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Why Must Games Be Fair?

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Simple question but maybe not so simple answer: What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair? Is it the idea that games embody the concept of a goal which must be attainable? Or is it simply that an evenly matched challenge is just more enjoyable?

Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

What about games with longer term goals which may eventually become unfair?

From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player.

Thoughts?

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Original post by Wavinator
Simple question but maybe not so simple answer: What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair? Is it the idea that games embody the concept of a goal which must be attainable? Or is it simply that an evenly matched challenge is just more enjoyable?

Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

What about games with longer term goals which may eventually become unfair?

From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player.

Thoughts?


IWBTG is a game that is extremely unfair and still fun, allthough much of the fun comes from it taking the unfairness to the extreme.

In general i think games should be fair, they don't have to be winnable though and challenges doesn't have to be evenly matched, for me fair means that the computer doesn't cheat, using handicaps to increase difficulty is acceptable as long as the player knows about it.

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Gamers always try to understand the game, to figure out how the systems work, how the characters are structured and how different situations can be managed. They use that information to try to become good at the game, doing the right things and planning ahead. "Fairness", to them, is when a game is intelligible, when you can learn how to play it well, and then playing it well earns rewards. If your skill is outmatched, you just play better. If you're defeated regardless of your skill level, it feels like a deus ex machina and that can either be part of the narrative, as in the end of Reach, or bad balance, like when a roguelike reams you with an inescapable, unpredictable threat. Either way, the player derives either enjoyment or frustration, declares that he did his best, and makes a conscious decision not to learn from that event--not to factor it into his personal growth. He's not going to save up grenades in Reach so he can fight the endless covenant hordes for another twelve minutes, and he's not going to stop drinking out of wells in NetHack just because that one sucked him into a demon's lair. Unfair, unintelligible gameplay does not contribute to the long-term interaction between the player and the game, except that it can influence the player's opinion of it.

Long-term games with long-term goals are often harder, and many players don't like the risk of saving their game after they've screwed themselves but before they've realized that they're screwed. I had a Fallout save one time when I had a sweet gun upgrade, but I'd dilly-dallied and I was six days' march from the final battle, but only five days from the automated cutscene heralding the (hidden) timer's expiration and my mission's failure. I got my kickass new gun, I saved my game, and I was totally hosed forever. Bullshit. But if the game's rules are clear and intelligible, and the player can plan ahead and--with skill and practice--learn to recognize the seeds of his destruction, then it becomes fair to include long-term catastrophes of the sort that might take shape in a long round of Civilization. Heck, screwing yourself twenty years into a twenty-eight-year game is just an order of magnitude away from screwing yourself twenty minutes into a twenty-minute game, and so your failure to establish defensible supply lines to your lunar colony is no different, in terms of fairness, than your failure to scout the enemy's expansion in Starcraft and see that he's producing twenty mutalisks (bastard).

I get a dopamine payoff when I score a headshot or reach level 99 or see the scoreboard at the end of a round. There's no shortage of immediate, Pavlovian ways to reward players. As long as you don't allow them to believe that there's an "end game" or a "victory condition" that they should be striving for, and provide ample opportunities for them to excel and achieve, they'll be able to do a good job and to feel good about it.

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Because we pay money for games.
Or, because we don't want our time to be wasted on poorly designed games.

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I like Iron Chefs answer.

There's a scale of fairness. In reach it is not particularly unfair because it is the end of the game. If it happened halfway through the game and you weren't able to progress, that's obviously too much (unfairness) because the gamers have an expectation of being able to complete the game. This is pretty much what happened in fallout mentioned above. So I'd say yes to your second question.

On a platform game where you jump onto a platform and the platform immediately falls to the ground killing you, and causing you to respawn 20 seconds earlier: That's unfair (because you didn't know that would happen) but 20 seconds isn't a big cost. Dying is sometimes necessary in games to explore the problem space and find a solution. Exploration isn't unfun, and as long as dying doesn't have a big cost then I don't see a problem with this.

