Player Interests (Design)
Bartle's Four Player Types
In his 1996 paper, Players Who Suit MUDs, Richard Bartle (the creator of the first MUD) proposed that the major MUD player interests can be separated into four types, graphed in two dimensions:
- Killers, who enjoy ACTING on other PLAYERS
- Socializers, who enjoy INTERACTING with other PLAYERS
- Achievers, who enjoy ACTING on the game WORLD
- Explorers, who enjoy INTERACTING with the game WORLD
Graphed in the two dimensions (acting vs. interacting, player vs. world):
ACTING Killers | Achievers | | | | | PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD | | | | | Socializers | Explorers INTERACTING
While most players enjoy several or all of the above activities, he found that there is usually a preference for some over others, and that the focus of players' interest tend to change over time in predictable ways. There is a test available, the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, which ranks an individual's preferences. For example, a result of EAS would mean a player prefers exploration first, followed by achievement, followed by socializing.
The design of a game determines how appealing it is to each of the four categories. In addition, the number of players in one category has an effect on the number of players in each of the other categories, so the proportions of a game's players tends to settle into one of several stable states:
- Killers and achievers in equilibrium.
- A game dominated by socializers. Most (non-game) MOOs fall into this category.
- All four player types with similar influence. This is the healthiest state, but difficult to achieve.
- An empty game.
Type 1 is primarily a game. Type 2 is primarily social. Most virtual worlds will naturally tend toward one of those two states, unless action is taken to achieve the balance of type 3. I call type 3 "healthiest" because it tends to retain the highest number of players. A pure game with few social aspects has little draw for the achievers once they have finished the game, nor for the killers when the number of achievers declines. A purely social world has less entertainment to retain the interest of most players: nearly every social MOO with the exception of the largest, LambdaMOO, is empty today. A critical mass of socializers must be maintained for long-term viability, and the socializers tend to gravitate toward the largest world which drops all others below this critical mass.
Most commercial MMORPGs have the resources to put a lot of effort into balancing the "gaming" and "socializing" side of the game, and you'll typically find these games to be well-balanced, type 3.
The Creator Type
This model neglects an important activity in many MUDs and other virtual worlds, however. In LambdaMOO, for example, there is another activity that players engage in: building/coding. Second Life has a similar mix of socializing and building. And while many RPG MUDs do not have much to offer to a builder besides a crafting system that allows one to create predefined objects, HellMOO does. In addition to crafting, there are the research simulators which allow you to craft recipes, as well as the Matrix blueprint system in which players can build entire areas to add to the game world. Eventually a player may ascend to admin and acquire the ability to create content with much less restriction.
Where would this fit on the above graph? Clearly crafting and building both involve the world, rather than players. It is also apparent that a person creating new content is acting on the world, as they are making changes to the world. Are crafters and builders then a type of achiever? They are both acting on the game world, but in what way and for what purpose?
Achievers act primarily on one part of the game world: their own character. Their purpose is generally to score points (XP, skills, stats, money) for their character. They do act on the rest of the world, for example by killing NPCs, but the effects of their actions are only permanent on their own character (the NPCs will respawn minutes later), and their acts on the game world are only a means to the end of improving their own character.
Crafters, and especially builders, on the other hand, are making permanent changes to the game world. A crafter may create a new object which persists for years. A builder may create a whole city which lasts as long as the game does. At least in certain games like HellMOO, the crafter/builder type is the true actor on the world. Suppose we redefine the acting vs. interacting dimension slightly and redraw the graph:
ACTING Killers | Builders/crafters | | | | | PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD | | | | | Socializers | Explorers/achievers INTERACTING
If acting on the world is defined, for our purposes, as making some kind of permanent changes to the world beyond one's own character, then achievers are now merely interacting with the world. It looks like we need a third dimension for this graph, however, as we now have two categories in each of the World quadrants. Explorers and Achievers are still different enough that they shouldn't be lumped into one category.
If we can describe the difference between Explorers and Achievers, and the difference between Builders and Crafters in the same way, then that may be the third dimension we need. Explorers and Achievers both interact the world in order to improve themselves in some way. Explorers improve their own knowledge of the game, while Achievers improve their character's knowledge of the game (as represented by their XP, stats, and skills). The difference is between the real and virtual "self": the Player and the Character.
Here I am not using the word "player" as opposed to "admin"; a character with no programmer bit. The Player is the physical human sitting at the keyboard. The Character is the virtual "person" in the game world. The Character is the Player's avatar; the Player is the Character's typist.
