It had to happen eventually. I had to look at some kind of “player type” theory.  Many people have one, Richard Bartle probably having the most famous and most abused of the player type theories out there.

What’s it all about Richard?

For those that don’t know, Richard Bartle labelled players as one of four types to help him understand how they interacted with each other and their environments in MMO games (Massively Multiplayer Online). The labels he used initially were;

  • Killer
  • Achiever
  • Socialiser
  • Explorer

Quoting straight from the original text, here is a brief explanation of each of these (very, very brief)

Players use the tools provided by the game to cause distress to (or, in rare circumstances, to help) other players. Where permitted, this usually involves acquiring some weapon and applying it enthusiastically to the persona of another player in the game world.

So, labelling the four player types abstracted, we get: achievers, explorers, socialisers and killers. An easy way to remember these is to consider suits in a conventional pack of cards: achievers are Diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure); explorers are Spades (they dig around for information); socialisers are Hearts (they empathise with other players); killers are Clubs (they hit people with them).

If you want to know more, have a look at his original text

A Flawed Metaphor for Gamification

After speaking with Richard and exploring others use of his player type theory (Amy Jo Kim’s Social Player Type is a very good reworking), it becomes obvious that as a metaphor for gamification, it is useful but flawed.  At the end of the day, gamification is not the same as MMORPG’s – the thing that Bartles Player Types is designed for (and of course works well for!).  For the most part there is no game play, but it is still a handy way to label people, and we can see similar behaviours. However, there is one massive assumption. Your players WANT to play. In a gamified system, that is not always going to be the case.

As I see it, we need to take a step back and start from just two types of users initially. Those willing to “play” and those not willing to play. Here, when I say play, I mean those who can be engaged with the extrinsic things like badges and trophies. To many, this is of no interest at all. But that does not mean you can not create a system that will engage them as well. You just have to think about it.

Do You Want to Play a Game?

In gamification, I can see five simple user types (there are more, but I want to look at this as simply as Richard did with MMO’s).

  • Player
  • Socialiser
  • Free Spirit
  • Achiever
  • Philanthropist

Yes, I have indeed stolen two of the original labels – but they fit fine! Each of these five user types can be strongly influenced (though it does not have to be exclusively) by one of the four intrinsic motivators I have previously mentioned, or by extrinsic rewards.

The diagram below shows how this looks.

My User Types (I hesitate to say theory!!)

Players are the ones who like to get the achievements in your system; they like to see their names on the leaderboards.  They like the “game” of it all. They are also the most likely to make use of “loop holes” to gain an advantage. There to play the game and are happy with the extrinsic rewards.

Socialisers (as in the original Player Type) are the ones who want to interact with others. They like to be connected to others. They are interested in parts of the system that help them do this. These are the ones will evangelise your internal social networks. Most motivated by the social connectiosn aspects of relatedness.

Free Spirits like to have agency. They don’t want to be restricted in how they go through their personal journey. They will be the most creative, have the fanciest avatars, create the most personal content, but also find the most holes in a system. They seek self expression and autonomy.

Achievers are the ones who want to be the best at things, or at least be achieving things within the system. They want to get 100% on the internal learning system. They do this for themselves and are probably not that bothered with then showing off to others about it. (This differs from the original definition, but I could not think of a better word!!). They need a system that will enrich them and lead them towards mastery.

Philanthropists want to feel that they are of something bigger.  They want to give back to others. These are the ones who will answer endless questions on forums, just because they like to feel they are helping. They want a system that allows them to enrich others and feel a sense of purpose.

There Can be More than One

As you can see, those willing to play can fall into any one of the five categories (or any combination of the five). However (obviously), they are the only ones who will fall into the player type. Those who are not willing to play the game of collect the rewards and climb the leaderboard, can still be motivated and engaged, you just have to try harder and be less obvious.  That said, if you look at it – you still have the most powerful intrinsic methods available.

It is easy to see that each type of user will need different types of motivation within your system. It goes again to show that you have to cater for everyone, not just the players with a points and badges system. This is likely to cater only for the smallest number of people.

Depending on how this is received, I may do an additional feature on how the different user types interact with each other (similar to the original Player Types). All I will say is that if you think you may get extreme player type users, make sure your system has as few loop holes as possible!

A more Bartle way of looking at User Types

This is pretty exciting (for me at least). I had an exchange with Richard Bartle after he read this post on Google+. He suggested a more structured way of viewing this concept. It actually does the one thing I was trying to avoid – makes it fall in line with the way his Player Type Theory is Visualised. However, as he is the one who suggested it, I can’t argue!

For this, we will ignore the player user type. In my model they are the ones who are looking for the extrinsic rewards, and will “play” as long as those are there. We are really interested in engaging the other four identifed user types. Richard helped me to see that these types follow a pattern.

  • Philanthropists and Free Spirits both prefer to act within a free and unstructured environment.
  • Achievers and Socialisers tend to need a structure around them.
  • Socialisers and Philanthropists are not looking to gain anything material from the system. They are there (as Richard describes it) for the warm fuzzy feelings they get from engaging with or giving to others.
  • Acheivers and Free Spirits are there for varrying degrees of personal gain. Not in bad way though. Achievers are interested in improving and gaining understanding. Free Spirits want to be able to create and use the system to best suit them.

Material may not be the best word for this type of personal non extrinsic reward – but I can’t think of better at the moment!

So – here it is.

My User Types, with a dash of Richard Bartles advice and experience.

Massive thanks to Richard!

This is all very academic, my hope is that it will give people another way to visualise gamification and how to motivate different types of people. It may turn out that this is not the best way of doing it – but that is the joy of our new world. It keeps getting more defined and better understood.