This is a paper I wrote for a class on the motivations for game play. I tried to be as inclusive as possible but realistically I must have missed some. I eagerly welcome all feedback so please sound off in the comments with anything you agree or disagree with.
What motivates players to play the video games that they play? This is an important question both for designers and players and many attempts have been made to address exactly that. Unfortunately, a lot of the work has focused specifically on one genre of games, MUDs and MMOs. With this paper I attempt to generalize the motivations further, springboarding off of the work of others. I found that by splitting the Bartle archetypes of achiever, explorer, killer and socializer into various subtypes a more complete view can be found. On top of these types I further apply meta-types and an important time dynamic that further influences how players enjoy and interact with the game.
The first person to attempt to classify players into various archetypes was Richard Bartle. Having cowritten the first MUD (Multi User Dungeon) (1) he then went on to analyze the sorts of players that actually play MUDs. He attributed the demographics along two axes, one being acting vs interacting and the other being players vs the world. This yields four different player types: killers, achievers, explorers, and socializers. He goes on to explain in depth what motivates each player type to play the game and how changes in population of any one group effects the population of other groups. Later Bartle goes on to add a third axis to his dimensions in his book Designing Virtual Worlds. (1) The third axis of implicit vs explicit greatly increases the number of present demographics in order to include players who no longer actively play the game but participate in it on some other level. His work forms the basis of most of our views about player motivation. Nick Yee has also done work in this field. (2) Using feedback from players of MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games) games he has settled on three different basic components of motivation each of which have subclasses. Achievement contains advancement, mechanics and competition. Social contains socializing, relationship, and teamwork. Immersion contains role-play, escapism, discovery, and customize. Both these sets of work do an admirable job covering the motivations of players but unfortunately their realm of player types is only within that of MUDs and their successor MMOs.
It is my intent to expand the types of player motivation to include players of all games, including casual games. In so doing I have found that the game play motivations fall closely under the original four headings that Bartle had introduced, namely that of achiever, explorer, killer, and socializer, with each motivations having submotivations within it that are significantly different enough to be worth considering separately. In addition I have found that some of the motivations Nick Yee and others have identified are actually meta-types, that is types that exclusively support another play style but can not exist independent of another. While it remains possible and common for players to mix and match from different play styles the meta-type motivations can not exist without a base factor to support it. Another important aspect I have identified is that of the time dynamic. A further separation of players occurs on this level based on the amount of time they want to or are willing to play. Again the time dynamic supports players along the spectrum of base types but greatly influences what games they are actually playing.
The achiever archetype represents people whose motivations are to achieve various goals in the game. I have split this archetype into three subtypes: Competitive, Customizer, and Procedural The most common type associated with achievers is the Competitive type. The Competitive player wants to be the best at whatever measure the game presents as important. Whether this is being the highest level or killing the toughest bosses or simply beating the game the fastest this is what they aspire to do. Even if they are not currently able to play at that level for whatever set of factors (such as lack of time to dedicate, or difficulty finding groups for completing high level content) it is the goal of being the best that drives them. They are often attracted to online games with clear metrics for success. If the game features stats they can increase they are going to pursue that, especially if there is a way to show others how well they are doing.
The Customizer archetype is a different way of measuring success. Here the player is motivated to succeed but on their own terms. Whether they want to collect unique items that other players don’t have or achieve crazy feats no one thought was possible, their path is their own. They are attracted to doing things other people have never thought of doing or have decided is to crazy to do. Obscure achievements, especially with associated demonstrable rewards, is a main attraction here. This can also manifest in building games, creating a unique and appealing society, or using a creation system to build a model of something beyond the usual constraints of the construction system. What drives them is the novelty of what they are doing and achieving success in their own way unique from others. Since their goals tend to be unique they group up less than other achievers unless they find another customizer with similar goals who they can work together with. Lots of unique and interesting goals tend to keep them engaged and the more creative outlets the game allows them the more amazing things they will find to do with it.