I'd like to hear about more games that are unfair but fun :)

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I think a player feels that a game is fair when all competing agents have the same level of opportunity to avoid a bad outcome initiated by one another.

Rock-paper-scissors is fair when both players can't tell what sign the other player will throw. It is unfair when one throws after seeing the opponent's sign.

According to this definition, most computer games are not fair per agent because the game agents often has less opportunity to avoid the player's attack than that the player has. The game balances this by having more agents.


A game, as the product that you make, does not need to be fair, because if it is interesting enough, the player could define a derivative game based on the environment you provide if they want to play a fair game.

For example, if your game specifies a victory condition that is unattainable, but the player finds it fun to just play and see how long he can survive, then the player is using your game environment to play his game. Regardless whether the player thinks that his game is fair, the player plays it because it is rewarding.


"What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair?"
I don't expect games to be fair.

"From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player."
Reaching the prescribed winning condition is not the only reason people play games or the only source of enjoyment. Sometimes people play a game just because the playing is fun or rewarding.

Lottery is an example of a game that is often not fair that people play.


Quote:
Because we pay money for games. Or, because we don't want our time to be wasted on poorly designed games.

I think advertisement/deal needs to be fair. If you buy a game because the advertisement promises you an awesome ending after you win, and you can't win with a fair amount of effort, then you should feel unfair. The same can go with lottery advertisements.

You could buy a lottery ticket knowing that the game is not fair, but since there is no false advertisement and you know the risks, the deal is fair. Or, you could buy the ticket believing that you will surely win due to the ad. In that case, the game is still unfair--since that is the property of the game. But in addition to that, the deal is also unfair.


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In my option:
Fair is for keeping the variety of a game.

For example, if a game has 3 classes - warrior, priest and magi, but magi is obviously overpowering. Then the player will use only magi.
But if the power of the 3 classes are equal, then the player can try magi, then warrior, and after that, priest ^^

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I think it's important to draw a distinction between a game being fair and a game being balanced.

A game of Battleship would not be fair if your opponent knew where your ships were located. Unless you play first and are lucky enough to not miss a single shot (extremely improbable) you're guaranteed to lose. Obviously, this would stop the game from being fun.

Now take the same game but make it fair; the other player does not know the location of your ships. However, say your opponent is much more intelligent and/or more familiar with the game and uses a very structured approach, therefore finding and eliminating your ships very efficiently. If you are not smart or familiar enough to take a similar approach the game would not be balanced, but it could still be fun.


So, your "punishingly hard" arcade games probably aren't balanced in the players favour -- the player is vastly out-numbered, and possibly also out-gunned -- but unless the AI are cheating it is fair.


I don't think fairness is neccesary in a good game, but the game should appear to be fair to the player; if the AI knows things it shouldn't this should not be obvious to the player.

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Original post by Wavinator
Simple question but maybe not so simple answer: What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair? Is it the idea that games embody the concept of a goal which must be attainable? Or is it simply that an evenly matched challenge is just more enjoyable?

Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

What about games with longer term goals which may eventually become unfair?

From a behavioral standpoint maybe games need to be fair because there's a dopamine payoff in winning which, if the game is unfair, is denied to the player.

Thoughts?


You could consider the game developers to have a monopoly on a code of ethics that describes a relationship between the game engine and the player, and of course, the game will mercilessly enforce these standards.

I think the code has to be based on the morals of the game world in itself. When playing a first person multiplayer shooter, I would not want xXxPwnj00xXx to spawn closer to the HeadBlaster 7000 than I do all the time, nor would I want YoM4m4 to be able to find some solid geometry that allows him to fire outwards in all directions but protects him from all inward fire. I expect advantages to come from the player's biological growth, not from the engine's (unintended) favoritism!

However, in a horror game, go for total linearity and a feeling of hopelessness. Make the player feel like they are going to lose, but at the same time get a major revelation from that loss... Like cannibalism is cool. Expect horror, where victory is an optional bonus. This is where a game is "unfair", but still succeeds it's function to scare. If I plan to step into a world inhabited by demons, ghosts and gremlins as a human being, I expect NOT to survive, truth be told.

