RNGs: Quantum Theory Meets Gaming

Anyone who grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons or World of Warcraft is probably familiar with the intersection of chance and gaming. In both games, random outcomes are generated in order to influence the course of action. Depending on how the dice fall (literally and proverbially), the game can be made more difficult or much easier based on chance. 

For digital gamers, there are no virtual dice thrown to create random outcomes. Instead, developers use a tool called a random number generator, or RNG. An RNG’s goal is to create a totally random output that cannot be reverse-engineered. To do this, companies create all sorts of unique tactics, some driven by algorithms and others driven by entropy (more on this below). 

The integrity of an RNG is of utmost importance. Not only are they one method to ensure randomness in a game, but they also make it impossible for gamers to identify patterns and gain an edge on their opponents. And for online casinos where games like poker and roulette are played, making sure that random outcomes are generated entirely by chance is of the utmost importance, so there’s no stone left unturned.

In fact, the role of an RNG is so important that some iGaming platforms rely on quantum theory to guarantee randomness.

Quality Assurance & Quantum Mechanics

PokerStars is one of the world’s biggest online casino platforms. The company focuses on online poker, helping newcomers to learn the ropes while also hosting some of the most competitive tournaments in the industry for pros. As a major player in gaming, PokerStars went all-in on its RNG. 

The company hired Swedish group Quantis to develop its RNG, then had it rigorously tested by researchers at the University of Auckland. Experts found that the RNG could not be computed because it relied on quantum randomness—which inherently cannot be predicted.

This points back to the field of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is the study of our world’s tiniest physical particles, including electrons and protons (amongst others). To grossly oversimplify quantum mechanics, scientists working in the field study how electrons interact with protons and other subatomic particles (which could also be waves).

The particles (or waves) stick to a few different patterns—but scientists have no way of predicting which pattern the electron will choose. Therefore, at the most fundamental physical level, randomness is a huge part of human existence. And Quantis used these principles in order to create an RNG for PokerStars.

All About Entropy

The concept outlined above is known as ‘superposition’ in quantum theory and is explored in pop culture via Schrödinger’s cat. Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment that revolves around the randomness of subatomic particle movement—the same idea that powers the RNG from Quantas. 

But that’s not all that factors into the final RNG. Along with a quantum mechanical approach, entropy is another secure way to generate a random outcome. Entropy relates to disorder in natural processes, particularly thermodynamics. A more simplified definition would simply be the world’s natural state of gradual decline and disorder.

In a more controlled environment, entropy can be determined by what physicists call ‘user input’. For a poker player playing online, this type of input would come from mouse movements, click timing, and similar processes that are done subconsciously. This data is then input into an RNG subsystem, which contributes to totally randomized card shuffles. 

Around the World in RNGs

So far, we’ve outlined two different sources for RNGs: quantum mechanical models and entropy based on user input. However, there are a few more RNGs that go above and beyond to ensure randomized results… and some of them have been around for thousands of years. 

For example, dice are actually RNGs developed by early humans. The first games played with dice appeared in Ancient Egypt around 3000 BCE. Other RNGs rely on nature to generate randomness. For example, a Zener diode can be used to register avalanche noise, which can later be used for randomization purposes.

Written by Austin Crane

Austin is the principle web director for Untamed Science and Stone Age Man. He is also the web-director of the series for the High School biology, Middle Grades Science and Elementary Science content. When Austin isn't making amazing content for the web, he's out on his mountain bike or in a canoe.

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