How to Avoid Using a Metal Press to Cut Cookies

A Deeper Look at Richard Bartle’s Player Types, Part III

“Don’t use a metal press to cut cookies!”
– Richard Bartle, Multi.Player Conference Keynote, July 21, 2011

Richard Bartle does not mince words when he describes how his landmark player type model has been misapplied by others. He used the metal press analogy above to describe how the gamification industry often applies Bartle’s model without adapting it to fit the context.

Cookie Cutter Overkill

If you’re not familiar with Richard Bartle’s Player Type model, part one of this series delved into the definitions of each player type, how players of different types interacted with each other and amongst themselves, and how multi-user games need to achieve a balance between types.  In part two of this series, we looked at how Bartle’s full model explains how players move between types and how to use this explanation to design applications that support the entire user life cycle.

In part three, we delve deeper into Bartle’s own critiques about the misuses of his theory and discuss a framework for how players types might be properly used outside of the narrow confines within which Bartle’s model was originally conceived.

What Bartle Says

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Player Types: Watch for Moving Targets

A Deeper Look at Richard Bartle’s Player Types, Part II

Since the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology was created in 1996, more than 740,000 people have taken it. Gaming circles have seen the old saw “What’s your sign?” transformed into “I’m an KEAS. What’s your type?”  For example, I found this comment on a gaming blog:

“So I took the test again today.
Apparently I’m a little bit more into PVP these days and a little bit less in socializing.
Killer 93%, Explorer 60%, Achiever 33%, Socializer 13%”
Loregy.com

This comment hints at a two interesting subtleties about Bartle’s player type model.  First, most players exhibit a combination of all four player types, and second, and just as important, players may change their type from time to time.  In fact, as we will see, players will often move through a predictable progression of types over the course of playing any given game.

If you’re not familiar with Richard Bartle’s Player Type model, my last post delved into the definitions of each player type, how players of different types interacted with each other and amongst themselves, and how multi-user games need to achieve a balance between types.  The fact that players often exhibit behaviors of all four types provides another reason to avoid designing applications that don’t cater in some way to all of the player types.  In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at how Bartle’s full model explains the movement between types.

Expanding Bartle’s Original Model
Bartle’s original model mapped players on a two-dimensional grid with the two axes expressing each player’s degree of preference for acting on or interacting with the game world itself or its players.[1]  In his 2005 paper “Virtual Worlds: Why People Play,” Bartle notes that there were several flaws in this model:

“Although this model has been generally accepted as a useful tool among designers, it
nevertheless has flaws. Two are of particular importance. Firstly, it suggests that players
change type over time, but it doesn’t suggest how or why they might do so. Secondly, all
of the types to some degree, but especially the one for acting on players (that is, Killers),
seem to have sub-types that the model doesn’t predict.”[2] (more…)

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What’s the Big Deal about Bartle’s Player Types?

A Deeper Look at Richard Bartle’s Player Types

Achievers are motivated to win. Explorers like to discover the intricacies and secrets of their world.  Socializers enjoy human interaction, helping others, and building alliances, while killers like to dominate those around them.

If you’ve played any kind of multi-player game or been involved in a community organization (whether online or in the real world), you’ve run into all of these player types.  This player typology was developed by Richard Bartle, a multi-user dungeon (MUD) creator and academic, during the 1980’s and formally published in 1996.  Since then, Bartle’s player types have become one of the best-known design patterns in online gaming and in the burgeoning gamification field.

The appeal is clear.  Player types provide application designers with a new way to look at psychographics and motivations and at the different ways we have fun. Once they understand Bartle’s typology, designers can easily enable specific social interactions targeted at each type.  Amy Jo Kim provides an excellent an example of how to do this in her Gamification 101 workshop:

In this series of posts, we will be taking a deeper look at Bartle’s player types.  We will look at his original 1996 treatise and subsequent writings and explore why Bartle’s typology has been more appealing and enduring that other possible models.

What Bartle Says
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