Good Decisions, Good Outcomes

We have discussed repeatedly over the past year that fun games let you make meaningful choices. David Henderson comments on a recent, high-profile football game and the distinction between decisions and outcomes.

Usually, the best strategic choice is the one with the highest expected value (probability of outcome times value of outcome). People frequently look at solely the outcome and then attribute it to the decision, whether or not the outcome was a likely result of that decision. Winning the lottery is a good outcome for you, but playing the lottery is almost never a good decision because the cost of a ticket is more than (odds of winning) times (value from winning); depending on how you estimate taxes, inflation, and the chance of splitting the prize, the Powerball even-odds point is around $1 billion.

I have mixed feelings about games where you make good decisions and lose. This is not the case of single-player games scripted to be perverse, where what looks like the right choice is a trap or all choices are traps. I am thinking of multiplayer games that are anything less than 100% strategy with all information known in advance. We want some unknowns, and making decisions in the face of unknowns means occasionally things come down against you. When the odds are 50-50 and you lose a coin flip, yeah, that happens all the time. When you win unless you lose 5 coin flips in a row, that still happens 3% of the time. I like to think of myself as comfortable with probability and true randomness, but having a 97% chance to win and still losing through no fault of your own is really frustrating. It is absolutely necessary that players lose 3% of 97% chances, but it is still really frustrating.

It is frustrating on another level when people celebrate those 3%s as great victories, rather than blind luck. Don’t get me wrong, if you are in a position where your only chance to win is five coin flips in a row and playing conservatively guarantees a safe loss, take that chance. High variance solutions can be your friend, and even if you lose that game (as you most likely will), it was still the right decision. But if you started with equal odds and fell into a situation where you needed five-in-a-row to win, you probably made some bad decisions along the way. And if you are that guy who immediately set up a five-in-a-row situation to win immediately or quit immediately, you are what is wrong with online gaming.

Celebrate your victories, but also celebrate good decisions, whether or not they lead to victory in that particular case.

: Zubon

It’s a different sort of unsatisfying if the game comes down to a coin flip.

4 thoughts on “Good Decisions, Good Outcomes”

  1. I sincerely hope you’re not implying that people have any say in heavy RNG systems out there? I know you’re a fan of GW2 and it’s controversial loot system but I have to point out that GW2 is the only game out there that uses draconian systems against their own legit farmer players such as DR a system that actively prevents the acquisition of loot under otherwise normal conditions. Which means you can setup your dice to bring in better drops but when the drops disappear and your strategy is the same as everyone elses that means that something is preventing you from getting those drops.

    There’s yet another report of missing loot boxes in their forums right now and it’s directly due to DR stepping in and saying “Nope, even though you’ve played normally and you’ve done what others have done, you can’t have the item that would have normally dropped for you”

    I’m sorry but I prefer a completely open system of RNG and the economy where your decision to get the items you need to craft or build up a supply means you can and nothing but time and available gameplay time will stand in your way.

    Suggesting that it’s the decisions of gamers that influence the results of winning loot or losing loot is naive at best and just shows how entrenched the propaganda is in our community.

    1. No. I can only assume you are thinking of another author writing another thing. Ravious is our GW2 fan, and I have no particular thoughts about its loot system at the moment. The post makes no mention of loot, instead referring to PvP competition, largely being inspired by board games.

      I don’t even know what position you think you’re arguing against, but you seem really angry about it.

    2. There is one big difference behind this notion of random. A success can be random because of the game itself (dice) or because you do not know the other player strategy. The second one is far more interesting because you can try to guess the other mind, whereas of course in the first one you are only playing with Maths ( or your intuition about Math).
      This is the ddifference between coin and Rock/Paper/Scissors .

      Guessing other strategy is still different from the 100% known game such as cchess, and still enter the definition of Random.

      The 3% loss is there far more acceptable than in a dice random game because you still have the impression that you could have guess the correct strategy. But it can be more frustrating. And the corresponding 3% win is then far more relevant because you have succeeded to trump the other player. Nope ?

  2. Hmm bonus for most confusing comment…. I presume that was meant to be a comment to another post somewhere else?
    About the actual post: Couldn’t aggree more. But there is something immensily satisfactory about being in that “3% chance to win if i take this line of play, slow death if i don’t”- situation, and then winning. Provided fcause that the line of play isnt immediately obvious to everyone (im thinking of mtg-games here where i have basically lost, but have a playsequence i can start and if i then topdeck the exact right card it wins me the game). You have basically lost a game, but recognize a slim chance for a way out. Putting yourself in that situation willingly is of cause “bad” play however.

Comments are closed.