There are a number of jobs that people don’t really understand and they are problematic to explain. If someone says they are a teacher, doctor, or firefighter, we don’t question it as we all understand what those jobs are and the day-to-day activities performed by people in those professions. Yet, tell someone you’re a sociologist, actuary or data scientist and you’ll likely receive some blank stares and odd questions.
Gaming mathematician is one of those careers that will cause people consternation, but the likelihood of you encountering someone with this position on their business card is increasing. So you aren’t flummoxed when you bump into someone calling themselves a gaming mathematician or if you enjoyed math and fancy a career change, let’s explore what the job entails.
At the top
Firstly, from the title gaming mathematician, you’d probably hypothesize an involvement in game development and you’d be right. Yet, masterful gaming mathematicians are in demand, but not just for developing games. While the online casino gaming industry continues to grow and casino gaming is the field gaming mathematicians are most likely to work in these days, they are also achieving celebrity status and are held in high regard by those that play games. Gaming mathematician and writer Michael Shackleford provides how-to guides for casino games and people value his expert content as they are hungry for anything that will assist them to gain an edge.
Shackleford is known in gaming circles as “The Wizard of Odds” and previously won the notorious Blackjack Ball to earn the title of “The Best Gambler in the World.” While Shackleford is a standout name, as gaming and particularly casino gaming becomes more widespread, other experts that are able to get to the heart of how games work and how you can improve should become more valued and their content more accessible.
A gaming mathematician takes responsibility for the mathematical or mechanical elements of game development by creating math models and performing simulations to better understand the game parameters. That doesn’t make it clear what a gaming mathematician actually does, so let’s look at what most gaming mathematicians appear to be working on currently, which is slot games. New slot games are developed daily and the arsenal of slots available at the major online casinos is impressive, but as a new variation of slot game appears so too does new math.
Slot games have reels on various sizes of grid and the symbol combination dictates what the player is awarded. The spinning of the reels is controlled by a computer program, but computer programs do what they are told and nothing else. This creates a problem, as a slot game needs to produce random combinations of symbols for the player, so to achieve this they use a mathematical formula. Without getting into the weeds, the mathematical formulas deliver sequences of numbers approximating the properties of random numbers. These random number generators form the heart of slots as they determine the outcome of each spin and ensure that the results are random so that each spin of the reels has the same chance of winning and is not influenced by past results.
As well as ensuring that games are random in nature, math models are also required to control the variance of a slot game. Slot games are generally grouped as high, medium or low variance and each has its appeal. High-variance games are essentially high-risk as they seldom provide players with winning combinations, but when they do, the payout is big. Conversely, low-variance games provide frequent low-value wins and medium-variance is a happy medium of the two. Slots also require mathematics to determine the return to player (RTP), which is displayed on all reputable online slots and is a measure of how much the game will pay out over time.
While randomness, variance and RTP may appear simple in essence, slots must employ multifaceted algorithms, conform to scrupulous and regular testing requirements and provide excellent gameplay experiences. It’s not just slots, classic table games such as blackjack, roulette and baccarat are also becoming more complex online as they employ various features and multipliers that make the gameplay more dynamic. While creating casino games isn’t an Alan Turing mathematical achievement, there’s no doubt it’s an interesting career that provides entertainment to many.