Opaque RNG is Indistinguishable from Rigging

My patience with enforced 50% win rates is paper graphene-thin.

“A fair game is one in which you win half the time.” It’s hard to argue against such a notion. What is more fair than a coin flip? The problem is that players aren’t equal sides of a coin, nor are the thousands of potential actions reducible to two, easily predictive binary outcomes. Some approximation is required. Or a developer thumb on the scale.

I am still playing Clash Royale despite the disastrous pivot towards blood stone squeezing, and the conceptual breakdown of all progression for long-term players. But some of their shit is driving me up a wall, and will eventually drive me from the game entirely. Specifically, Clan Wars, and even more specifically, a particular game mode with preconstructed decks.

To be sure, there are learning curves involved. Supercell basically took some “top decks” and added them to a pool, from which you are randomly assigned one for a single game. The problem is that some of these decks are just objectively terrible with no redeeming qualities, and still others are straight-up countered by some of the other matchups. For example, these two Classic Decks Battles:

clashroyal_classicdecks

Bullshit on the left, winners on the right.

In the first match (at the bottom), my Royal Hogs are immediately countered by Valkyrie, Mega Knight is immediately countered by Inferno Tower. Amusingly, Royal Hogs are also countered by Inferno Tower and Mega Knight by Valkyrie, assuming my opponent times it right. Meanwhile, while I can counter his Goblin Barrel with Arrows, they both cost 3 Elixir and thus end in a wash… with the slightest error on my part resulting in easily >30% tower damage. Meanwhile, my Zappies are basically useless, my Inferno Dragon even more useless, and I can’t use Arrows to counter his Princess or Goblin Gang because then I become vulnerable to Goblin Barrel. I also can’t hope to Fireball him out because he also has Rocket, which deals way more damage than Fireball. The ONLY way anyone could possibly win with the deck I was given was if the opponent was AFK. 1

For a WoW analogy, think Warrior (me) vs Frost Mage (opponent).

The second matchup wasn’t technically as lopsided, but still awful. Bandit is straight-up countered by pretty much every card in the opponent’s deck. Rascals + Zap took care of Minion Horde every time I threw one down, and Hog Rider/Mortar/Goblin Gang meant I could be punished immediately for dropping Elixir Collector or Three Musketeers. Which is what happened, pretty consistently. If I played better, I might have been able to distract a Mortar with my Valkyrie or Bandit in the other lane, and then split a Three Musketeers or something in the middle, followed by a split Minion Horde. Even then, if he played defensive for 20 seconds, my shit would have been countered.

Were these match-ups truly random? Or “enforced” 50% win rates? There is no direct economic incentive for Supercell to “rig” the Classic Decks Battle mode, but the RNG is opaque and it would certainly be a method to ensure that winrates do not get too lopsided.

The third clan war battle I played was Draft. In this game mode, you are given a choice of one of two cards, four times total; whatever you don’t pick goes to your opponent. I’m not sure if the card pairings are 100% random, but you can absolutely get stuck with some extremely shitty decks and/or matchups. And yet I’m fine with that. You as the player have some agency, even with imperfect information, e.g. choosing Minion Horde when opponent might have chosen Arrows. Indeed, Minion Horde in particular is a classical risky pick because of how many cards can counter it… but if your opponent doesn’t have any of those counters, it can be an overwhelming advantage.

My feelings on enforced winrates have changed over the years. Initially, it seemed fine. Necessary, even. But it is rigging, especially in the methods that many game developers go about it: pairing you with terrible teammates, matching you against strong counters, etc. The end result is that I simply cannot trust game developers with (opaque) RNG anymore. They have no incentive to be actually fair – however fairness is defined – and every incentive to produce favorable (to the devs) results. Even if they showed me the specific game code that chooses the matches, I have no reason to believe it operates in that way. This age of monetization and consumer surplus erosion has pushed me past the Cynicism Horizon, from which no trust can escape.

The only thing that game designers can do, and the thing they should be doing, is increasing player agency in the RNG elements. Drafting feels fair, even when the results are not. Maybe it is just another psychological trick to employ, giving someone the “choice” between a rock or a hard place. But it is an important one for not appearing so nakedly rigged in favor of one particular outcome.

1 If you can produce some videos of pros beating non-AFK people with the decks I was given, I’ll concede that I need to L2P. I typically end the season at 4800 trophies and can acknowledge mistakes, but on paper and in practice, those match-ups felt lopsided as hell.

Posted on January 14, 2019, in Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Won’t produce video, but those two matchups with the decks aren’t bad.

    Vs the 3m deck they have zero counter to elixir collector, which means you just defend using your cheap cards, rotating to drop collector when its up. Halfway through the match they will be down a massive amount of elixir, and they also don’t have a hard-counter to 3m itself. End-game is a split with 3M, then a split with horde. They won’t be able to come close to stopping both lanes being down so much elixir, and any defensive buildup is also hit hard by snowball.Meanwhile hog is easily countered with gob gang or bandit (hog will chip, but not enough to ultimately matter), and mortar is countered by valk tanking it walking in the other lane, or with miner+snowball if they defend the mortar.

    Second match-up is even easier, as their only direct damage is gob barrel, and you have arrows (and the window for arrows timing vs barrel is pretty large, so they really never should get a hit off). That deck can’t rocket rotate fast enough to kill you, and if they hit just a tower with rocket, you have a massive elixir advantage to push. Hogs split in the middle by river means they can’t use valk to counter, and inferno is an even trade that is somewhat difficult to play correctly. In double elixir you can build a more effective push, since zappies counter inferno, and they don’t have a hard counter to inferno drag or bats (on a large push, if they rely on princess, you arrow her). Gob barrel can be countered by bats or spear gobs, you take some chip damage, but its a positive elixir trade that can also be turned into a counter-push (hogs+bats means inferno isn’t enough to stop it). Fireball to kill princess and get chip damage on a tower is also not terrible, if needed, but more ideal is letting princess get a single shot on a tower and then having spear gobs or bats kill her for a +1 trade and counter-chip.

    That said if you are really serious about winning in collection day, I’d avoid that mode, as it is the most random. Draft is decent, and then the modifier game modes where you use your deck are of course the most ‘controlled’.

    Like

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