[MUD-Dev] [DGN] The psychology of random numbers

Sean Kelly sean at ffwd.cx
Thu Jan 8 17:31:35 CET 2004

On Mon, 5 Jan 2004, Ted L. Chen wrote:

> To illustrate, take your standard RPG combat roll and answer the
> following two cases:

>   A) Bubba is fighting Buffy.  He has a STR of 255, she a STR of
>   240.  Who will win?

>   B) Bubba is fighting Buffy.  He is very strong.  She is also
>   very strong.  Who will win?

> My supposition is that most people are inclined to say that Bubba
> will win in A (strong expectation), while they remain unsure as to
> the winner in B (weak expectation).

I'm not sure I'd agree.  My first thought was "it depends on the
game mechanics but the difference is likely insignificant."  And my
belief is that the average powergamer will think the same way... or
discover such through experimentation.

> Why the fuss?  When Bubba plays and sees his stats greater than
> Buffy, his expectations of winning are skewed by the concrete
> measuring yardstick.  When he loses to Buffy, his world view is
> shattered and the game becomes bugged, Buffy is cheating, or he
> somehow has nerfed equipment.

What you're talking about is a shift in the entire focus of the
game.  One displays numeric attributes and statistcs to the player
at various stages of the game (be they static attributes, combat
rolls, etc).  The other hides all of these mechanics behind
descriptive terms than communicate generalities rather than
specifics: "Bubba hit Buffy very hard!"  If the game is
combat-oriented I will assume two possible outcomes.  Either players
learn to interpolate the vague terms in a statistically meaningful
way or they become frustrated because they aren't given sufficient
indication about whether they are losing a battle.

> Working on the loose assumption that displaying some sort of
> measure is inevitable, is there some way we can better manage
> player expectations?

I'd argue that we first need to determine that these are the player
expectations before managing them becomes an issue.  Are there games
where players have argued "but I should have won, my strength was 5
points higher!?"

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