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Why do gamers game? September 4, 2007

Posted by jeremyliew in game mechanics, gaming, mmorpg.

In a post about how virtual worlds can engender real emotions, I mentioned Nick Yee’s paper The Demographics, Motivations, and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively Multi-User Online Graphical Environments. In it Nick extends on Bartle’s categorization of the four player types.

In 1989-90, Bartle hypothesized that there were four player types, summarizing an active discussion thread among power users of a particular UK MUD (Multi-User Dungeon, text based precursors to MMORPGs). His long but amusing summary is below:

…labelling the four player types abstracted, we get: achievers, explorers, socialisers and killers

i) Achievers regard points-gathering and rising in levels as their main goal, and all is ultimately subserviant to this. Exploration is necessary only to find new sources of treasure, or improved ways of wringing points from it. Socialising is a relaxing method of discovering what other players know about the business of accumulating points, that their knowledge can be applied to the task of gaining riches. Killing is only necessary to eliminate rivals or people who get in the way, or to gain vast amounts of points (if points are awarded for killing other players).

Achievers say things like:

“I’m busy.”
“Sure, I’ll help you. What do I get?”
“So how do YOU kill the dragon, then?”
“Only 4211 points to go!”

ii) Explorers delight in having the game expose its internal machinations to them. They try progressively esoteric actions in wild, out-of-the-way places, looking for interesting features (ie. bugs) and figuring out how things work. Scoring points may be necessary to enter some next phase of exploration, but it’s tedious, and anyone with half a brain can do it. Killing is quicker, and might be a constructive exercise in its own right, but it causes too much hassle in the long run if the deceased return to seek retribution. Socialising can be informative as a source of new ideas to try out, but most of what people say is irrelevant or old hat. The real fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence.

Explorers say things like:

“You mean you don’t know the shortest route from to ?”
“I haven’t tried that one, what’s it do?”
“Why is it that if you carry the uranium you get radiation
sickness, and if you put it in a bag you still get it, but if
you put it in a bag and drop it then wait 20 seconds and pick it
up again, you don’t?”

iii) Socialisers are interested in people, and what they have to say. The game is merely a backdrop, a common ground where things happen to players. Inter-player relationships are important: empathising with people, sympathising, joking, entertaining, listening; even merely observing people play can be rewarding – seeing them grow as individuals, maturing over time. Some exploration may be necessary so as to understand what everyone else is talking about, and points-scoring could be required to gain access to neat communicative spells available only to higher levels (as well as to obtain a certain status in the community). Killing, however, is something only ever to be excused if it’s a futile, impulsive act of revenge, perpetrated upon someone who has caused intolerable pain to a dear friend. The only ultimately fulfilling thing is not how to rise levels or kill hapless drips; it’s getting to know people, to undertand them, and to form beautiful, lasting relationships.

Socialisers say things like:

“Yeah, well, I’m having trouble with my boyfriend.”
“What happened? I missed it, I was talking.”
“Really? Oh no! Gee, that’s terrible! Are you sure? Awful, just

iv) Killers get their kicks from imposing themselves on others. This may be “nice”, ie. busybody do-gooding, but few people practice such an approach because the rewards (a warm, cosy inner glow, apparently) aren’t very substantial. Much more commonly, people attack other players with a view to killing off their personae (hence the name for this style of play). The more massive the distress caused, the greater the killer’s joy at having caused it. Normal points-scoring is usually required so as to become powerful enough to begin causing havoc in earnest, and exploration of a kind is necessary to discover new and ingenious ways to kill people. Even socialising is sometimes worthwhile beyond taunting a recent victim, for example in finding out someone’s playing habits, or discussing tactics with fellow killers. They’re all just means to an end, though; only in the knowledge that a real person, somewhere, is very upset by what you’ve just done, yet can themselves do nothing about it, is there any true adrenalin-shooting, juicy fun.

Killers says things like:

“Die! Die! Die!”

(Killers are people of few words).

Bartle notes that like all stereotypes, these categories don’t necessarily apply exactly to all individuals, but still have predictive power. He goes on to suggest some specific game mechanics that game designers can employ to encourage one class of player over another.

Yee tested this anecdotal hypothesis by polling 6675 MMORPG players with a list of 40 statements (e.g. “I like to feel powerful in the game”, “I like to be immersed in a fantasy world” etc). After grouping the responses and eliminating non-predictive factors, he found five key motivations:

    Achievement: The desire to become powerful in the conteext of the virtual environment

    Immersion: The enjoyment of being in a fantasy world and being “someone else”

    Escapism: Using the virtual world to temporarily avoid, forget about and escape from real life stress and problems

    Relationship: The desire to interact with other users, and to form meaningful relationships that are supportive in nature

    : Inclination to objectify other users and manipulate them for personal gain and satisfaction. Enjoy deceiving, scamming, taunting and dominating other users.

It’s interesting to note how closely Yee’s motivations map to Bartle’s player types – with almost 1:1 maps from Achievers to the Achievement motivation, Socialisers to the Relationship motivation and Killers to the Manipulation motivation.

Entrepreneurs building new MMORPGs, social media sites and casual immersive worlds would be welll served to read the original articles.


1. Daniel Markham - September 5, 2007

Very interesting.

I wonder if this categorization and involvement information is useful for other types of interactive media. Some of the categories, like acheivement and immersion, certainly do seem to show up on all kinds of sites, from Digg to FaceBook. In fact, most of the categories seem to be applicable to all types of online activities. Or to put it differenly, are there certain emotional characteristics in media that people gravitate towards?

2. Andrew Parker - September 6, 2007

I wrote about my own personal motivations for gaming awhile back ( http://blog.andrewparker.net/2007/08/12/why-i-game/ ). I don’t think they fit in all that well, but I guess the closest mapping would be to the “explorer” class.

Overall, I think Yee’s analysis is missing the segment of people that game because it’s a system for interaction; a feedback loop. This isn’t necessarily achievement (achievement is a subset of this group that is looking for positive reenforcement), but it’s the people that find the linear nature of a book or movie boring and need a more two-way experience.

3. nabeelo - September 9, 2007

Andrew, a feedback loop is key for all the systems of Bartle’s types – it’s a question of what the primary motivator of the feedback is. Readers of Bartle should also read the follow-up work he did further classifying a more nuanced eight types.

For even more fun on this subject, go to a developer conference such as the Austin GDC that wrapped up this week. There you’ll find Sulka talked about the player types of Habbo Hotel, Damion talked about a new set of player models, and Raph discussed game theory.

All healthy stuff for reflection and analysis, as long as you don’t take any of it as gospel and still build your own vision.

4. jeremyliew - September 11, 2007

Here are some of the links to the talks that Nabeel mentioned:

On player type in Habbo Hotel:


On Raph’s thoughts:


5. An in depth breakdown of the game dynamics of an MMORPG making more than $50m/quarter « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - January 2, 2008

[…] a somewhat controversial game dynamic, focused on PvP (player vs. player) play (appealing mostly to Bartle’s “killer” player type), building animosity between players, and using this as a lever to sell increasingly powerful and […]

6. Applying game dynamics to virtual worlds « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - February 19, 2008

[…] Even for a social virtual world, adding functionality for all four Bartle player types (not just socializers, but also achievers, explorers and killers) increased time spent in game. […]

7. Getting player culture right is important to MMOGs and social media sites « Lightspeed Venture Partners Blog - May 20, 2008

[…] but this is very true. Too many of Bartle’s “Killer” player type can really destroy a game’s […]

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