In short, I think this is a specialized discussion of ethics, and that "fair" should be seen as a mutual agreement between the engine, devs and the players to make sure all of them can serve their function to challenge, not incapacitate each other. This is all relative, and a game should not impose any standards a player would find TOO surprising. It could be pretentious, where a player is penalized for having certain morals, or technical, like when the player shoots at someone's head, and they miss, BUT NO THEY DID NOT THAT WAS DEAD ON.

[Edited by - zyrolasting on October 24, 2010 1:48:45 PM]

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Have you ever encountered situations where a game is patently unfair but fun regardless? Arcade games described as "punishingly hard" might apply, but then maybe not as these sorts of games often have an intrinsic assumption that you COULD win them if only you were more skilled. Games with accelerating difficulty curves that end in no win situations (Missile Command, the last level of Halo: Reach) might be a better example of an unfair game that is enjoyable nonetheless because your goal is not to win but to see how long you can survive.

Puzzle/adventure games usually have "unfairly hard" puzzles. This is usually ok, because the whole point of the puzzle is to slow you down and make you think (sure, the gamer in you is going to use-everything-with-everything till you find the solution. The really unfair puzzles do show up though, in the form of puzzles that require a specific type of thinking, or knowledge foreign to the game. Some people "just get" the word puzzles, programming puzzles, spatial origination puzzles, puns, plays on words, historical, cultural, etc. Others will stumble on one particular type of puzzle, but I'd still say that one bad puzzle in a game doesn't ruin the game.

Games like Lemmings, World of Goo, Armadillo Run, Crimson Land, Gratuitous Space Battles, etc. can EASILY get away with stupid hard parts. The key I think here is that they are scenario based games. You can't save in the middle of a challenge, but the challenges are small enough that restarting them isn't frustrating. I've defiantly hit snags in all of these, and just keep playing it till i get the level right.

But, I'd say that most people just can't put up with FPS/3rdPS/platformers where you have to redo even a second of gameplay if you die. The issue here is, I personally think, is that the only "reward" the game gives you is physical progress in the level. Killing things is only a means to get to progress, so having to re-kill things gets very annoying. Likewise, jumping over a difficult platforming puzzle is the challenge. Success in that means you probably don't want to die and then have to do the platforming again.

EDIT: Replaced your SOURCE tags with QUOTE ones to make your post much more readable. - jbadams

[Edited by - jbadams on October 27, 2010 3:15:45 AM]

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Chess is inherently unfair and way more fun than a lot of games, especially the linear, hand-holding, pretty light and splashy water stuff being made by AAA companies at the moment.

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I think that "fair" is a word that is thrown around pretty loosely. People tend to think of things as unfair if they seem exceedingly difficult or unbalanced against them, whereas a game being too easy (for whatever reason) would probably be categorized as poorly made rather than specifically unfair.

My opinion is that games need to be fair to the extent that a player can understand and influence the aspects of a game that relate to their success. We've all played games in which our shots often miss despite having a high probability-to-hit, or in which the computer routinely strings together a statistically improbable number of successes at something or another. A case in point is Magic: Duel of the Plainswalkers, in which the computer seems to be extremely lucky at drawing cards, and the player often unlucky, no matter how his or her deck is structured. It's not fun to lose over and over again when there's little that you can do to change the odds in your favor.

Players tend to be more forgiving of extreme difficulty in optional encounters and plot elements which might otherwise be considered unfair. In FF7, you can't stop Aeris from dying, regardless of whether or not you develop her a lot. So while a player might lose a pillar of their party, and all the time spent improving her, because it's a critical story element most people move past it without much mention of unfairness. Similarly, Ruby and Emerald weapons are meant to be incredibly challenging as an optional goal, and players can specifically prepare their characters or adjust their tactics to rise to the challenge of an overpowered enemy.

