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


  • joabbuac - January 7, 2010 5:20 p.m.

    I alway think im unlucky in MW2....I even blame nonexistent lag at times.
  • breener96 - January 7, 2010 5:43 p.m.

    "So jammy you just HAVE to put it on YouTube" You, my friend, are a genius. All in all, great article! And it's true what you said about platformers. Memory plays a huge part in it!
  • Montag - January 7, 2010 6:14 p.m.

    I like this one. Daikatana first level, shooting green fanged killer frog things in a jungle, rest my case
  • crazyqazqaz - January 7, 2010 6:19 p.m.

    FPS games have quite a substantial element of luck. Whether he saw you, whether the bullets you spray (especially on CoD games) hit, whether the grenade you just blindly threw in the general direction of an enemy hits. most of it, however, does rely on things like fast fingers, good reactions, knowing the map and good accuracy.
  • DaveBoyle - January 7, 2010 6:35 p.m.

    When talking about racers you forgot to mention the purple shell in mario kart that is so luck based having any skill becomes irelevent.
  • Kenzo - January 7, 2010 6:35 p.m.

    and all this time I thought I had mad skills...
  • DirkSteele1 - January 7, 2010 7:15 p.m.

    That Halo video is fantastic. I am still laughing.
  • Xplosive59 - January 7, 2010 7:21 p.m.

    sigh. gone are the days of mega man and 18 bit sonic which needed a majority of skill for
  • michaelmcc827 - January 7, 2010 9:11 p.m.

    Wow fantastic article. @Dave Mario cart is by far no racing sim, it requires hardley any skill to play, maybe 80% luck.
  • speno93 - January 7, 2010 9:26 p.m.

    loved the Halo vid.It really is anyones luck on a FPS, i suggest a horeshoe and a shamrock whilest playing MW2
  • Cyberninja - January 7, 2010 9:52 p.m.

    what about fighting games you either have to be really skillful or lucky to pull off good moves in a split second
  • Yeager1122 - January 7, 2010 10:38 p.m.

    In fps like cod it's really just about who finds who first so yeah it's luck.
  • deathrebellion - January 7, 2010 11:10 p.m.

    luck = glitches ( more often than real luck, in FPSs)
  • hardcore_gamer1990 - January 7, 2010 11:31 p.m.

    Epic knife kill! And actioners ftw. I play them properly, so it's kinda mor luck dependant for me :(
  • nik41507 - January 8, 2010 midnight

    LOL to the halo vid
  • slapdatass - January 8, 2010 12:12 a.m.

    ROF and L at the last pie graph. Win.
  • lovinmyps3 - January 8, 2010 12:28 a.m.

    Haha nice idea. I feel like there's luck in MW2. Good and bad.
  • Cwf2008 - January 8, 2010 12:54 a.m.

    "Did i rate Bejeweled on iTunes? Yes. Did i give it one star? Yes. Is it childish? Bite me." ROFL
  • GoldenMe - January 8, 2010 1:01 a.m.

    This article has recieved a large amount of epic win. And it is so true that platformers are based on memory. I've played Sonic 2 so much (Curse those fucking drilling bastards[As seen on picture]) that I memorized every level, the soundtrack, and even the Dream Pipe layouts. ........Fucking Sega.
  • spacemonkey086 - January 8, 2010 1:51 a.m.

    lol @ the matrix reference.

Showing 1-20 of 39 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000