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Learning to Love Random

Learning to Love Random

Published on: Mar 2, 2015 @ 5:45

I’m not a fighting man. I have never thrown a punch or broken a nose, never exchanged blows with a worthy adversary or survived an all-out brawl-out, and I’ve certainly never baited a fight.

So why am I about to enter an arena that musters more rage than any I know?

RNG – random number generator – or the system Bungie uses to determine Legendary, Exotic, and just about every drop in Destiny, is hated across the globe. More vitriol and venomous spittle flies at the mere mention of the name than all the chasms of the Hellmouth could contain, and mine has flown along with it.

But I’ve learned to love RNG. That’s right: I think it’s sort of great, and this is how I’ve come to that conclusion.

A Tale of Two Systems

Destiny is a compartmentalized experience, meaning the game is very different depending on your character level. This is even more noticeable if you’ve ever trudged through the endgame material with your level 30+ character, only to start another character and face levels 1-20 again.

What once was an enjoyable shooter, suddenly feels like flinging foam darts at monstrous foes with weapons constructed of plastic and bubblegum.

We trudge back to the Tower, open the vault and stare at that Legendary’s warning: “This requires level 20” – it flashes like a neon knife in our hearts. Believe me, I weep with you.

level 20 guide

But so does Bungie. They have implemented systems to ease our pain and make the trudge decently enjoyable. How many of us, starting Destiny for the first time, completely missed how painful those first levels are? We can thank Bungie for that. We hadn’t yet tasted the glory of Fatebringer and Gjallarhorn. The Gunsmith and Vanguard kept us regularly stocked with weapons just good enough.

That’s the linear progression system Bungie intended for early levels. Complete story missions, bounties, and get what you need.

But everything changes at 20. The world flushes with color too wonderful to process, or it blackens and flings us into a darkness we can feel. What we are experiencing is the changing of the guard.

That old system of progress takes a bow and leaves us to the new system: RNG. That cruel witch with a velvet glove – one minute slapping, the next drawing us in like sons and daughters.

While we love to hate her, let us at least ponder what purpose she serves.

What is RNG’s Grand Scheme?

You may be saying, “Wait, RNG is random. How can something random have a purpose?”

But that’s misleading. RNG is random in the sense that drops in Destiny don’t follow a definite pattern, sure, but that isn’t to say they don’t drop with some predetermined consistency.

Those of us who have done raids know for a fact that opening the first chest on Crota’s End will net Radiant materials. That is decided from the dawn of time. You won’t get raid gear. You won’t get baskets of candy Engrams. You get exactly what Bungie intended.

destiny random number analysis

If we take that and extrapolate it, we can say that whenever we complete a Nightfall or weekly strike, there are predetermined items we may get. Now, it might be Ascendant shards, as this poor soul discovered – and believe me, we feel for you brother – but it isn’t something outside the realm of what Bungie intended.

Random isn’t senseless; every event we partake in is designed by Bungie to get us closer to something, and often that something is level 32 (depending on which strike or raid you’re doing).

As for the Crucible, well… most bets are off with the Crucible. Who knows how the hell that thing works, but it will spit out something decent eventually. Bungie recently confirmed that Crucible rewards will be improved in future:

Crucible rewards are on the low side for sure, and issue we intend to address in a future update. The rewards are random to encourage everyone in the game to play it to completion, rather than only the “winners” staying.

Furthermore, Bungie is aware of the mistakes they made with The Dark Below, and plans on fixing them with the House of Wolves.

Our philosophy about rewards and loot will continue to evolve as we see how players play and react. […] the mistakes we made with the DLC1 reward economy will not be repeated.

Will we usually get what we want? Probably not. The odds are stacked against it, but that leads to a deeper question, and the one that changed my mind about RNG.

Broken System… or Expectations?

I had a conversation once with a managing director at Crytek (the video game developer) about bonuses. It was a simple conversation that boiled down to one core issue: It’s exceedingly difficult to create a bonus system.

Why? Because the very idea of a bonus – a free gift – becomes something we try desperately to earn. What was meant as an added, “Hey, thanks for your effort,” becomes the goal itself.