The Procedural archetype is a new one that I encountered in talking with other gamers for this project. The procedural player plays without some deeper motivation and simply plays to do the next thing. They will follow a quest line seldom getting distracted by subquests and don’t need the motivation of level ups or rewards nearly as much as other archetypes do. They play the current part and then when its done and the next part opens up they go there and play that. This type is most likely one of the most common ones but its sorely underrepresented on forums and among game discussion simply because the procedural player does not feel the need to participate beyond simply playing the game. Not needing to optimize their achieving they find no need to seek out outside information to guide their play. As such though they may in fact be the majority of players it will be difficult to get them to put in the effort to self identify or share their perspectives. This archetype is fairly easy to satisfy so long as the game presents a clear path.
The Explorer archetype represents those who enjoy finding the niches and corners of the game. I have split it into two separate motivations, mechanics and lore. The Mechanics explorer is interested in digging deep into the structure of the game. They like to play with the raw numbers and equations that shape the world they play in. This is the player who cares whether or not an item has 1.2 or 1.3 for its stats, and this player is willing to design and carry out a test to figure out which is the case. They may have some intended use for this knowledge, such as sharing it with others or leveraging it to do something impressive, but the main motivation here is the pursuit; figuring out a puzzle that hasn’t been solved before. This is where you will find all the theorycrafters from various games, working in their element. The more more puzzles, either overt or subtle the game contains the more engaged they will remain.
The Lore explorer also likes poking around the corners of the world for unexplored things, but only within the game itself. Rather than peeling back the veil they want to explore the corners of the game world. These are the people who do quests you’ve never heard of and find easter eggs in NPC dialog. They’re interested in knowing everything about the world, as the world as presented. This type can be hard to satisfy but the more compelling the game’s story is overall the more they will be inspired to explore its niches, so long as that niche content adds to the overall feel.
The Killer archetype represents those who most enjoy combat with other players. I have also split this into two separate motivations, griefer and PvP. The Griefer archetype is closer to the original killer type that Bartle presented. This player takes pleasure in the pain of others. They don’t just want to beat them, they want to crush them and cause them genuine hurt. This is mostly commonly presented in systems which have an open PvP system allowing a much higher level player to trick a lower level into combat and then kill them. It doesn’t have to take the form of direct confrontation however, as a griefer can just as easily get their kicks through trolling an in game chat channel or harassing players verbally. Their main motivation is to make other players’ experience miserable in some way. They can spring up in any game that gives them an outlet to make themselves heard and will often evade restrictions as soon as they are placed.
The PvP archetype is the good side of the killer coin. The PvP player certainly enjoys attacking and fighting other players but they enjoy it for the challenge. For them no AI opponent can match the thrill of going up against a real life person and out thinking and outplaying them. They take no joy in crushing a weak opponent but only in winning a fair fight, or a fight balanced against them. Most players of online first person shooters seem to fall into this category. They enjoy the thrill of combat against a real person but not maliciously. Games that strive for close and balanced player against player combat will attract them much more than those that suffer severe balance issues.
The Socializer archetype is those who enjoy most their interactions with others through the game world. I have split this into the types of Closed, Open, and Leader. Closed socializer form deep in game relationships but only with a select few people. They tend to be more open and honest with their core group of friends, bringing real life discussions into their online world. However, they are not as likely to talk to random strangers or expand their circle without careful thought and consideration. This can often start with real life friends who choose to play together and gradually expand their circle to include a few more people but will only expand gradually if at all. They may not have a lot of in game friends but those that they do, they know they can depend on. In order for them to be drawn into a game there has to be an easy way for them to privately form and maintain these bonds.
The Open socializer likes to make new friends with everyone. You’ll find them chatting in open chat channels and making new friends left and right. They can be helpful or entertaining but expect their friend list to fill up quickly. They can often end up active on the forums as well. This is the person most people think of when they think of a socializer in games. They will gravitate to games with easy communication but can even form their own communication channels outside of the game if necessary.
The Leader socializer tends to gravitate towards leadership roles within the game. They’re leading guilds and organizing raids. They can also be found as moderators or running websites. They enjoy interacting with others but primarily when they are in some position of authority over them. Often there is a carry over of leadership acumen from real life to the game and once they have found that they have a knack for it they tend to stick with it. Can be a great outlet for people with leadership skills who feel marginalized and unable to actually lead in their real lives since games offer so many more opportunities for unrestrained leadership. They’ll be most attracted to games that require or encourage groups of people to work together for either in game or out of game tasks.
