But should game developers?
I have been playing a good amount of FTL recently (so should you, by the way) and the simple yet effective concept has some undeniable addictive qualities. At its core the game relies heavily on random encounters like we know from Fallout and how the players manage them with the resources at their disposal. But these events do not seem to be balanced at least not very much since it is absolutely possible to encounter impossible odds right at the start and lose right away. Something many would argue is a deadly sin of good game design.
But just as much as one could argue against those really random events I think they also serve the purpose to motivate, like getting dealt a bad hand at a cards game. Better luck next time. Since even one play through does not take up a lot of time (maybe 2 – 3 hours) it is frustrating but also the hurt not bad enough to quit entirely. In addition starting a new round is effortless and once the player gets used to the mechanics the first few rounds start to fly by in minutes.
This is exactly how slot machines are set up to work. Short bursts of game, easy to restart of course with the intent to burn you through your money as quickly as possible. In addition the win-lose ration is like 80 % meaning for 10,- you put in you get 8,- out, leaving the player with the feeling that “next time, they will win” which they do, but never so much that they get back they money they put it. The occasional Jackpot is meant as an incentive and a strong signal to the other players in the room that they can win the Jackpot, too. But I digress.
Ben Yahtzee compared FTL to slot machines as well but I think if anything, it is more like Poker since the players have substantial more possibilities to adapt to things coming their way, the longer they survived the better are the odds. And that is exactly why players keep coming back to the game, since they not only get tricked into believing they have a chance (like with slot machines) but by actually being able to beat the game and get better at it.
So what has this to do with Pangea? As I wrote earlier, we are setting up a number of systems that will more or less be random and playing FTL made me ask myself – will this be fun? And I think: yes it will be, as long as the player sees the chance to master these seemingly random events.
So should game developers play dice? No they shouldn’t, but it sure should feel like it ;).
There should not be an instant death event for the player but at the same time there should be different tough challenges at random times. When you give the player more chance to push their luck if they choose they will accept setbacks more easily when they feel they simply weren’t lucky this time. Or if everything worked out they will get more daring next time. So game developers should try to make those random events very adaptable to the player, not necessarily visible. A volcano in the early game will have a extremely small chance to be devastating for example – or will only appear in the early game if the game knows the player has in total already experience with these kind of events from previous sessions.
I would not leave everything to chance but a lot more that it is the case with “games these days” that are so easy, that you play them through and but them aside. This is not what happens with FTL. It is just the right amount of random and hard that you think “This time … this time I beat you”.
And I love it for that.