The Unknown Gamer

RNGesus is a False God

Despite adding a slew of quality-of-life improvements over the years, MMORPGs still have a tendency to slide back into dated concepts simply because that is the way things have always been done. Among these, an over-reliance on randomness is possibly one of worst habit that MMOs have hung onto. Anyone who slogged through classic World of Warcraft likely has stories about how it took forever to gear their tanks up in Molten Core, or about how they never managed to snag that one elusive piece of loot they had been after. To quote a character in a now long-forgotten machinima video:

"That damn staff never dropped..."

Being at the mercy of the Random Number Generator can often suck. While some RNG dependency is good, depending too heavily on it simply leads to time sinks that test a player's tolerance for grinding (as well as the amount of time they're willing or able to spend playing) rather than providing a true measure of skill. Because it is incredibly common for players to immediately judge a character by the gear he or she is wearing, players are frequently considered unskilled simply because they have not been as lucky as others. Pick-up groups rarely consider that a player may have been running dungeons for weeks in order to get upgrades, instead frequently opting to make angry remarks about the sorry state of someone's gear. As a result, many players have come to refer to the RNG as RNGesus as a way to acknowledge that they are often wholly at the mercy of randomness.

It is true that most modern MMOs have at least taken some steps to address the problem, primarily by adopting token or point systems that help mitigate the RNG factor. This alternative currency is awarded simply by completing content and can be traded to a vendor NPC for gear. Depending on the game, however, this gear may be of a lesser quality to raid drops and is rarely the best-in-slot item. This helps players with poor luck be able to keep caught up enough so they're not left out when the next raid is released, but it generally won't help them top the DPS charts. Still, it is a welcome change to the days when warriors needed to farm Dire Maul relentlessly for a copy of Foror's Compendium of Dragonslaying in order to upgrade to a raid-worthy tanking sword.

On the other hand, some games have instead embraced the cruelty of the RNG to exploit players for more revenue. Many Korean MMOs which brand themselves as being free-to-play have an infamous reputation of featuring weapon upgrade systems that are heavily reliant on randomness. Failing the upgrade can lead to lost materials used for the upgrade, or sometimes even the loss of the item itself. Instead of taking their chances, players are instead encouraged to visit the cash shop to purchase items that will mitigate or eliminate the chances of failure. It is no wonder why many of these games are considered pay-to-win by many players.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if developers come up with more creative ways to avoid wholesale dependence on randomness. Even though random numbers have been the way of things for RPGs since before PC gaming, it may be possible to free players from RNGesus in the future with better effort and innovation.

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