Fooled by Randomness

Terra Nova has a good discussion about in-game superstition and urban legends. When confronted by random behavior and rare events, people frequently make up explanations, some of which even sound plausible.

Funny thing is, occasionally they are true. Asheron’s Call really did have a Wi Flag based on character names. In the original A Tale in the Desert, wine flavors were based on the number of grapes that had been crushed in a barrel. In Kingdom of Loathing, you used to be able to change your odds of getting encounters by logging out and back in. Games have all sorts of oddities, which is why a seemingly harmless tweak can cause bugs throughout the game. You are in a non-linear feedback system where quasi-random systems can be based on arbitrary variables.

: Zubon

4 thoughts on “Fooled by Randomness”

  1. Random is not “fair” or “even” by any means. I hear talk of loot seeds and all that crap all the time in my WoW guild, fact is, random is random, you could get stormrage chest off nefarian 6 times in a row and the system is still random, although the chances of that are unlikely.

  2. The saga of the Wi-flag in AC still plagues MMO development. There’s this shared memory in the playerbase that the AC live team said, “There is no Wi flag,” until srand found it and said, “No, wait, there is.”

    What is more accurate is that the live team had said, “We have looked at our code and have not been able to determine what could be causing this behavior.” The creature->player targetting was (err, still is, I imagine) based on an algorithm that took, as one input, a hash of the character name. So it wasn’t impossible for player name to be a factor, it just took a lot of debugging to figure out where the algorithm or the hashing was bugged.

    So here’s the problem. Player decides that his character name is also impacting his loot drops, complains to devs. Devs say, “Impossible, loot system doesn’t check your character name.” Player says, “Yeah, but you said the Wi flag didn’t exist, too!” Player continues to complain.

    The key here is that most players have no concept of how programming works. If creature targeting can be impacted by character names, ANYTHING can be impacted by character names, right? Well, no, that’s not correct, but it’s very very difficult to prove to the average player. And a player is frequently more likely to trust his own (flawed) observational data over the statements of the dev team if said statements contradict the observed data.

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