Are some games more about luck than skill?

Everyone gets lucky in games. Whether it's a fluke knife throw in Modern Warfare 2 or a foul that goes unpunished in FIFA, there's almost always the chance that something 'lucky' will happen in a game. 

But are some games actually based on luck? Are you ever truly in control of your destiny? Can anyone ever really be good at Peggle? After we fell out of love with one massive game in a big way, we decided it's time to take a look…


First-Person Shooters

In a game world with a clearly defined set of rules, you make your own luck. The best, like Halo 3 or Modern Warfare 2 can throw up extraordinary scenes when solid physics and human behaviour combine to create something completely unexpected:

It may look like incredible bad luck the first time you see it, but watching the video back of how it happened, it's all perfectly logical. It just looks 'unlucky' because the player wasn't looking.

Sometimes, you can rely on luck to progress. Veteran mode in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare ended up being so ridiculously hard in places, the best tactic is often to just sprint towards your next checkpoint, ducking left and right occasionally in an ironic nod to the random walk and hope you make it there alive. Some GR editors swear by this. Yes, we're that good at games. It may take a few tries, but more often than not, you'll soon get lucky and make the unlikely run between the bullets to safety.

Of more concern are the multiplayer spawn points in most online FPS games that let someone reappear directly behind you, allowing them a clear shot when there's no way you could have known they were there. So while there's obvious tactical and twitch gaming skill to be seen throughout these games, there is undoubtedly a degree of chance (luck) too.


Sports games

There's no denying a skilled player can outwit an opponent by using unpredictable movements, shimmies and clever passing. And you've got to get into a position to score if you want to do so. You can't win the raffle if you don't buy a ticket, after all. But (and it's a Cartman-sized but), the act of scoring is not always about skill.

NBA is the best example of this as the end-to-end nature means both players get a decent smattering of scoring chances every game – more so than in FIFA or Madden. But there's no clear way to make sure your shot goes in.

Scientifically, of course, this is all down to multiple factors and complex algorithms, taking into account angle, timing, player skill attributes and whether or not the striker's second cousin was born on a Wednesday. There's even an argument for hitting the ball between animation stances where soccer's concerned, as some balls seem to flummox goalies in spectacular fashion.

But seeing as there's no way to take all of those things into consideration yourself (not on a conscious level anyway), this basically boils down to the luck of the draw. And quite often, that means the player who looked most likely to win will lose.

You can cry all you like about the number of shots on target you had, or ball possession, but as so many GamesRadar staffers have said to their defeated opponent during lunchtime games… stats mean nothing.


Block-based puzzlers

Not all block games are like Bejeweled 2's Blitz mode. Tetris is a game based on nothing but human skill (and, conversely, human error). When you screw up, you're left staring at your mistakes – nothing to do with the game. Sure, you were waiting for a 'long one' to fall and it never came, but you could have played around that if you'd only chosen to do so. It's probably not possible to 'get lucky' at Tetris.

Above: This never happens

But then you get games like Columns, where skilful play is possible but, on the lower difficulty settings at least, there is a degree of luck as you gain combos from new lines forming above as lower lines fall away. The same can be said for Puyo Puyo (or Dr Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine) but there's also plenty of scope for genuinely skilful play like this:

But all of that skill in the genre is completely negated by the brazen, luck-based gameplay of Bejeweled 2. They say a picture says a thousand words, so let's see if this can tell the story:


Yep, all those Facebook updates in the background are from long gaming sessions. You can literally play for days and not beat your top score, even though you can feel yourself getting better at the game.

Sometimes you'll play so quickly, the screen will flame up and the gems will start moving faster as your zen-like state powers you towards a massive score of… 50,000? Only 50,000? And when the best technique for winning is to 'play near the bottom' so that the gems can create combos above, you just know a game is borked.

Did I rate the game on iTunes? Yes. Did I give it one star? Yes. Is that childish? Bite me.

Above: There are far too many 'happy accidents' in this type of game


  • Azated - February 5, 2010 1:33 a.m.

