We love classifying ourselves. Thousands of personality quizzes exist on the internet, inviting us to figure out what our preferences say about us. If you’re a gamer who loves these kinds of things, then you may have heard of the Bartle Test, which, simply put, helps to put you into one of four categories of players. This test isn’t just good for soul-searching, though—it’s helpful to developers as well. This is the first in a series of two blog posts that will discuss the merits of the Bartle test and how developers can benefit from knowing a thing or two about it.
In 1996, Richard A. Bartle presented his classification of gamer types. By studying how subjects behaved in an MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) environment, Bartle decided that players could generally be categorized into one of four groups: Achievers, Explorers, Socializers, and Killers.
Like any situation that involves painting large groups with a broad brush, there will be overlaps, outliers, and other odd little tidbits. However, there’s no doubt that anyone who’s ever played any sort of multiplayer game has run into at least one of each of these types.
Achievers are the goal-oriented ones. Racking up power and levels and completing all objectives set out for them by the game is what gives them their thrill. No doubt this is the player that interacts most with the meat of the game in the way the developer intended. Achievers are the ones checking quests off their lists in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft or Final Fantasy XIV. They set schedules for themselves wherein they queue up for raids and dungeons. The Achiever is the one whose sense of accomplishment is defined by the game’s parameters.
Explorers are a tricky sort. Instead of sticking to the rigid game rules that Achievers stick to, Explorers try to push the game to its limits. They’re ones that delight in finding glitches, bugs, and even hidden easter eggs. The Explorer is the one absorbed in inching along every section of a dungeon wall to see if there are any hidden pathways or bugs that let them slip through. Explorers enjoy sandbox-like games where they can truly get lost; instead of flying or otherwise teleporting from one end of the map to the other, they prefer to hoof it.
Socializers thrive where there are other people around. They’re the ones gathered in the common cities, striking poses on their main characters and chatting. That’s not to say they’re not there to play—but for the Socializer, the chance for human interaction is more of a benefit than anything the game can offer them. The game is simply a setting through which they can meet people with common interests.
Killers, while also interested in other people, have much different motives. They enjoy the most dangerous game, preferring to hunt and contend with other people rather than with AI. Some killers love going toe-to-toe with worthy opponents (dueling, guild wars, and PvP), while others love to sow as much mayhem as possible—say, by going into an opposing territory with newbies and veterans alike and nuking the whole thing.
Bartle likened each archetype to card suits, to make them easier to remember. In his own words: “Achievers are Diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure); Explorers are Spades (they dig around for information); Socializers are Hearts (they empathize with other players); Killers are Clubs (they hit people with them).”
Most multiplayer games have ways to cater to all of these archetypes, but even games that lean heavily towards one can accommodate for the others. Consider the multiplayer first-person shooter Team Fortress 2: while most of its players are there as killers or achievers (or a mix of the two), you occasionally get the person going out of the way to find the most creative way to kill:
Bartle’s theory shines the most in MUDs, but is there a way for indie developers making single-player games to apply this? Find out next time!