Randomness – a term that means both everything and nothing. Especially in the context of prizes received in various lotteries, where we can win or not. And yet, we still like to take our part.

Concepts like video game random rewards, loot boxes, digital keys, or gacha did not come out of nowhere. They evolved over many years of human history to reach the form we know today.

Sometimes, this road was more rocky than not, and the topic became quite controversial. But overall, the whole term exists under the undoubtedly fascinating concept of RRM (Random Reward Mechanisms), which always consists of three components: a trigger (like spending time in the game, completing a challenge, or making an in-game payment), a random procedure (opening a reward) and its reception. But before we proceed to today’s forms of RRM, let’s see where they came from.

Origins of Randomness – The Lottery Tickets

Games based on luck have accompanied humanity since ancient times – but they all started with simple lotteries. It may come as a surprise, but even the Great Wall of China was funded by this type of entertainment. In Roman Empire, they were an essential part of meetings. Participants received a ticket and won something – no wonder everyone liked it.

The first competition with paid tickets was the idea of Augustus Caesar, who used the collected funds for various repairs in Rome. The lottery model has not changed much since then. Now, they are hosted by government organizations, charities, companies, and business owners. And although enormous sums are often unreachable, many still risk dreaming of unimaginable wealth. And some treat it as a form of uncomplicated fun.

The Evolution of Randomness – Card/Toy Boosters

Remember Kinder Surprise eggs? It is a classic example of a random prize using surprise mechanics. All toys have the same equal value, but the goal is to collect the most desired ones within the current theme – which often become valuable collectibles even for adults.

Did you get something nice? Great, here’s your toy and lots of satisfaction. You didn’t? Don’t worry – the third time’s a charm! And if not, there’s always the fifth, the tenth, and so on.

Image by Dziana Hasanbekava
Randomness is also crucial in physical games – especially card titles like Magic: The Gathering, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Final Fantasy, or Pokemon. By releasing booster packs, creators provide players with more fun by encouraging them to exchange real money for new gameplay opportunities.

Physical sets are well sealed, meaning no one can know what’s inside, and the odds of something epic or not impressive are entirely random. But unlike their digital counterparts, these games allow players to trade their cards in real meetings. The effects are not determined by an algorithm, and it takes longer to acquire a new pack. Fascinating how such innocent entertainment gave rise to the much more controversial lootboxes we’ll get to later in this article.

Modern Application of Randomness – Video Games

Video games are a source of many variations of randomness that we often may be unaware of. The RNG - Random Number Generator is immensely useful in understanding how they work. Most titles implement an algorithm, generating random numbers denoting events within the game.

It manifests itself in many examples like procedurally generated levels, the type of loot obtained in Diablo, random NPCs, the chances of hitting an opponent with a spell or bullet, or the frustrating hunt for Shiny Pokemon in Pokemon Go. Like everything in our world, this mechanic has its pros and cons.

Random games are always fresh and replayable. They also allow new users to compete against experienced players. However, RNG undermines skills, which can be discouraging in competitive titles. In the case of a poorly designed algorithm, it is also easier to learn and predict – just like card counting in casinos.

Loot Boxes – Randomness Transformed into Monetization

Let’s proceed to the most controversial example of randomness in gaming – loot boxes. These innocent containers of digital items have become the subject of fierce discussions about their fairness and connection to gambling. They provide the joy of opening a gift with unknown content and satisfying animation, making the process quite addictive. But the issue of their controversy depends entirely on the publisher.

The problems start when a loot box provides the content necessary to progress in the game – just like in Star Wars: Battlefront or Middle-earth: Shadow of War (removed after a wave of criticism, but it’s sad that such events had to happen at all).

In that case, there’s no point in playing because pay-to-win is one of the most annoying things ever. However, there is nothing wrong with random loot boxes with cosmetic items like skins for CS: GO, League of Legends, or Dota 2. These free-to-play titles focus solely on players’ skills, not encouraging them to cheat with money.

From Physical to Digital – The Shift of Randomness in Gaming

The times when the grand release of a new title looked like the premiere of a finished movie in cinemas are long gone. A game rarely represents a finished product with all its content, instead offering many DLCs, Season Passes, loot boxes, and microtransactions in the later stages of its existence.

It shows how the randomness in gaming has transformed from just a mechanic to something unimaginably greater. But that’s not a bad thing in any way. Producing a decent video game costs more due to the gigantic expectations of players used to an increasingly better product.

The finished game must now be a highly anticipated masterpiece on The Witcher 3’s level to gather enough revenue.

No wonder free-to-play titles seek other sources of income and often offer microtransactions. Only 5 to 20% of gamers spend money on cosmetic items, but that’s enough for companies to benefit from such a sales model. What does it all suggest? It means randomness is no longer part of the in-game mechanics but a great way to earn money. The digital product is faster to access, delivers the same excitement of opening a gift, and makes players happy with their new cosmetic items.

The Future of Randomness in Gaming

The future of randomness in gaming is hard to predict, but there are some hopes we can keep our fingers crossed for. Like eliminating loot boxes containing essential progression items unavailable to those who prefer to acquire them by playing.

Pay to win is still common in many video games dividing players instead of uniting them. Pay to progress is significantly more acceptable, ensuring a balanced victory. Games like War Thunder or Borderlands, where players can invest a small amount for a trophy key, are the perfect recipe for still exciting but fair progress. The other thing that requires a change is the balanced RNG.

Depending on the title, too much or too little can ruin the gameplay experience – especially in competitive video games where skill doesn’t matter in the face of chaotic randomness. All this knowledge can be profitable for gamers desiring to learn more about their favorite activity.