Rare spawns: treasure hunting in games 

When a player gets immersed in a game world or experience they will spend countless hours exploring its lands and systems. As the player spends time in the game world they become accustomed to discovering new things until they eventually reach a point where they believe they have seen it all. However, there exists an experience which is unlike any other and that is coming across a rare spawn. This experience is not limited to any one genre but it’s typically tied to games within which the player receives an item or encounters a unit which is generated along a probability curve. An example of this is Fallout 4′s loot system; when an enemy dies they drop their basic gear, but their is also a chance of them dropping  a unique item or hard to find piece of gear.  Similarly in Red Dead Redemption while hunting for rabbits they player may come across an elusive Jackelope.

Sometimes rare spawns create dynamic events that occurs simply due to a series of unlikely conditions matching up. One fantastic example comes from Skyrim. While walking down the road the player could be confronted by a band of bounty hunters hired to kill them, only to be ambushed by a dragon. As the fight rages between all three parties another dragon appears from the distance. With each unit attacking the other a small skirmish among humans explodes into a free for all battle between dragons and humans.

The design intention behind rare spawns is an interesting one because the player is unlikely to see the them. Hence it begs the question why develop content or conditions which most players will not encounter? It must then be understood as a reward for the most curious and devoted players. Rare spawns serve to surprise the player with the spark of the unknown, and to remind them that the game has many secrets for the player to explore.

Encountering, collecting, and attaining rare spawns is a source of pride for players as it is the payoff for their commitment to the game. It is a statement of what they have been able to achieve and all that they have seen.

In Red Dead Redemption the simulated natural world was rich with wildlife. The player could travel throughout the world finding creatures of all shapes and sizes. All of which could be hunted for their unique resources or in the case of horses tamed.  The player had several methods to upgrade their horse including purchasing a better breed or catching them in the wild, the later serving as a challenge inviting the player to scour the map in search of the best horse.

However there was one horse that was only triggered through rare conditions, the Dark Horse. The Dark Horse would come to the player once their honor level had reached its lowest rank, meaning it was spawned from the players moral choices. The Dark Horse was  a unit that spawned as a reward for the player’s commitment to a playstyle for a majority of their time in the game.

Rarely spawned items and units within games are things of legend; they are the stories we tell our friends that are almost too unbelievable to be true. They are what motivate us to spend our time in games searching for lucky breaks and events that make our stories unique, they hint at the infinite possibilities within the games we love and inspire us to keep playing, in search of something rare.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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