A Player vs. Character axis would also allow us to separate the Builders from the Crafters. A Crafter is creating things in the game as their Character, according to the rules of the game world. Within the virtual world they are gathering ingredients, putting them on a virtual workbench, and following a virtual recipe. There is no "magic" involved from the game's perspective--it is an immersive form of creation. Creating recipes with research simulators would also be a form of crafting.
Builders, on the other hand, can create entirely new objects and areas in magical ways, without any regard for the rules of the virtual world. While non-admin characters have a plausible in-game interface to the building system (the Matrix) the results when their creations are implemented can be seen as the physical Player acting on the world, and bringing something entirely new into existence without regards for any game world physics (a new island rising out of the ocean, for example).
What about the left side of the graph? A socializer engaging in Player to Player communication is one who is out of character, treating the game as an elaborate IRC channel. A Character to Character socializer is, of course, In Character, frequently Role Playing. We could call the former type Chatters and the latter RPers. The frequency of each type depends on the game's culture; HellMOO heavily favors Chatters, and RPing is usually done only ironically--sometimes more for griefing than for socializing purposes.
Finally, on the top left quadrant, the Killers can be divided into those who PvP within the context of the game, to have their Character act on another Character, and those who act to cause other Players grief. We can call those PvPers and Griefers, but note that PvPers are actually on the Character end of that axis, and might be more accurately described as CvCers.
We now have the following categories in three dimensions:
ACTING + PvPers | + Crafters - Griefers | - Builders | | + VIRTUAL| \| PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD |\ | - REAL | | + RPers | + Achievers - Chatters | - Explorers INTERACTING
This isn't intended to replace Bartle's model; it merely provides an alternate model for worlds with a large creative component such as Second Life, LambdaMOO, and HellMOO. In fact most HellMOO players' primary activities will be in Bartle's four categories of Killer/Socializer/Achiever/Explorer, while crafting/building is at best a secondary activity for most non-admins. Building is a primary activity for HellMOO admins, and for users of non-game worlds like Second Life and LambdaMOO. Still, with a rich enough crafting/building system and a strong player economy to support crafters, one could imagine Creator becoming a primary activity for some HellMOO players.
Admin Interest Types
Admins, by their nature, are outside the virtual world to a much greater degree than "player" (non-admin) characters. Most of their interactions with the game are of the real/player type, so in a graph of admin interest types the virtual side of the axis would be nearly nonexistent. One wouldn't expect to see any Achievers, for example, as gaining XP/skills/money as an admin would be pointless. An admin wouldn't slave over a workbench to create items when much more efficient (magical) methods are available to them.
ACTING | Zotmins (griefers) | Progmins (builders) | | | | PLAYERS -------------------+------------------- WORLD | | | | Chillmins (chatters) | (explorers) | INTERACTING
Exploring isn't as common an activity for admins, as they have usually thoroughly explored the game already, but from time to time they may explore any new content that has been added to the game. For the most part, however, admin activities fall into the Chillmin and Progmin categories. Obviously, griefing by admins is potentially much more damaging than griefing by non-admins, and needs to be carefully limited.
"Social" worlds like Second Life and LambdaMOO actually have a mixture of player interests that look very similar to the above. Chatting and building are the primary activities, along with exploring (mostly by new players) and some limited griefing. What defines them in this model is not domination by socializers, it is the real/player side of the graph. Admins are on this side of the graph because they are outside the game; SLers and LambdaMOOers are on this side because there is no game.
In order to attract players of all four types and achieve a healthy balance, we can work on improving those features that appeal to each of the types, and adding new ones.
- Research simulators
- Matrix blueprints
- A variety of areas to explore
- Monsters to kill
- Channels, party chat, corporation chat
- Safe common areas such as AP
- Games such as Go, Blackjack, Chess, Scrabble
- Lack of police outside the city
Features which encourage interaction and collaboration between players can be beneficial to all player types. Killers and socializers, of course, directly benefit. A killer needs other players to act on; a socializer needs other players to socialize with. Activities on the right side of the graph benefit indirectly: creators want their creations to be used by other players, while achievers and explorers may share tips with their fellow players and work together to explore or exploit difficult areas. Some of these features, in addition to the ones listed above, are:
- Mailing lists
- Player-run shops
Extent of PvP
Of all the player types, Killers are the most potentially problematic, due to their strong effects on all other players. PvP is extremely difficult to implement well, and there is a high risk of Killers driving off other players and then themselves leaving when there is no one left to prey on. Many games eliminate that risk by severely limiting PvP and making it entirely opt-in. For example, it may be limited to certain servers, to certain locations (like an arena), or to consensual harmless duels. Along with this risk, however, is the reward: fighting other players can be much more challenging and fun than fighting NPCs.