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Uncertainty in Games | Pt.2

Hello guys!


Welcome to part two of this series! It's so great to see you here again! A short recap: So far, we have discussed six types of uncertainty used in games. Plus, we've already noticed that this is an invaluable technique found in almost every game! So, without further ado, let's just continue where we left off. Ready? :)



7. Hidden Information

 

'The uncertainty that arises from withholding information.'


This concept can categorised into two main fields: Known unknowns and Unknown unknowns.


  • Known unknown: A good example here, might again be Poker: You don't know which cards other players hold, but you know the range of possibilities.

  • Unknown unknowns: e.g., Action-RPGs: You neither know what you might encounter in the game world, nor what you might miss.


Hidden information often sparks curiosity, inviting exploration and experimentation. You can play with symmetric and asymmetric distribution of information and hide it spatially and/or temporally from players or tie it to certain actions.

 

Challenges:

'Narrative Anticipation' and 'Hidden Information' are not always distinguishable from each other. But: Hidden information must also be discoverable - Good game design subtly guides players to find interesting information. Remember from the last post: People really don’t like to be invalidated.

 

Games characterized by 'Hidden Information':

• Nethack (The NetHack DevTeam, 1987) [Link] - Levels reveal themselves along with the properties of items.

• Starcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 1998) [Link] - Use of 'Fog of War.'

• Among Us (Innersloth, 2018 on Steam) [Link] - The identity of the imposter.

• Mau Mau or other games with hidden cards.


Nethack in game screenshot

Nethack Gameplay


8. Schedule Uncertainty

 

'The uncertainty that arises when the 'Magic Circle' does not close but is temporally bound to reality.'

 

You probably know this all too well: 'You've spent all your coins for today. Come back tomorrow or pay $4.99 now.' This is a phenomenon primarily prevalent in digital games and can lead to negative stress, also called as a ‘Dark Pattern’ if used to allure customers to buy nonsense content making this a cheap and unsightly source of leaks that quickly leads to frustration. Schedule Uncertainty can however also be a smart move to increase player’s compliance if developers use it carefully, e.g. as daily events that provide players with some kind of in-game-currency.

 

Challenges:

If the 'Magic Circle' does not close clearly, games can have real consequences and trigger addiction. The worst case here is the 'Pay to win'-mechanic, which arises when game progress is tied to playtime, meaning real-time, and the player shall bypass this by spending money.

 

Games with “Schedule Uncertainty” (that do not follow the ‘Dark Pattern’):

• Hearthstone (Blizzard Entertainment, 2014) [Link] - Daily challenges that, upon completion, generate in-game currency equivalent to real money and empower the player.

• Deep Rock Galactic (Ghost Ship Games, 2020) [Link] - Daily challenges that, upon completion, generate in-game currency used to unlock cosmetic items.



9. Uncertainty of Perception

 

'The uncertainty that arises when a game challenges our perception.'

 

This uncertainty quickly leads to a physical feeling of being overwhelmed, restlessness, and stress and is often paired together with 'Hidden Information' e.g. in horror games to generate fear.


It Steals main menue

Zeekers' It Steals


Challenges:

Balance! If overdone, a game just becomes unplayable.

 

Games characterized by 'Uncertainty of Perception'

• Tetris (Alexei Leonidovich Pajitnov, 1984) [Link] - Eventually, the blocks move too fast to perceive and react to.

• It Steals (Zeekerss, 2020) [Link] - Darkness, low resolution, and eerie sounds.

• Dobble (Denis Blanchot, Guillaume Gille-Naves, Igor Polouchine, 2009) [Link] - You don't trust your eyes.

• Guitar Hero (Harmonix Music Systems, 2005) [Link] - Listening to the rhythm and seeing the rapidly moving notes.

 


10. Randomness

 

'The uncertainty that arises when the gaming experience is shaped by random events.'

 

Randomness is a source of unpredictability and a crucial mechanism in almost any game. Having to face many random elements, players rely on luck rather than skill, obviously meaning such games are therefore less competitive but rather a cheerful waiting for a happy coincident. Thus, it is better to create many small unpredictable moments through randomness during the whole game that cumulatively affect the big picture than to let a random moment decide the game.


Challenges:

A bad balance of randomness will easily make game feel obsolete and arbitrary. If everything depends solely on randomness, there are no meaningful decisions and with that the game itself becomes meaningless.

 

Games characterized by 'Randomness':

• Brotato (Blobfish, 2023) [Link] - Rewards at the end of a round.

• The Battle of Polytopia (Midjiwan, 2016) [Link] - Starting conditions of a round.

• Middle-earth™: Shadow of Mordor™ (Monolith Productions, 2014) [Link] - System of orc chieftains and their characteristics.

• Das verrückte Labyrinth (Max Kobbert, 1986) [Link] - Layout of the game world.

 


Hero Picture of the Game Brotato

Brotato: Premium


11. Development Anticipation

 

'The uncertainty that arises when game development is ongoing or periodically modified.'

 

This tactic mainly became known with the advent of online games, social games, and massive multiplayer online games (MMOs) and turned out to be very effective in increasing replay value or extending playtime. Whilst being mainly influential in digital games, it is sometimes also utilized in analogue games such as Paleo (Hans im Glück Verlag, 2022) with its expansion packs: Die Hornissen [Link] and Der weiße Wal [Link].

 

Challenges:

Just because one relies on 'Development Anticipation', one should not release unfinished games. It is furthermore not wise to promise an extension of the base game with a new player experience when it’s actually just an upgrade on decorative items.

 

Games with 'Development Anticipation':

• Paleo (Peter Rustemeyer, [Link]) - Booster Packs.

• Magic: The Gathering (Richard Garfield, 1993) [Link] - Collectible card game with constantly new cards.

• World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2005) [Link] - Expansions.

• Deep Rock Galactic (Ghost Ship Games, 2020) [Link] - New content in the Season System.

 

 


So, this is it my friends! A rundown of the most crucial element of all games ever made! Feel free to use it as a kind of worksheet when analysing games and play or as an inspiration for your next game prototype! Wish you all the best!


Eva :)

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