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What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair?

One possibility is the belief that the rules were formed by consensus and the corollary that the agreement to play entails an agreement to play by the rules. That might be too rational, but diving into cognitive explanations seems to me to be somewhat premature, even though it might explain why people gamble even though the probabilities of losing games of chance are greater than the probabilities of winning. People keep playing as long as the possibility of winning exists. Removing fairness removes that possibility and people stop playing to the extent they are aware that the game is rigged.

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Original post by LessBread
What basic aspect do games possess which cause us to expect them to be fair?

One possibility is the belief that the rules were formed by consensus and the corollary that the agreement to play entails an agreement to play by the rules. That might be too rational, but diving into cognitive explanations seems to me to be somewhat premature, even though it might explain why people gamble even though the probabilities of losing games of chance are greater than the probabilities of winning. People keep playing as long as the possibility of winning exists. Removing fairness removes that possibility and people stop playing to the extent they are aware that the game is rigged.


Maybe people expect games to be fair because losing through no fault of your own, with no remedy in improving skills or planning more carefully, isn't fun. Real life has a mundanity to it compared with video games, and many elements beyond one's control which may be perceived as unfair. But a video game allows for unrealistic fantasies to be enjoyed; losing excessively for arbitrary reasons detracts from that fantasy and makes the game resemble unpleasant conditions of real life more closely. Gambling may be a special case, perhaps because the reward of winning is so great that it fundamentally would alter real life to be significantly more fantasy-like. But video games generally don't have a real life reward-- they're purely for entertainment.

I don't want to get superpowers in a game just to have them be rendered irrelevant to an opaque probability engine any more than I want to cede aspects of my autonomy to my boss at work in real life. The major difference is that the game can be designed to be satisfying, while my real life is not so easily manipulated.

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Original post by LessBread
people gamble even though the probabilities of losing games of chance are greater than the probabilities of winning. People keep playing as long as the possibility of winning exists.
This is a good observation. I work in a casino, chiefly on a dice table, and watching craps players win and lose money with a variety of strategies and attitudes is very edifying. Yesterday some guy threw his last seventeen dollars' worth of chips into a lady's face after accusing her of delaying the roll long enough for the dice to "cool off". Other players might lose a few thousand dollars, then buy back in just so they have enough to tip the dealers before they go home broke. Very few quit while they're ahead, because the added gambling power of their profits allows them to make bigger, more thrilling wagers, and why would you leave when it's getting better? But when that seven rolls and all their bets get wiped out, they're dejected.

Dwarf Fortress has a (larval) roguelike mode where you occupy the world as a single adventurer, and you always have the opportunity to retire him. You just cede control, make him an NPC and start a new game with someone else. I've never done it, myself, since declaring victory on my own terms seems a lot like surrendering. So instead I just gear up and head for the nearest enemy city and see what kind of damage I can do before they bring me down.

So can a game be presented as unfair and offer players the chance to take their high score and go home? Many modern gameshows center around this dilemma: Take the $200, or curtain number two? Go on the the next question and double your money, or walk away with what you have? Deal or no deal?

Maybe I have a career as a badass mercenary, making stacks of money and killing people and driving a tank and filling contracts all over the place. I've built my reputation up in an industry where few people live for more than a couple jobs. Even with all my elite training and assets and satellite support, all it'll take is one lucky headshot to end my streak. Better performance leads to better jobs leads to fatter paychecks leads to more risks. Will my intel be wrong? Will my third-party extraction ditch me? Will a competitor set me up? Which job is the last job?

And what does the "Game Over" screen look like? Do you get a little epilogue like in Pirates!, telling you where you retired and how many Bentleys you drove? Do you get to call up that character on your next play through and ask for advice and favors? Does the awesome company he built remain in the game world, competing with your next avatar for jobs? If the player makes the safe move and quits an unfair game before his inevitable defeat, can that be made to feel like anything other than quitting?

