Here Is A Very Specific Video Game Thing That Sucks

Here Is A Very Specific Video Game Thing That Sucks

Sometimes, video games are good. Other times, they suck. Here is a thing some good games do that really sucks.

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Lots of video games give you rewards for your victories. You beat a level and get a nifty new outfit for your character to wear, or a powerful new weapon to use. Maybe you get some emblem or other signifier that shows the world that you did something difficult.

Some games introduce an element of randomness to those rewards. You beat a boss, and you have a one in five chance of getting something really rare and good. That’s more or less fine. Using a random number generator (RNG) to keep players coming back opens a game up to exploitative design, but a little randomness never hurt anyone. Assuming the numbers aren’t cooked, eventually you’ll probably get something good.

But let’s go one step further. Say you’re playing your favourite role-playing game. You go fight a boss in hopes of getting a special sword. That sword only drops from that boss, and only about 10 per cent of the time. You’ll probably have to do the fight a few times to get it. Now imagine the sword itself also has randomised perks. You could get a fire version of the sword, or a lightning sword, or an ice sword. Or… you could get a HOLY sword. The holy sword is the rarest, best sword in the game, because it’s the only holy sword you can get. Everyone wants the holy sword.

You beat the boss for the seventh time and finally the sword drops for you. You go into your inventory to see what you got. Your heart rate quickens, just a little. You click “expand” and… it’s the fire sword. You didn’t get holy.

You sit there contemplating this inferior version of the thing you really wanted. You finally got it, but it’s not the best one. Should you take the time to level it up anyway? Each time you see its flame-kissed blade, you’ll be reminded that it isn’t the holy sword. Your joy at finally winning the thing you wanted is tainted by gnawing disappointment.

What’s more, someone else in your party has gotten the holy sword by now. You remember them freaking out about it when it happened. You know how they felt, because you’ve had good luck in the past. You want that feeling, too. Deep down, you know you’ll never be happy with this stupid fire sword. It looks just like the thing you wanted, but it’s not the thing you wanted. Some part of you hates it for that.

Players refer to this as double-RNG, or maybe “RNG on RNG”. My primary experience with it was in Bungie’s shooter-RPG Destiny, and it is easily one of the most exploitative design tricks that I’ve come across while playing video games. In Destiny, many of the most coveted unique weapons drop with randomised perks. You might get a Grasp of Malok or an Imago Loop, but you almost certainly won’t get one with the best possible perks. You’ll look at it and think, so close. I came so close. Can I live with this? I don’t know.

Thousands of players are experiencing the agony of double RNG with Nintendo’s new smartphone game Fire Emblem Heroes. In that game, you fight tactical battles to earn orbs that can be spent summoning new heroes for your team. (Popular in Japan, this type of RNG hero collecting game is known as a gacha game.) You’re constantly hoping to get your favourite characters from the Fire Emblem franchise. Please give me Camilla or Tharja! I want a Chrom or a Sully! But it’s not enough to get the character you want. Each character you get has up to five stars attached to it, and a three-star Tharja is inferior to a five-star Tharja. So, you can get a shitty version of the character you wanted most. You can win and lose at the same time.

When I rolled my starting party in Fire Emblem Heroes, the next several hours of my life flashed before my eyes. I knew that, in the gacha game tradition, many players would delete and reinstall the game over and over until they got a starting party they could live with. I imagined myself doing that and thought back to my time with Destiny. I remembered the way I’d grind for a perfect Imago Loop; the hours I spent at the gunsmith, rolling and re-rolling my Hopscotch Pilgrim. What if I got a one-star version of a hero I wanted? Worse, what if I got a four-star version? What if I got one good character and one bad character, and one lousy version of a good character? Would that be enough? How would I know when to stop?

I wound up sticking with my very first roll. I think it’s pretty good, though I’m sure I could have done better. I’m fine with a game that rewards me with some degree of randomness, but when it starts to layer randomness on top of randomness, I gotta draw a line. Life is too short.


  • If it’s not a competitive game, take the first roll every single time. Refusing to accept your crappy luck cheapens the experience (esp. in RPGs) and I don’t think I’ve ever played any RPGs with random loot or character generation that were so hard you needed optimal results in order to get through the game.