I see a lot of that in my approach to random drops. And if we’re honest, random drops are probably the only reason some of us play, especially if we’ve got level 32’s trouncing about.

It seems to me that Bungie’s system works as expected. Some things are guarantees, and everything else is handed to RNG as a bonus for our labors. Are we guaranteed those raid gauntlets after the lamps on Crota’s End? I’ve done that section plenty of times without getting them, so no, certainly not. But we are guaranteed the chance to get them.

That chance is the heart of RNG – the bonus on top of our expected wage. But was RNG ever meant as anything other than a bonus for our work? I don’t think so, and here are a few reasons why:

destiny loot random analysis

Give Me What I’m Owed

I’ve been thinking long and hard about the day I bought Destiny. I popped in the disc, completed the first mission, and immediately jumped into a party with friends.

Let me tell you, it was like a breath of fresh air.

I said, “I haven’t had this much fun since Halo co-op.” And it was true. Every moment was pure childish fun again.

So I’ve been pondering the idea of what Bungie owed me as a consumer. Destiny was, without a doubt, worth every penny I paid. Bungie has delivered to me more value for money than any game has in a long time. And no matter how much I may hate RNG for all the frustrations it’s put me through, I can’t honestly say Bungie has cheated me. Am I owed more? Am I somehow credited a Thunderlord before Bungie has fulfilled its obligation to me as a consumer?

Try as I might, I just can’t say that. And even if we could somehow earn these bonuses, would it make things better?

destiny random number analysis

Joy to the Newb

Random adds an element of surprise, and everyone loves a surprise. I’ll never forget the moment I got Gjallarhorn. There were no expectations, no understanding of the possibilities. I opened a chest, saw some ascended shards, and said, “Of course – so it is and so it must always be.”

But then the gold. Oh that glorious gold. And the G-J-A-L-L…

Oh how I squealed (quite literally) with delight. My whole world turned upside down. I was a man made new.

And if I’m honest, I find that beautiful. Earning that rocket launcher through an exotic bounty wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable.

Which comes full circle to RNG as a bonus system. When you work at a company you love, bonuses are just that – icing on the cake. But when your job becomes the means to an end, namely earning that bonus, it’s even more crushing when your Christmas bonus is a gift basket of nuts and cheeses.

Has the bonus changed? Not necessarily. But the expectations certainly have, which means we also must look at our own personal nature.

destiny rng analysis

The Man in the Mirror

In my early days of Destiny, before RNG became bitter to me, I lived for the next mission with friends. We would laugh and throw grenades, screaming, “We’re invincible!” as thrall erupted in bursts of flame. I would sit with bated breath as rewards twisted into Engrams and Motes of Light, gasping as I saw that Legendary pop into view. Never did I regret a second of those days.

But now I have regrets. I regret grinding Vanguard strikes and cursing when I don’t get a Legendary Engram. I regret bragging about my Gjallarhorn when a friend gets Thunderlord just so I can maintain some flimsy semblance of superiority. I regret hating players who get full raid gear sets their first time through Crota’s End while I’m still waiting on that breastplate. And I regret making ancillary things like random drops the heart of why I enjoy Destiny.

The point is, emotions can run high in this game. And when emotions run high, we tend to lose objectivity. So ultimately, I think RNG is right and my expectations are wrong because I know myself. Sometimes I look in the mirror and have to face facts: I’ve misplaced my desires somewhere. What I once loved has twisted into something unrecognizable, and things that were free gifts have become expectations.

Is the system Bungie created perfect? Hardly. But I can tell you one thing: it’s closer to perfect than I am. Which leaves me with only one conclusion: RNG isn’t so bad after all. It is a system designed for those who still love what Destiny is really about: time with friends. I fear RNG never will satisfy the rest of us. Not because it is broken, but because we are.

What RNG and Casinos Share

Some community members have drawn a comparison between RNG and casino incentives. My parents love gambling, so I’ve skated along casino lines the last few years, and I find the comparison interesting. I believe it valid in one way, and insufficient in another.

