Optimizing Dominate Strategies in Video Games
Most Efficient Strategy for Winning Games
First Order Optimal (FOO) Strategies are the lowest effort strategies that reap the greatest reward. They’re what experts of the game would consider beginner strategies. They’re typically (but not always–as we’ll see) the first thing that new players gravitate towards, and they’re the easiest strategies to execute and still remain competitive.
Accordingly, a strategy is a dominant strategy (First Order Optimal Strategies) if choosing it leads a player to better outcomes than the other strategies that they can choose. Conversely, a strategy is a dominated strategy if choosing it leads a player to worse outcomes than the other strategies that they can choose.
Many FOO Strategies are effective because it requires very low skill (usually subverting the expectation of a game where skill is needed) and it works effectively against players of higher ranks or skill. FOOS are not always effective against an experienced player, but against the general population, they're surprisingly effective (in some cases with their use being banned in official tournaments.)
Dominant strategies in Video Games
A dominant strategy is a strategy that is better than all the alternative strategies that a player can pick, regardless of which moves their opponents make. This means that, in a given game, a player’s dominant strategy is the best strategy that they can choose from a strategic perspective since it’s the one that will lead to the greatest payoff for them.
There are two types of dominant strategies: strictly dominant strategies and weakly dominant strategies:
- A strategy is strictly dominant if choosing it always gives a better outcome than choosing an alternative strategy, regardless of which moves other players make.
- A strategy is weakly dominant if choosing it always gives an outcome that is as good as or better than choosing an alternative strategy.
A dominated strategy is a strategy that is worse than all the alternative strategies that a player can pick, regardless of which moves their opponents make. This means that, in a given game, a player’s dominated strategy is the worst strategy that they can choose from a strategic perspective since it’s the one that will lead to the worst payoff for them.
There are two types of dominated strategies: strictly dominated strategies and weakly dominated strategies:
- A strategy is strictly dominated if choosing it always gives a worse outcome than choosing an alternative strategy, regardless of which moves other players make.
- A strategy is weakly dominated if choosing it always gives an outcome that is as good as or worse than choosing an alternative strategy.
So, why are FOOS common in video games?
There are perhaps three major reasons, and this is by no means a definitive list.
- FOOS give a great way to introduce new people to a game. Think back, when you were first starting to learn what RPGs were, did you want to feel useless and confused by a big book of options - some of which could be very bad for your group if you took them unknowingly? Or did you want to feel useful and in the game right away? Odds are, it is the latter. Some people like digging into the match and complexities of new things right away (many of these people are engineers). But, in general, most people are brought into games by letting them have fun. A simple, straight forward character that can still hold its own is a great way to do that.
- Sometimes you don't want all the brain time. Now, some of you are probably scoffing at this, but some days you don't want to deal with all the thinking involved with more advanced characters. I know I've been guilty of this on a few occasions. Even with fighters, I've made complex builds where you had to know how to harness the mechanics to get the terrifying levels of power out of the character. The backlash is usually a simpler character - at least for a while - to just relax and enjoy the other side of RPing. Namely, the RP, and not so much the G.
- Sometimes, due to the complexity of the game, or the sheer number of available options and configurations of weapons, loadouts, etc, create a situation in which it would be infeasible to balance all possible options.
Most Effective Strategies can be beneficial for new players.
In Street Fighter Alpha 2, there's a bug in which you can land the most powerful move in the game (a Custom Combo or "CC") on the opponent, even when they should be able to block it. If you weren't blocking low at the moment they activated the CC, you can't crouch in time to block it. Was this a bug? Yes. Does it help the player win? Yes.
This technique became the dominant tactic of the game. The gameplay evolved around this, play went on, new strategies were developed. Those who cried cheap were simply left behind to play their own homemade version of the game with made-up rules. The one we all played had unblockable CCs, and it went on to be a great game. How CCs were intended to be doesn't really matter: in the game we have available, they work how they work, and taking advantage of that is necessary to win.