube resets the equipment stats (and additionally its rank) randomly with a set of probabilities. This means that players have an unknown chance of obtaining the optimal equipment stats after using an Equipment Cube. This item was the focus of the scandal because the probabilities of that item was reduced across several patches but these changes were not made known to the players.


Luck elements in games do provide a rush of joy when the player, against certain odds, obtains a rare item or event. However, given today's circumstances, game developers have increasingly shown that they have the ability to manipulate or exploit the luck elements in their games unfavorably against the players. That being said, the market for games has always been a difficult-to-navigate realm, with some players being unwilling to spend on games that they are unable to get a feel of. Essentially, the important concern is that game developers are utilizing luck elements in a valuable or meaningful manner, rather than just turning something into a plain cash-grab from the players.


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