RNG does have a great deal in common with the rewards casinos use (referred to as “comps” for “complementary”) to keep customers returning. Call it a dangling carrot if you will, but Bungie does want players to come back. Sometimes an expansion is enough, but all MMO models need something more basic between those expansions, and loot is the simplest way to keep players coming back.

Loot and bounties trigger something in our brain, often a sort of panic. If you’ve ever thought, “I should at least pick up today’s bounties,” or “I should at least play that daily story,” so you don’t miss out on loot or experience, then you’ve bitten the hook. I should know, as I’ve bitten that hook enough to be peppered with holes in the mouth.

destiny loot cave casino

But on the other hand, if RNG is Bungie’s equivalent of casino comps, then Bungie is really blowing it. Casinos have designed comps to be incremental, and you can be sure that regular gamblers understand when certain comps will be offered and what they must do to obtain them. It’s a far more dangerous system, as it locks players in a constant leveling-up mentality. “If I just spend this much more, even though I’m losing, I’ll win,” is the name of the game.

Destiny isn’t so kind. We lose all the time without significant wins in this game. And I believe that’s because, as my original premise states, RNG is not intended to be more than a bonus. If it were meant as a comp-esque system, then it would work better at minimizing player turnover. But we all know that burnout tends to set in and set in quickly.

I for one am grateful; I’d rather not spend the next few months working diligently for rewards that might be shiny, but end up robbing me of better experiences.

What It Means for Us

If this is true, and our problems with RNG lie more in us than in the system, what does it require?

First, it requires we change our desires or take a break until Destiny can fulfill them. Bungie is unlikely to completely alter the way drops are handled, which means we must do one or the other if our enjoyment of Destiny’s RNG-heavy-core is to survive. Sure, we could continue to grind through content – begrudging everything – in hopes of that Exotic drop. But why bother when we once found enjoyment elsewhere?

Second, it requires we treasure the things we have been afforded. Not everyone gets just the weapons you’ve gotten, and I bet there are many out there who would love to have them. Believe what you will, but no one behind Bungie’s curtain is wringing his fingers and saying, “Ah yes, let’s deny them Vision of Confluence once more!” And there are enough wonderful weapons out there that if you get any drops whatsoever, you’re bound to have something special on your hands. We owe it to ourselves to remember that.

Dark-Fenrir

Fan art by Dark-Fenrir

And finally, it requires we approach life with a bit more perspective. I don’t step back often enough and question the heart behind my actions, but RNG has forced me to do just that. Mostly because it makes me so irrationally angry.

I confess, I never set out on this article thinking about such lofty things, but that is the beauty of random – it comes when you least expect it.

So here’s to life being a little more random.

But let’s not kid ourselves, a Gjallarhorn would be nice too!

Renovating Crucible Rewards

We’ve all seen that Guardian with the 2 kills and 10 deaths acquire the best reward. Is that fair? Due to the randomness of it, yes. As much as we’d like to complain about it, the rewards are given out randomly, not based on performance.

The reason they’re not based on performance is to incentivize players to stay in the game, and it adds a bit of mystery to each match.

Should a skill-focused reward system be introduced – maybe just in the Iron Banner? How would it work?

Perhaps give players who do well a higher chance at receiving an item, while still keeping the same RNG system that’s currently in place. This way, players who don’t do well will still have the same opportunity to earn rewards as they do now, but exceptional players will have a slightly higher chance.

We discussed this more on our latest podcast as well, throwing out some ideas about better cosmetic rewards for the highest scorers.

PvE > PvP

When it comes to the amount of rewards, the Crucible loses every time. Destiny’s drop dilemma in the Crucible can’t be understated.

You must spend much more time in the Crucible to earn the same amount of Engrams that you could earn from a few ROC Strikes.

As mentioned above, Bungie is going to take a hard look at Crucible rewards.



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About Taylor Bair

I write about the intersection between the games we love and the lives we live. When I'm not working on websites and marketing projects, I'm writing with a hot cup of chai tea in one hand and a computer in the other. Makes typing exceedingly difficult, let me tell you.
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