Avid players will know that some games rely on elements of chance as well as skill. In certain genres more than others, many of the outcomes are determined randomly within a set of parameters. The technology behind this randomness is the random number generator (RNG).
Where they are used, RNGs can determine many of the possible outcomes in a game, such as whether or not an attack hits or misses, whether a particular character shows up, and what loot a box contains.
What is an RNG?
A random number generator takes a seed number and extrapolates it with additional data to produce a new value. This new number is used as the next seed to generate the next part of the sequence, and so on, until the outcome produced is ‘random’ – or close enough to random that it cannot be exploited.
RNGs are essentially algorithms. The more secure and fair an outcome needs to be, the more sophisticated the algorithm required. Once the final number has been generated, this will then be used to decide on the outcome.
To illustrate – let’s take a scale of 1-100. Every number 1-80 gives common loot. Every number 81-98 gives a rare item. If the end value is 99 or 100 then the player receives a legendary item.
RNGs in casino games
In casino and card games, the action is randomized by the roll of dice, the shuffle of cards, or the spin of a wheel.
Online casinos and poker rooms use RNGs to replicate this process. When a player clicks a button on an online slot machine, the RNG is busy working behind the scenes to churn out a number – this number represents an outcome which is presented to the player visually as the spinning of the reels.
Similarly, in online poker, the RNG creates a random sequence of numbers which comes to determine players’ starting hands, as well as each subsequent card dealt after that.
Players of online casino games criticize RNGs, but when it comes to reputable sites the randomness of the algorithm is independently verified. The RNG is actually “shuffling the deck” more rigorously than the dealer in the casino.
Role playing games (RPGs)
As direct descendants of tabletop adventures like Dungeons and Dragons, role playing video games replicate the rolling of dice to randomize outcomes such as whether an attack hits or misses, or whether a particular accessory appears in a chest.
RPGs are very much about leveling up and preparing well enough to overcome any unfortunate randomness that comes along the way. If a boss critically hits you three times in a row, your characters still need to be able to handle it.
The randomness also brings more playability to the game, though often at the cost of repetition. If you only have a ten percent chance of winning a certain item, you might have to dedicate more than one attempt to get it.
RPGs are the genre of video game most known for utilizing randomness as an essential part of the gameplay.
Examples of RNGs in games
When it comes to role playing games, RNGs are a necessity, even more so when it comes to real money casino gaming and poker. But often the RNG is there as part of the entertainment, simply to mix it up a bit. Here are a few more examples of how RNGs are used in video games:
- Fortnite – Aside from loot boxes, you wouldn’t imagine first person shooters like Fortnite to utilize many random variables. But actually, the random distribution of weapons across different areas of the world, along with the chance to find legendary gear, is what keeps players exploring and approaching each battle differently.
- XCOM – Yup, we’ve all been there. You missed a 90% shot. It happens. This is the type of game where randomness can be frustrating, but ultimately it makes the game more challenging and enjoyable.
- Counter Strike: Global Offense – CS:GO takes the use of RNGs one step further. Whether or not a bullet hits the target is determined with an element of randomness. Being closer to the target and using the right weapon improves the odds of direct hits. This use of RNGs has been criticized by some players for taking the pure skill out of the FPS.
- Pokémon – Technically a role playing game (RPG), Pokémon uses the random number generator to determine the chances of Pokémon appearing in a particular area and the gender of them, as well as the likelihood of attacks hitting.