    Nekkid damage FTW
  • linkganon - January 24, 2010 5:16 a.m.

    why do i always fight against campers and gang... oh this is probabally not acceptable here, nore anywhere. it gets me really frustrated when because of luck, they respawn right behind me for an instant headshot. course i have won the occasional award with the most headshots in a multiplayer online match and most frags (not overall, just in this specific match.) first person shooters could be revolutionalized by motion but since developers have a hard time working out all the bugs, all wii get is sloppy reflex which is call of duty 4 for 60 dollars when we can find them in the bin. lol @ the matrix reference and lol, just watched the matrix.
  • olliemcparland - January 15, 2010 10:25 p.m.

    haha lol that halo 3 betreyal so funny but that was just bad luckbut i am naturally good 2 fps like cod halo bad company ya know
  • noobeater - January 14, 2010 8:43 p.m.

    @rxb. package drops are pure NOOBISH
  • noobeater - January 14, 2010 8:41 p.m.

    lol at tetris
  • mfwahwah - January 10, 2010 10:52 p.m.

    Good good article. I'm bookmarking it to use those pie charts as reference in future arguments. You should have added RTS though to the mix, though. shuttles Extra
  • garPOW - January 10, 2010 1:45 a.m.

    personally I feel like a large part of online gaming on the Xbox 360 is your connection strength. largest transgressor, Gears of War. F that game
  • venomman01 - January 9, 2010 6:14 p.m.

    You forget the all mighty predator missile. It carries the power to kill any red square in its sight. Its pretty much bad luck if it goes for you
  • barryisgod1 - January 9, 2010 5:07 p.m.

    i am extreamly luckin in mw2 earllyer i got killed just as i got my nuke the i bluw up that mother map
  • sniper430 - January 8, 2010 8:06 p.m.

    I think there should be an amendment on this article regarding demons souls... fighting giant depraved ones IS pure luck, if they decide to spam it's absolutely impossible to kill them :( god i was stuck on that swamp forever :(
  • wolfwing187 - January 8, 2010 5:08 p.m.

    Honestly whenever I play a fps its skill. I dont rely on luck at all. Im good at stealth and finding a good hiding spot to snipe from after practicing a lot in Socom: Confrontation. The stealth experiance in gaming i have from MGS4. I agree that block puzzle games require a lot of luck. they do also require a bit of skill. Skill as in, knowing where to put the blocks and in what position.I noticed in the picture about the bejewled 2 game. I aslo saw it said something about bejewled blitz. I play that game a lot on facebook and that requires a lot of luck.....which i dont have. I love Tetris by the way. I know how much racing games are based on skill due to the amount of racing games ive played in recent years. exept for mario cart. some weapons in there are mainly based of of luck.i agree with DaveBoyle on that. I didnt get to see the halo vid because it wont work on my computer. I like the matrix picture edit. It's funny.
  • DriveShaft - January 8, 2010 4:08 p.m.

    Platforming games are 49% Luck, 50% memory and 1% skill.
  • rxb - January 8, 2010 1:48 p.m.

    Care drops in MW2 are pure luck.........
  • CH3BURASHKA - January 8, 2010 9:31 a.m.

    That tetris picture was hilarious. The matrix one took me a couple of seconds to get.
  • allthegoodnameswheretaken - January 8, 2010 5:17 a.m.

    I felt that the start of every race in any Need for Speed game was about 75% luck.
  • ZombieAmmy - January 8, 2010 3:52 a.m.

    Is that a "looking around you" reference I spy in the pie chart of the Third-person actioners section?
  • Silvermech - January 8, 2010 2:44 a.m.

    Perv success? Yes.Inperv success? HELL TO THE NO! This is why I will fail at Bayonetta.
  • NinjaJamez - January 8, 2010 1:58 a.m.

    I've been playing ninja gaiden sigma lately and you need a lot of luck for the camera to not screw all you're doing.... especially when you are indoor...... great article as always
  • spacemonkey086 - January 8, 2010 1:51 a.m.

    lol @ the matrix reference.

Showing 1-20 of 39 comments

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