Is there Serial Correlation in World of Warcraft? Should There Be?
If you are hunting fire elementals, it feels as if there are times when they drop a lot of motes, others when they hardly ever drop any. It feels, in other words, as though there is a probability of a drop that changes over time, slowly enough so that if you are doing well now you will probably be doing well five minutes later, and similarly if you are doing badly. My first question is whether the pattern is real or an illusion, the second is, whether or not it is real, whether it should be--whether such a pattern would make the game more enjoyable.
The reason for suspecting that the pattern may be an illusion is that gamblers often report similar patterns--sometimes the cards or dice are hot, sometimes they are not. In those cases, we know the underlying mechanics of the game. With rare exceptions, they imply that, unless someone is cheating, the pattern is an illusion. The probability that you will roll eleven is the same each time you roll, so a string of good rolls is evidence neither that the next roll will be good nor that it will not.
In the case of World of Warcraft, we do not know the underlying mechanics, or at least I don't. It would be perfectly straightforward to design the game with a drop probability that varies over time, with enough serial correlation so that current observations give you some information about what will happen in the near future. To find out whether that is how the game is designed I could keep track of a long series of tries, then do a statistical analysis to see if the results are consistent with the simple model--a fixed probability, the same each time. So far I haven't been sufficiently enterprising to do it; I don't know if anyone else has.
The second question is whether the game should be designed with serial correlation built in. My guess is that the answer is "yes." Human beings enjoy finding patterns, exercising skills. The fact that gamblers find patterns even when they do not exist in part reflects this. So why not make the game more interesting by building into it subtle patterns of the sort that players will look for?