MMO Progression and RNG

So, I’ve seen this come up several times lately. On reddit, in guild chat on BDO, I even think I saw a blog post about it not long ago. As a result I’ve been looking at the various things I play and how much of the oft-maligned RNG it has built into it’s mechanics and progression.

I’ll start with the obvious, that I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, Black Desert. Now here’s a game that has taken RNG, added some grind, and made some sort of ridiculous lovechild that people still actually play. Everything is so heavy with random generation and results. High end boss gear has an abysmal drop rate, topping out at 1.4% for the field boss versions, I think, and less than 1% for the scrolls. Upgrading said gear to a usable level is also fraught with random rolls, and each failure is costing you something. Having great gear, though, requires either a lot of time and money to grind it out, or a truly absurd amount of money that’s required to but it already upgraded. Many of these piece can be in the billions.

The coveted Bheg’s Gloves are currently selling around 57.5 million, which is absurdly low, thanks to the newly introduced dark rifts, which have given people new ways to acquire them. A PRI, +16, will set you back about 360M, and there are even some PEN, +20, listed. You know, if you’ve got 12.1B laying around. Just a month ago the base version was selling for nearly 2.7B instead of 57M. Why so high? Because the RNG contributes to scarcity. What happens if you don’t get the drop? Well, in the case of Bheg’s Gloves, nothing. They drop or they don’t. With the world bosses you get a “latent aura” that can be traded for the box, but you’re going to have to kill it 50-100 times to get enough of them.

Then we’ve got FFXIV, which falls a little closer to the typical MMO, I believe. The drops are random, but if you kill it one or two dozen times you’ll generally have enough tokens to just buy it. Of course, that’s mostly with the Extreme Trials and the Raids. In fact, in the 8-man raid, you’re rolling against other people for the token itself. When this content is current, you’re typically limited to a certain number of drops per week, but if you’re doing something older then it’s all pretty much fair game and can be pretty punishing if the rolls don’t favor you. Especially when you need that gear to get into the current content.

On the other end of the spectrum from Black Desert, we have something like Eve. While there are some things like loot drops that are kinda random, most things in this game are not. It’s all based on time, cost, and skills, with very little luck involved. I’ll admit that in combat Black Desert is similar. Damage isn’t really that random, it’s consistent and predictable. With Eve though, almost everything is. The most random thing is typically the price that other people are charging for whatever thing you’re looking for. Individual gear pieces aren’t really upgraded though. If you want a better turret you’re going to have to pay for it.

Elite: Dangerous takes it in a different direction. Effectiveness of a given weapon is fairly dependent upon player skill, not character skill, but can also be upgraded and modified in various ways. Those upgrades, while less random than they used to be, still feature a similar grind and roll system to BDO. In fact, when engineers was first introduced, it was a bit of a scandal due to the high amount of both grind and RNG involved.

Ultimately I think it comes down to how much control someone has. No RNG at all can be a bit tedious. At that point it’s just a spreadsheet in a different form. Where’s the sweet spot between the two? Hard to say. It seems somewhat personal, and even in a game you like you can move back and forth while the actual amount of randomness itself is unchanging. Expectations play a role as well. If I know getting a good tier 8 horse in Black Desert can easily take weeks or months when I set out to do it, then I’ve already accepted that level of effort. When you’re just throwing yourself at something that seems like it should be working and isn’t, now that’s frustrating. Like failing to gather something that has a 90% success rate four time in a row. Not outside the realm of possibility, but feels wrong, as though the system itself is lying to you.

Of course, humans are inherently bad at off the cuff probability and an absence of streaks like that is one way they detect “fake” randomness. People consistently underestimate how often it happens.

Okay, I’ll shut up now. Peace.

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