Random Variation

Given a large number of trials, any random series will produce a large number of perverse-looking short streaks. If 100 people flip a coin 5 times, you should expect 6 of them to get the same result on every flip, but it will look strange to those 6 people. One-in-a-million chances happen all the time in a world of seven billion people. If millions of WoW players attack 100 times a day each, that is a lot of chances for long streaks of misses (and longer strings of hits).

More recently for me, it took two weeks to complete the Chasing Marcia achievement because one of the daily quests just did not appear for two weeks. What are the odds of that? Well, not bad. There are 5 quests, so 0.8^14=4.4% chance that any one quest will not appear for two weeks, but since there are five ways it could happen, there is a 22% chance. You should expect that to happen quite a few times each year, and if you started the dailies today, you should expect that 22% chance it will take you more than two weeks. (Maybe Blizzard does have some kind of streakbreaker in there, and maybe I just hallucinated having done the daily on a day I missed.)

I know all this and was just vaguely amused at the fishing streak. A similar thing contributed to my leaving The Lord of the Rings Online™ for about six months. I was trying to complete the Annuminas armor set, which involves getting the boss drop in each of three dungeons. With six fellowship members, that is a pretty clean 1/6 chance, minus the occasional member who just felt like running the dungeon but did not need that piece. In 16 tries, I won that 1/6 roll once. This should not be surprising: the expected value is to run each dungeon six times, and for everyone who wins a roll on the first time, there must be someone who just keeps running it and running it. I was not even up to 18 tries, and who knows, maybe it would have worked out perfectly and I would have won the next two. Independent probabilities, however, do not work that way: you still have a 1/6 chance, and I should expect another 12 tries to finish the set. And by that 16th trip, you get really sick of telling the new people to keep the silence-aura ghosts away from the healer.

Hence the approach of giving everyone a few badges, 1/6 the necessary token, or whatever.

: Zubon

14 thoughts on “Random Variation”

  1. If I remember correctly, the simplest phrasing to explain lucky streaks is that you have a 95% chance of winning within three times the mean number of attempts. So, 5% of players will run the dungeon at least 18 times without winning once.

  2. There is a really big difference between whether you’re relying on the random numbers to help you beat some (pointless) achievement, or whether it’s part of an important gear-related gatekeeping though.

    The radiance business was miserable and put a lot of extra unnecessary stress on people. But you can just skip the achievement.

    1. I would question your values there Spinks.

      To someone who plays as a completionist to collect all the achievements it’s just as frustrating to be gated by bad luck as to someone who plays as an achiever prepping for raids.

      Both players have their content frozen because of bad luck.

      Now the game play experience factors in of course. Clearly logging on each day for 2 weeks and checking the daily is not as bad as running a teeth-grinder of a pug with noobs wiping you by dragging the silencing ghosts to the healer every time.

      But I suspect players are just as likely to cancel when frustrated by bad luck with any playstyle and goal. The log in for a couple of hours a week to do something mindless player is paying the same as the hardcore raider. And to each player their own personal goals are what matters to them and keeps them playing.

  3. This is something players worked out long before designers did in MMO games.

    DKP was introduced because it’s bad for guilds to have some lucky players get lots of epics and some unlucky players go long periods without winning loot. Because the unlucky ones leave.

    Although mathematically it makes no difference if a player always seems to lose rolls they will try to change their luck by raiding with a new guild, a new alt or a new game.

  4. Ack!

    I managed to get the Chasing Marcia quest in about five days. The Dalaran cooking equivalent as one quest, “Mustard Dogs”, just would not appear for weeks. Seriously. Weeks. I was prepared to ram that Cheese and Whine board down Glowergold’s throat for the amount of times I had to do that quest.

    Then I swapped servers and the first cooking quest to appear? Yup, you guessed it, Mustard Dogs.

    More recently, I faced the inevitable RNG grind of trying to get the Hallowed Helm and Squashling from the two week Hallow’s End event. That meant an hourly “trick or treat”, a daily and killing the Horseman five times a day for every day for two damn weeks (for the second year in a row). All for a simple acheivement and title reward. Why do I do it to myself. (Apart from Stabs’ very good point – it’s a goal that I set myself) I got the last drop on the penultimate day of the holiday.

    Ironically, the day before I got that drop, I pugged the Horseman and his mount dropped (0.5% chance I think?). I rolled 100 and won it. What are the chances of that eh?

    Little things…

  5. You have prompted me to comment on randomness in my own blog.

    Unexpected random rewards are great because they are unexpected so there is no feeling of loss if you don’t get one. On the other hand when something you expect to get, be it a piece of set armour or an achievement or a key to unlock content, is dependent on the whim of chance then some players are inevitably going to be terribly disappointed.

    I think an obvious solution is that only unexpected rewards be random.

  6. The badge stuff will be a blessing. I also liked the badge gear in WoW.

    It always felt wrong to me that in a raid only few people of say 25 get something worthwhile, while the rest has repair costs.

    LOTRO really managed to take it to the extreme with radiance gear coins being most of the time the only really valuable thing. Crafted Lothlorien gear is better than the Moria instance stuff in general. So the only thing I will ever need are the starter radiance gear coins.

    1/6 chance, as you mentioned. Sometimes some don’t need it, so 1/4. All others are there to complete some kill x Orcs in Fil Gashan traits or something like that.

    That everyone gets a token for the successful participation where he can later exchange some of them for something worthwhile makes the system so much more bearable.

    P.S. the whole idea behind this radiance gear content gating is still total BS.

    1. That’s nothing. We had a guy with all the mats to Rags mace for over 100 kills, the thing never dropped.

      Also, the ONE time I missed an MC clearing run, BOTH pieces of the legendary sword dropped and our 4th tank got them. We never saw another piece in all our MC runs.

      RNG is a bitch.

  7. Ah, the old gambler’s fallacy. It’s funniest/saddest when a guildmate fails to crit on a week cooldown item with a 74% chance to crit 6 times in a row.

    For those that don’t listen to Radiolab, shame on you. ;) But the show on Stochasticity is relevant to this discussion, methinks. :)

  8. I honestly don’t think that those dailies (like the fishing and cooking ones) have an even distribution on which quest they give. Like quests 1, 2, and 3 have a 25% chance of appearing, quest 4 has a 15% chance, and quest 5 has a 10%. Every single one of those dailies always seem to have one quest that doesn’t show up that often.

  9. Random rewards are fun when you get something unexpected above and beyond your goal, but making the main reason to run content random seem like a poor design choice. Figuring out how to balance that seems difficult however. If the random reward is much better than the non-random result, then it becomes the goal. If the random result is only a little better than the non-random one, it is less exciting when it does drop.

    Maybe if you have a linear content progression, you could have the random result be equivalent to the reward from the next step in the progression. Then you are just winning the right to have the reward early, but if it doesn’t drop you just move on to the next step where it is guaranteed, instead of grinding it out randomly.

    I also have a problem with the assumption in an MMO that I want to run the exact same content 6+ times, especially when 2 runs are enough to master it. I’m currently playing Dragon Age and taking a break from WoW. I’m on my second playthrough, but I couldn’t imagine playing it 6 times, especially in a row. I get that content creation for an MMO is expensive, so they want you to replay it a lot, but it still gets old quick.

  10. FYI WoW does have a sequence breaker for at least regular misses and crits. Can you imagine the QQing if it didn’t?

    Agree boss tokens are >>>> random drops.

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