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Quote:
Original post by Iron Chef Carnage
Quote:
Original post by LessBread
people gamble even though the probabilities of losing games of chance are greater than the probabilities of winning. People keep playing as long as the possibility of winning exists.
This is a good observation. I work in a casino, chiefly on a dice table, and watching craps players win and lose money with a variety of strategies and attitudes is very edifying. Yesterday some guy threw his last seventeen dollars' worth of chips into a lady's face after accusing her of delaying the roll long enough for the dice to "cool off". Other players might lose a few thousand dollars, then buy back in just so they have enough to tip the dealers before they go home broke. Very few quit while they're ahead, because the added gambling power of their profits allows them to make bigger, more thrilling wagers, and why would you leave when it's getting better? But when that seven rolls and all their bets get wiped out, they're dejected.


I was thinking of craps when I wrote that. Doesn't that just beat all? [grin]

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Sid Meier gave a short lecture on this.

In the first civilization, combat worked off a ratio system. If you had a strength of 1 going against an opponent of strength 4, you'd have a 1 in 4 chance to do damage.

This seems fair right? It works both ways after all. And players were perfectly happy when they occasionally won a 1v4 battle (after all, the player is super amazing, and his divine karma and green friendly way of life resulted in the 1v4 victory). However, when players lost a battle in which they were the 4, and the computer was the 1, they'd write Sid all sorts of nasty letters and tell him they had proof the game was cheating, loading the dice and plotting against them.

Obviously this doesn't make sense, but yet thousands of players felt this way. Its because the player's sense of 'fair' was that they were the bigger number, and they were suppose to win.

So, Sid made a rule where if the ratio got too high, you'd automatically win. He then asked players if they would be ok losing a 2v1 from time to time. They responded with yes, that would be fair. The problem is, when they lost a 20 v 10 battle, they'd again write Sid nasty letters claiming the PC was cheating.

What Sid concluded was that the idea of fair came from perception and not just rules. The ratio system didn't 'feel' right, so he was forced to begin to include rules for raw strength differences. This gave his users the perception that the game was treating them fairly, which they didn't have when the ratio system was in place.

Unfortunately, this doesn't give any concrete rules for creating fairness in games. But, its certainly worth keeping in mind as you make your game.

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Original post by mrchrismnh
Chess is inherently unfair and way more fun than a lot of games, especially the linear, hand-holding, pretty light and splashy water stuff being made by AAA companies at the moment.


What exactly is 'unfair' about chess? Each player starts with the same number of pieces, bound by the same rules, and move in the same way. One player gets the advantage of moving first and defining the initial battle, the opposing player gets the advantage of reacting to the first move and changing their method of attack based on the opening move.

Each player has the exact same game data set open to them, and nothing is hidden.

Where exactly is the 'unfair' bit of the game?

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Within the context of perfect game, without the 40 move rule, that is having 40 consecutive moves without pawn move or capture, chess ends with the white player winning.

There are no fair games except for those that end in a draw, within the context of perfect play, like tic-tac-toe or checkers. Stalemate condition is not consider fair because the game is unresolved.

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I'm trying to work out how a single player game could be 'unfair' in any other respect than simply being impossible to beat? If a game is difficult, it's difficult - that includes if the odds are massively stacked against you. In any case though, this is a player versus the game scenario and the concept of 'fair' doesn't really come into it unless you're overly worried about things like giving CPU controlled characters a marked advantage in aspects such as health or ability to deal damage (but even so, why must one try to create a level playing field with non-player characters?)

In a player versus player environment, well things are then very different. Unless it's a core emphasis of the game, giving one player a distinct advantage over any other player is usually on obvious case of bad game design, since in reality you'd almost always want to maintain a relatively level playing field.

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I think the concept of fairness in games is a noble idea but given the plethora of variables involved, from game mechanics, player skill, player coordination, and the player in general, is a pipe dream at best. Like the poster above said, I don't see how a single player game could be unfair. Difficult,yes. Well unless it was programmed to ignore the players success. Hmmm, could that be a new feature, to include taunts? The only game that comes to mind that has a relative level of "fairness" would be league golf using a handicap system but that is still subjective. Good question.

