Success in gaming is ultimately about finding an edge, whether that is over a human opponent or the game itself. Human players can be unpredictable, although there are still patterns in how most players approach certain situations. Meanwhile, playing against the CPU is a completely different challenge, given that there is a finite amount of moves and strategies that the game can accommodate. This allows players to find their edge by anticipating how the game engine responds in particular situations.
A cynical interpretation of this would be that such an approach negates the feeling of euphoria and gratification that comes from completing a game. It entirely depends on the style of the player, and whether the destination is more important than the journey. In rich open-world games like Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption, there is satisfaction in learning the game’s nuances and narratives without guidance.
Even then, many players will take to the internet to read walkthroughs to discover side missions they may have missed, or find how to unlock items quicker. While discovery can be a rewarding experience, playing a game well can be even more rewarding. Learning about the game to find an edge is not like entering a cheat code, as there is still skill in the victory.
The art of gambling
In games with a simpler premise, it can seem much harder to find an edge. This is particularly true in the world of online casino gaming. While the open-world game has several locations and non-playable characters to be interacted with in multiple ways, a casino game is clearly more limited. The mechanism of the game remains consistent, while the odds never change. Card games perhaps offer a greater degree of unpredictability, given that cards can be dealt and drawn in different orders.
A game like roulette is significantly more constrained in its possibilities; the ball has to fall somewhere on the wheel. There are no glitches in the system, no hidden surprises. An understanding of how roulette works allows players to keep a calmer head after both wins and losses. In this case, a knowledge of the game mechanics allows players to find a mental edge that keeps their bankroll management consistent.
A comparison between speculation vs gambling makes it clear that roulette players cannot use trends and patterns to inform their decision about where to stake their money, unlike speculators who can analyze data and trends to predict with more confidence about what the future holds. Gamblers may operate based on luck, but there is still an art to gambling. A speculator could be hit by an unforeseeable real-world event, but a gambler knows that roulette is its own world. It may be impossible to predict the winning number every time, but it is possible to use mathematical probability to find an edge in this low-tech game.
Knowing the computer’s strategy
However, mathematical probability is not a guarantee. A roulette wheel doesn’t have a preordained script to follow, nor is it influenced by the outcome of the previous spin. Other games have non-player characters that are obviously incapable of spontaneous thought, so they follow the same patterns. Knowing those patterns gives the human player an edge. This is evident in the Age of Empires series. The AI has grown smarter in each iteration of the game, but there are still predictable elements to its play.
Experienced players can predict enemy attacks with a high degree of certainty, while the AI also tends to construct its settlements in the same manner. This means that a human player can adapt their strategy accordingly. Even though Age of Empires has far more variables and a wider world to explore, its core script means that the game holds the same repeating patterns as a casino game.
Finding a winning formula
The Football Manager series has an even wider world than Age of Empires, so its repeating patterns are perhaps less noticeable. FM uses a vast database to simulate hundreds of football leagues across the world. There are tactics that can give the human manager an edge in taking teams up those leagues as efficiently as possible. Purists may argue that it undermines the player’s achievement, but FM is a game that can be very frustrating when things go wrong. There is not always an easy solution to in-game problems, so it is no surprise that players turn to hacks to find an edge.
Games with distinct levels are naturally easier to exploit, as they have clear pathways to fixed objectives. Real-time strategy titles and casino games, on the other hand, may not give players a straightforward route to guaranteed success, but there are still many ways to find an edge over the game’s fixed mechanics to swing the odds in your favor. Understanding how a game works is a skill in its own right.