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How Does a Random Number Generator Work?

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You may have seen the term ‘random number generator’ mentioned before, especially if you’re familiar with online gaming. But how exactly does it work?

Well, there are, generally speaking, two kinds of random number generators. They are: non-deterministic random number generators, sometimes called “true random number generators” (TRNG), and deterministic random number generators. These types of RNGS are also often called pseudo-random number generators (PRNG).

Good Luck or Good Judgement?

So, let’s take a journey now. You’ve just loaded up a favorite game, say it’s one of the Rainbow Riches Slots. You might wonder how random the outcomes of each virtual level pull actually are – or, in this particular situation, how likely am I to choose the pot of gold, or get to the Road to Riches feature? It all boils down to a question of whether the outcomes are a result of good luck or good judgement.

The gaming provider, which in this example would be Paddy Power, rigorously tests over tens of thousands of spins to ensure their accuracy and legitimacy. On the information provided for this game, they assure you the outcome of all spins on the slot machine are dependent upon the in-built random number generator (RNG) algorithm.

These RNGs are a mixture of technology and well-established mathematical systems which work in tandem to produce random number sequences in a reliable, accurate way. So it’s highly dependent on luck.

Origins of Random Number Generators

When you look into random number generators, it’s helpful to contextualise the information by considering how they have worked in a more traditional environment. Before the advancements in digital and computer technology, the traditional random number generator was the simple and humble dice. From there, technology advanced to the production of traditional mechanical slots, where the pull of a lever sends a group of reels in motion. The reels spin independently and usually come to a stop after one or two seconds. If the user successfully lines up a set number of symbols, they win a prize.

Now, returning to modern RNGs and our Rainbow Riches example, it’s no longer as simple as rolling dice or simple mechanics. So, many providers give detailed information on how their slot machines work, as players like to be assured that the technology is trustworthy. It states that within their framework, every spin produces a random result. It also looks into the ‘mathematical wizardry’ that translates into a combination of random numbers which eventually generates the symbols you see on screen.

Can the Process Be Improved?

The big question is whether the process around RNGs can be improved. Over the years, there has been a lot of research on this. One 2016 study looked at a potentially new method of random number generator which would use less computer processing.

For those that wish to study this from a more technical perspective, a publication called ‘Computing and Software for Big Science’ concludes there are several high-quality RNGs available for general use. As technology develops and perhaps online slot machines develop more complex outcomes, will we start to see a change in the RNGs used to provide these outcomes? There is an undeniable amount of potential, but only time will tell.