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I think the feeling of unfairness comes when the game sets up a set of rules, and then does not play by those rules.

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Quote:
Original post by Cygnus_X
Sid Meier gave a short lecture on this.

In the first civilization, combat worked off a ratio system. If you had a strength of 1 going against an opponent of strength 4, you'd have a 1 in 4 chance to do damage.

This seems fair right? It works both ways after all. And players were perfectly happy when they occasionally won a 1v4 battle (after all, the player is super amazing, and his divine karma and green friendly way of life resulted in the 1v4 victory). However, when players lost a battle in which they were the 4, and the computer was the 1, they'd write Sid all sorts of nasty letters and tell him they had proof the game was cheating, loading the dice and plotting against them.

Obviously this doesn't make sense, but yet thousands of players felt this way. Its because the player's sense of 'fair' was that they were the bigger number, and they were suppose to win.

So, Sid made a rule where if the ratio got too high, you'd automatically win. He then asked players if they would be ok losing a 2v1 from time to time. They responded with yes, that would be fair. The problem is, when they lost a 20 v 10 battle, they'd again write Sid nasty letters claiming the PC was cheating.

What Sid concluded was that the idea of fair came from perception and not just rules. The ratio system didn't 'feel' right, so he was forced to begin to include rules for raw strength differences. This gave his users the perception that the game was treating them fairly, which they didn't have when the ratio system was in place.

Unfortunately, this doesn't give any concrete rules for creating fairness in games. But, its certainly worth keeping in mind as you make your game.


It almost sounds as if the perception of fairness involves geometric or logarithmic odds rather than linear odds. Or perhaps the difference in power between opponents alters the perception of fairness. For example, the odds of 10 winning in a 20 v 10 battle should be 1 in 10 (where 10 is the difference between 20 and 10). Goliath wins most of the time but sometimes David wins.

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I don't think fairness is a matter of consent (agreeing to rules).
Because you could agree to a set of rules that is not fair to you.
You might do that when you find that it is more fun when the odds
are against you.

About the Civilization example:

Quote:
In the first civilization, combat worked off a ratio system. If you had a strength of 1 going against an opponent of strength 4, you'd have a 1 in 4 chance to do damage. This seems fair right? It works both ways after all.

I think because it works both ways, it is by definition fair. It is like playing Rock-Paper-Scissors. But the math is not realistic. If it is a 1v2, you have one person with one gun, and the other has two people and two gun, and you are all aimming at the enemy, then you will lose 100%. If you add in equal chance for each soldier to miss, you will still see that the odds is no where near 1:2, or 33% to 67%.

If each soldier has 50% chance of missing, then you could simulate it as a coin toss. For a 2v1 where force A has two soldiers and force B has one soldier, 86% of the time B would be dead, (either dead alone or bringing one of A with him). After that A has another 50% to kill B. So the overall odds of B winning is 7%. That is closer to 1:13. So even if the model is slightly more realistic, you see that odds is not near 1:2.

(Re: LessBread: There was a post earlier that cited a rule of estimation that when a force of 20 fights against a force of 10, you expect the force of 10 to lose, and 10 guys remain for the winner. It is something Edtharan would know. It is also what you observe when you play Age of Empires or other games where each unit is simulated.)

I think the term "unfair" is used too loosely. Sometimes people use it just to mean, "I don't like it" or "I don't expect it."

I think it is very easy to make a game fair. But the point is, why do you want to make it fair? It seems to me that oftentimes in the face of making a game more challenging or more fun, that consideration similar disappears.

Is there another term that better label the situation (i.e. if it is "fair", then what do you call this problem)?

Is it always unexpected? Is something unexpectedly bad always "unfair"?

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It doesn't. It just has to be fun. If it gets too frustrating, people will stop... so aim for something in between.

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