When it comes to designing a gamified experience for your audience, there are factors to consider beyond the common marketing segmentation of demographic, psychographic and socio-economic factors. There is also a need to identify player-type segmentation.
After all, everyone enjoys different game genres and have their own unique approach towards gameplay when it comes to mindsets and objectives.
In this article we will be looking over a study from the mid-90s which has remained the gold standard for classifying gamer types, and a helpful tool for general game planning and projections. Bartle's Taxonomy of Player Types.
The Bartle Test
In 1996, Dr Richard Bartle, a British writer, professor and game researcher had published a paper titled ‘Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS’. A report on Dr Bartle’s findings while researching different types of gamers specifically within Multi-User Domains (MUDS), or online games if you will. What was birthed from his study is a widely used classing system that helps game developers build and fix their game structure around the specific player types the developers hope to attract, for games both big and small.
What is now referred to as The Bartle player-type model, is comprised of 4 player-types which are placed across two axes of interest: 1. Does the player focus on the game world or on other players? 2. Does the player care most about acting or about interacting?
The player-types consist of:
- Killers, interested in acting and players
- Achievers, interested in acting and world
- Socialisers, interested in interacting and players
- Explorers, interested in interacting and world
Dr Bartle created a series of A/B answer questions, to determine which type a player tended to lean toward (similar to other personality tests like the Myers-Briggs or Enneagram tests). The test was subsequently converted into digital forms and can be accessed right here.
Although all personality tests require a degree of skepticism (due to what someone says they would do in a scenario compared to what they would actually do, not quite lining up), Bartle’s system is a useful shorthand way of describing players.
Through the lens of game making, this system is particularly useful to Behaviourists (such as gamification experts), as it can be seen as a way to characterise motivations of play as market demographics, while some even try to make sure that their game caters to all four types in different ways.
While it is important to note that everyone who plays games is made up of a percentage of all four player-types, everyone is predominately one player-type over the other three (personally, I’m listed as a Killer… it sounds a lot more aggressive than it really is).
Any game that tries to please all four types of players equally, almost always results in pleasing none of them well. This knowledge leads to designers having to decide what his/her game will not be as much as what it is. For a greater understanding of what game elements promote motivation within the different forms of gamers, lets take a look the Bartle player-type model.
The Bartle player-type model
- Tests of skill
- Player vs Player (PvP)
Defined By: A focus on winning, rank, and direct peer-topper competition. It’s all about “beating” another human
Engaged by: Leaderboards, Ranks
Killers are motivated to be disruptive towards other player's in-game experiences. In a constant of state of attempting to out-do others and get ahead of their competitors. In the world of gaming, this can experienced through manipulating game play functions away from their designed purpose in order to favour the Killers themselves. On the whole, Killers see only one goal –victory at all costs– and they don’t care who they have to trample to get there.
Killers are not respected by other gamer types, as their gameplay style is all elbows, but their ability to find hacks and workarounds in order to get ahead has to be admired.
- Points, levels, trophies etc
- Self-Competing (Personal Bests)
- Perfect Gamification user
Defined By: A focus on attaining status and achieving preset goals quickly and/or completely. Achievers want elite status, and the ability to show it off
Engaged by: In-game Achievements
The most ideal gameplay candidate is the Achiever, as they run the designated gameplay path with direction and motivation. The cornerstone of most games is the underlying ability for a player to either win or lose and Achievers understand this more than the other player types and they answer the call consistently.
Playing games is obviously a fun experience but Achievers understand that there is much more fun to be had when rising to the challenge and eventually winning a game is achieved.
This victory is rewarding however, without their success being broadcast to others, an Achiever's enthusiasm towards participating in a game can drop off quickly.
- Take time
Defined By: A focus on exploring and a drive to discover the unknown. Explorers want to go where no one else has gone and know what no one else knows
Engaged by: Niche Unlocks
Where Achievers have a results-oriented mindset, Explorers prefer the process. They are naturally curious people that want to comb through every square inch of a game in order to discover easter eggs, rare unlocks and alternative routes. Robert Frost's "The Road Less Travelled" was written with these folks in mind.
For explorers, there is no such thing as 'failure' but only discovery. Every time they stumble on their journey, they make a mental note to avoid the same mistake in the future. As they they leave no stone unturned, they're also documenting their travels through trial-and-error, having a mapped out understanding of their environment and what actions to employ at what points for the best results.
Defined By: A focus on socialising and a drive to develop a network of friends and contracts. It doesn’t matter what they do, as long as they do it with friends
Engaged by: Newsfeeds, Friend Lists, Chat
While players such as Achievers and Explorers mainly play games for their own pleasure, Socialisers are more akin to Killer players but with a completely opposing approach to gameplay.
Where Killers look to win by any means, Socialisers simply want to enjoy the company and community a game can cultivate. Games, whether online, on a board, or on a field have always had a social factor to them. Some of the other gamer types can often forget and neglect that, but Socialisers are specifically driven by it.
Socialisers enjoy helping get other gamers out of a bind, they love to offer up their services and build community with those they interact with.
Using the Bartle player-type model as a filter for any future gamification initiatives is a more precise method for targeted game making. As touched on earlier, Behaviourism (one of the The Four Lenses of Game Making) is the school of thought that prefers experience, rule-driven designs. It is inspired by behavioural and motivational psychology, and considers all games as challenge, anticipation and reward engines.
Behaviourists model their games on psychological hooks that open loops, draw engagement and encourage emotional attachment to outcomes. They use repetitive actions to complete those loops and deliver rewards. The anticipation of a loop’s end, and the reward, has a powerful effect on the human mind and can engender feelings of optimism.
Behaviourists measure everything that they possibly can about their players, test small changes and then measure their outcome. However this means that behaviourists tend to be wary of emergence. Emergence is generally hard to directly measure, and to the behaviourist anything that cannot be measured cannot be reliably improved.
Sound familiar? This is pretty much the gamifier’s creed, and for us to be able to improve upon our measurements and outcomes, we need the Bartle system as a way to characterise motivations of play. Knowing your user’s gamer psychology, creates a constant that all other campaign variables can be measured against.