    On a related note, I have run D&D campaigns where I made the players roll 3D6 for their attributes, in order, once, and found it to be a positive for everyone. Working with the limitations of what you get /can/ be part of the fun. Although I probably wouldn’t subject players to that level of random chance in a long-run game.

    If it’s a competitive game then the devs are absolute bastards for including any form of randomisation at all. But at least you know it’s not a game to take seriously I guess.

  • So you build up the character. In Destiny, can you make the poor version of a good item power up to be the same?
    In FE:Heroes, if you do get a beer version later you can power it up with the good version.
    I have a 5* Robin and he rest of my team are 4*, one of which I powered up from a 3*.

    • So you build up the character. In Destiny, can you make the poor version of a good item power up to be the same?

      No, most of the gear you get in Destiny can’t be changed to a better roll. You have to get a new one and see if it is better than the one you had.

      There are special gear that you can change the rolls (to make them better), but they aren’t as difficult to obtain.

  • This is what makes the Borderlands franchise so addictive. I’ve spent hours and hours fighting the same boss over and over to receive the right legendary or pearlecent weapon…and then you have to do it over again once you level up enough.

    You don’t need these weapons to beat the game, so I don’t find it a cheap mechanic when it comes to Borderlands, but I guess Fire Emblem Heroes may be different in the way it works.

  • Tom Clancy’s The Division.
    “Yeah, I FINALLY got Barrett’s Chestpiece! Ah dammit the roll is crap.”

  • That’s one of the reasons I hate WoW these days, it became even more (triple or quadruple) RNG, Do you get the drop, is it warforged, does it have bonus stats, is it socketed. The devs argued when they introduced warforging, bonus stats and sockets that it added longevity and incentive to the game. But like the article points out it leads to immense player frustration.

    This sort of RNG on RNG might be fine for a game like Diablo or Grim Dawn where loot rains down like… umm… rain. But in games where you need a group to get it and there is a time based (once a week lockout) on killing the boss that drops the items it’s a terrible idea.

    There are better ways to provide incentive and little stat nudges than having to pray for the exact million to one item drop. Instead of trying to get something that’s warforged, socketed and bonus statted devs could instead implement augments that are attached to an item.

    Taking the sword example from the article. When you kill the boss a “base” version of the sword drops. It’s not super exciting but it’s still a decent sword. But in the bosses loot table are the various augments. So the next week you could kill the boss and the sword drops again and a fire augment drops or a holy augment. The second sword can go to someone else and the augment goes to the person who got the sword first time.

    The result: two happy people with swords. As it stands now you often wind up with two people with swords, one who is happy and one who is frustrated. Or even worse one person with two swords who literally throws away the first.

    But that would make the game “too easy” apparently 🙁

  • This is what gets people addicted to games like destiny. You live and die by the RNGesus.

    I have run every raid in destiny atleast 50 times trying to get stuff. When you don’t get it, you just start over. And I still love doing it. I don’t get angry at it because I don’t expect the game to be anything different. I know it’s a rng grind fest. And that’s fine.

  • Honestly, the chance of getting a top 5* character in this game is much better than most other gacha games where you can go months without ever rolling a top tier character.

  • RNGeesus the dread god of video games!
    His chosen few that he blessses tell us that he is a fair and just god. But those who are not part of his cult know that the ancient elderitch beast demands a terrible tribute. Hours and hours of menotomy and repetition prayer and worship until the monsters foul ego is dated, and he finally allows the poor player energy into his inner sanctum of the chosen few.
    But we all know somewhere in the world lurks a cursed soul. Am eternally damned, one that RNGeesus, the petty god that he is, has select to never ever receive it’s favour.

    And it might be you!

  • But if you pay $xx dollars for the Holy Sword DLC you can get it now without having to fight for it.

    • Yes and no. Sure, the prices in skin gambling can get ridiculous… but it doesn’t have an impact on gameplay. It isn’t like you need to spend 500 hours grinding for unique weapons or pay hundreds of dollars in order to have a viable PvP loadout in CS:GO.

  • Gear through grinding or gear through luck… while a staple mechanic of most games, its when you start either having to complete collections or treasure “legendary” must have items that get ridiculous.

    The mobile phone market, has been most exploitive of this… through the use of loot boxes or endless grinds that are rigged in such a way to encourage spending.

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