11 Kinds of Players

In “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS,” Richard Bartle identified 4 types of players. As with kinds of fun (and definitions of games), we find no shortage of people willing to advance their own theory of player types. Why read Bartle, then, and not someone else? First, Bartle’s was the first essay of its kind to gain widespread interest and acceptance, so it is important historically; second, because there are certain aspects of it that make for interesting dissection.

Let us look at the four proposed types of players in a MUD (or MMO):

  • Achievers find it enjoyable to gain power, level up, and generally to “win” the game (to the extent that an ongoing, never-ending game can be “won”).
  • Explorers want to explore the world, build mental maps of the different areas in their heads, and generally figure out what is in their surroundings.
  • Socializers use the game as a social medium. They play for the interaction with other players. The gameplay systems are just a convenient excuse to get together and play with friends.
  • Killers (today we call them “griefers”) derive their fun from ruining other people’s fun.

What is the motivation of each player type? Why do they do what they do? This relates back to the different kinds of fun.

Comparing the lists of Bartle’s player types and MDA’s 8 kinds of fun, we see parallels. Achievers favor Challenge fun. Explorers seem to like Discovery fun. Socializers are all about Fellowship fun. And Killers… well, they don’t map to a specific kind of fun in MDA, but the Griefing fun that we proposed as an addition seems to work well.

Other player type schemes show similar correlations: each “player type” is really a kind of fun, or a combination of several kinds of fun, personified. The two concepts (player types and kinds of fun) are really the same concept expressed in different ways.

This suggests that you can start with a list of kinds of fun, and invent new player types based on some combination of fun types. Car racing games combine Sensation and Challenge fun; we could propose a “Racer” player type as the kind of player who likes these kinds of games. And then we could make a guess that other games, such as “Xtreme Sports,” might appeal to the same player type since they have a similar “fun signature.”

You could also go the other way. If you manage to isolate a new player type (i.e. a pattern of play that appears in a nontrivial percentage of your playtesters), by studying that type and what the players are doing, you may be able to discover new kinds of fun.

Which Comes First? 

If we can go back and forth between player types and kinds of fun, we may wonder if this is a classic chicken-and-egg problem. Is it better to start with players, or fun?

Consider this: as game designers, we create rules (mechanics). The rules create the play dynamics when set in motion, and those cause the aesthetic of fun in the players. The things that we create, are a root cause of fun. Therefore, it is the kinds of fun that are of greatest concern to us.

We do not create players. (Well, those of us who are parents could say that they do, but you know what we mean.) As game designers, our rules do not create new players or player types. Therefore, any list of player types is only useful to the extent that it is correlated with kinds of fun.

This chapter was adapted from Level 8 of Ian Schreiber’s Game Design Concepts course.

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Creating Games by Cathie LeBlanc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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