My Own Gaming Experiences Through The Bartle Types


The Bartle Types have been around for a while, published in 1996 by co-creator Richard Bartle with the aim of identifying and describing different types of MUD (multi-user dungeon) players (See ‘Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDS.’) It is specifically focussed on people that play for fun. Games have changed a lot since its creation, but it can still relate to multi-user games and there have also been attempts to utilize it outside of this scope (to varying degrees of success.)

The types define players by whether their focus is on the world or others and if they have a preference for interacting or acting upon. There are four main types: Achievers, Socialisers, Explorers and Killers. Achievers enjoy a challenge and will act upon the world to reach certain goals. Explorers like to interact with the world and make discoveries about the lore or systems. Socialisers like to spend their time interacting with other players and forming fellowship. Killers like to act on other players and cause them grief. While these descriptions seem pretty clear, it’s easy to form misconceptions about each type. We could for instance, easily mistake explorers for being socialisers as they may spend a lot of time in the chat system sharing their knowledge. Killers are often associated with PVP, but other types may still enjoy this feature too. Killers may also prefer to take up roles such as guild leaders and can be mistaken for socialisers. In fact, all types can enjoy the same activity for different reasons; What’s more important is why a person does something as opposed to what they’re doing.

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). – Richard A. Bartle

Different types do not tend to exist in isolation and can affect the experience of others within the virtual world. They can also, in turn, affect player numbers. For instance, socialisers do not like being the victims of killers and this may result in them leaving the game. Achievers also dislike being killed if it means interrupting a goal, but having a few around can also give more purpose to their ambition. There are only a few combinations that work well together; For a virtual world to thrive it’s important to keep the balance in check. The model can therefore be used as a way to analyse player behaviour within a virtual world and to help maintain it. It may also help us to understand why changing features could upset or drive away certain players or how making a few tweaks can raise their numbers.

Understanding different types of player and motivation allows games to be designed to cater to certain people. It’s important to note however, that people can change or play for multiple reasons and it also depends on the game and situations. The Bartle Types are not the only attempt made to understand why people play, but it is amongst the most popular and well known. I’ve left a few links at the bottom for anybody who is interested in furthering their understanding of this model.

Upon hearing about the Bartle Types I naturally wanted to consider it in terms of my own gaming experiences. While it was created as an aid for game designers, it’s interesting to consider how it can relate to our own behaviours or the communities we participate in. There are plenty of tests online to help you to work out what your own type is, although I already had an inkling anyway. I’m first and foremost an achiever and secondly an explorer. I’m least like a killer. When I think about the types of games I play and what I do in them it seems to fit. I am definitely drawn to games that have an emphasize on challenging PVE and an abundance of strategy or character development. I get a great sense of enjoyment out of building up my characters and skills for self-fulfilling reasons. I can also enjoy cooperating with others to share in that sense of achievement together, but I tend to avoid most PVP. As odd as it sounds, it can leave me feeling slightly uncomfortable when others attempt to force PVP or social features upon me. The fact that other players exist in the world helps to make it feel more real and gives purpose to my goals, but I like to be able to progress without too much interference. I usually formulate plans for what I want to accomplish before I log in.

A game I have considered in a different light due to the Bartle Types is Tibia (and I will be jumping to some conclusions here that may not be accurate.) In this game there is no lvl cap and the website has leader boards to show who is the best at each skill. I would sit around for hours making runes just to up the number denoting my magic lvl. The developers later introduced skill trainers allowing you to improve while offline. On the one hand it was a godsend because it took away the grind, but on the other my efforts no longer seemed so worthwhile and my character less special. It makes sense that achiever types wouldn’t be so keen on such systems being introduced later on, as it allows others to skip what they spent a long time trying to acquire (it’d be like allowing people to buy medals, but then they wouldn’t symbolise the courage they were intended for anymore.)

The game has undergone numerous updates since its launch in 1997. Another example is the implementation of the auction system. Up until that point you had to keep an eye on the trade channel and arrange to meet up with the person you wanted to deal with. I was very happy with this change because it sped up the process, leaving more time to dedicate elsewhere. Although, I can imagine other types might not have felt the same way, the socialisers perhaps. Admittedly, many of the changes MMORPGs make after release are usually focussed around streamlining the experience, but this can be at the cost of reducing immersion and realism of the game world. Many of the updates would appease some and anger others, affecting the numbers in each class and the spread of the community.

Tibia is also open PVP and carries a high penalty for death. This combination with a lack of a lvl cap has resulted in a lot of balancing issues. There have been times when the large numbers of griefers put me off from playing; yet it also felt wrong to switch to a non-PvP server because it gave me a reason to invest time into getting stronger – similar to how the Bartle Types describes the relationship between killers and achievers. As a result I paid to play on a quieter PVP server. Unfortunately, a lot of people fled the game due to over-powered guilds and killers. There have also been issues with botting (gaining levels without having to play), which angers a lot of players that have put the time and effort into gaining the levels themselves. According to the Bartle Types, a community consisting of too many killers can potentially result in others leaving, which in turn can result in the killers themselves growing bored and leaving. Tibia’s community doesn’t feel as strong or varied as it use to, and this negatively impacts the game itself. It seems that the best communities usually consist of a healthy mix of people.

How do the Bartle Types relate to you or the virtual communities you belong to?

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About wallcat

I have a strong passion for computing. In particular programming for which I am able to use a variety of languages including C++, Visual C#, Blitz Basic, Actionscript 2.0, Python and Lua. I also enjoy web-design and have some knowledge of HTML/CSS, PHP/SQL and Javascript. As well as programming I have a strong background in art and enjoy drawing in my spare time. When I’m not sat at my computer I like to keep fit by going to the gym or using my exercise ball.

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