Monday, October 15, 2007

MMORPGs: Whatever happened to the Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades?

In his seminal 1996 paper on the motivation of players in mmo type games ("Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds") Richard Bartle deduced that interaction between different player types meant that only certain types of game would result in a stable configuration. His four "stable" game configurations are: 1. Achiever / Killer dominated game, 2. Socialiser dominated game, 3. A carefully balanced game where all four player types have similar influence and 4. The degenerate case of a game with no players left.

In the few mmo's that I have played each of Bartle's stereotypes are well catered for in the early game. Achievers get the challenge of levelling up, Explorers have new content to discover, Socialisers have the fun of setting up new guilds and the games have always had some pvp element to provide entertainment for the killers.

As the games have progressed however and in particular as players have matured into end game certain Bartle stereotypes have been catered for to the exclusion of others. WOW's endgame favours achievers above all. Guild wars favours killers with a nod in the direction of explorers due to the complex evolving meta-game. Eve is probably closest to a pure Bartle configuration and favours killers and achievers in pretty much equal measure.

I have to say I find this somewhat demoralising. I am a firm believer in diversity and I think the mix of player types and game-play styles really adds to a game. I want to play in a game that conforms to type 3 on Bartle's list. I haven't played enough of Lotro to foresee where it is going to end up. I hope they don't slavishly follow the WOW road and turn into an achiever focussed raid fest. The continuous drip drip of new content gives me hope though that this will not be the case.

By the way the database of over 300,000 Bartle test respondents at Guild Cafe shows Explorers in the lead at 33% followed by achievers (26%), Killers (22%) and socialisers(20%). This appears to completely contradict Bartles position that "few people are, by nature, explorers". Apologies for deep linking to that Guild Cafe chart but I cannot find the official way to get to it from their site.

In case you are wondering I did take the test and I am rated ESAK (Achiever 40.00%, Explorer 80.00%, Killer 26.67%, Socializer 53.33%). Apparently the most poular game for people like me is Entropia Universe. God Help me.


DM Osbon said...

I have taken this test before but tried again being as honest as i could...

ESKA players often see the game world as a great stage, full of things to see and people to meet. They love teaming up with people to get to the hard-to-see places, and they relish unique experiences.

Breakdown: Achiever 26.67%, Explorer 73.33%, Killer 33.33%, Socializer 66.67%

I would go more with SEAK player...

Richard Bartle said...

Now that's odd. Normally my theory gets criticised because surveys can't find any meaningful number of explorers, not because they find too many.

Oh well, that's academia for you.


mbp said...

Hi DM I notice that we have similar Bartle Scores except that you are more homicidal than I am. If ever we meet up in game I must remember to duck :D.

Richard you have been studying this a lot longer than I have (than anybody?) so please feel free to take my few words with a grain of salt. For what its worth though here are a couple of possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy: Firstly the test at Guild Cafe doesn't classify people as Explorers, Achievers etc it just gives everyone a rating in each category. It be that very few people are pure explorers but that lots of people like exploring a bit - giving a large aggregate explorer score. Another alternative is that audience for MMOs has changed since the mass market introduction of games like WOW. Then again it may be that the very nature of an online survey is self selecting (explorers being more likely to discover such a thing in the first place and try it out).

I wish I could dig further down into the Guild Cafe database to look at trends but for the life of me I cant figure out how to get past the front door. I only found the deep link to that pie chart by fortuitous googling.

mbp said...

oops - I have just spotted a few typos in my original post. First off I should have linked to the guild cafe chart.

Secondly I didn't really mean to say that I want to play in a Bartle type 4 game (one with no players!!!) I meant a type 3 game in which each player type has influence.

Both mistakes will now be rectified in main post.