The Meta-types I have identified reinforce the motivation that brings the player to game in the first place. The four factors I have identified are roleplaying, immersion, escapism, and investment. The roleplayer enjoys becoming their character and acting in the game world in accordance with a set of rules and story and they have laid out for that character. While this may at first seem to be a separate motivation the motivations they assign to their character (whichever of the base types they choose) is the actual motivation behind play. This can allow a player to explore archetypes unfamiliar to them through their roleplaying but you can still map the motivations onto the existing types.
Immersion and escapism are very similar in that both revolve around engagement with the world. As the player engages with the world and becomes a part of it they do so through the lens of the base types. It allows them to immerse themselves deeply in whatever their field of interest is. Escaping from real life into a fantasy world similarly requires a motivation for them to escape into. You can’t simply escape into an empty world without driving goals and dreams. The world is engaging them because it allows them to immerse themselves or escape into the world and become more like their avatar while expressing their underlying motivations in line with the base types.
Investment is another interesting meta-type in that once a player has played long enough they will continue to play, including doing things they are not interested in doing, in order to get back to the things they do enjoy. The player grinding out gold for new gear so they can get back to raiding, or going through minigames they don’t enjoy to get back to the meat of the game is in the hook of investment. However, in order for the player to become invested in the first place something about the game must have resonated with their motivations. A PvP killer might be willing to play through single player content in order to unlock new weapons but it is still the motivation to get back to the PvPing that they enjoy that drives them to plow through other content that is less personally desirable.
The Time Dynamic is another overlay placed on the gameplay. This effects not necessarily motivations so much as how the player is able to fulfill those motivations. The four main time dynamics I have identified are short bursts, long blocks, specified time, and infinite. Players who prefer short bursts usually only want to play the game for a short period of time. During that period of time they don’t necessarily need to actually accomplish a goal as long as they are working towards it. They would rather be able to play a few minutes at a time a few times a day than have to sit down and play for a longer block of time. Often this is all they are able to fit into their schedule. As such games with long set up times, such as wait queues for dungeons, elaborate character creation, and elaborate quests that take more than a few minutes to complete, will often not appeal to them. They want the game to remember exactly where they left and they must be able to leave the game safe from attack at any point they choose to. The simpler the interface and the faster you can go from starting the game to actually playing the better. As such they tend to be attracted to simpler less involved games and to shy away from games which require longer time commitments to be successful at. The combination of a procedural play style and the short burst time dynamic appears to be what has led to such success for casual games such as Farmville. Although once the player is sufficiently invested in the game they may be willing to put more time in as long as the ramp up is gradual.
Players who prefer long blocks of play time generally only play a game at most once per day. When they sit down to play they are expecting to accomplish something within that time frame. If they fail to achieve a goal within the time they have allotted for themselves they will be disappointed with their playing for the day and perhaps even frustrated. They don’t mind waiting a bit to do the things they want to. They’ll wait in the queue for a dungeon they want to do but they won’t wait forever because they have other things they need to be doing. This is where a lot of the so called casual hardcore crowd fits. When they play they play seriously and put some time into it but they don’t have a regular gameplaying schedule. Whatever their goals are this group wants to make significant visible progress towards them during the time they have to play.
Players who play at specified time are what is generally referred to as the hardcore players. They have more time to put into the game than many other players and more importantly they are willing to schedule other things in their life around the game itself. They may only play four hours a week but those four hours are carefully allotted to allow for raiding or some other group activity. They may also play during times other than those already laid out but it is the specificity of the times that they always play that defines this group. It indicates a dedication and priority to the game. Right now the main category of this player is choosing a specific time in order to meet up with other players usually to accomplish a collective Competitive or PvP pursuit but this dynamic is gradually growing as more games add in time specific content.
The player with infinite time obviously doesn’t actually have infinite time though it often seems like it. They are easily able to set aside specific blocks of times for certain in game activities often setting up multiple per week. They are often unemployed or work from home enabling them to play without any pressing time constraints. This time dynamic can lead to fast burn out as most games are not designed to provide anywhere near the level of content these players are consuming. Expect them to make alts and try different paths through the game and expect that their experience with doing so will put them at an unexpected level of competence and knowledge. In games that place active limitations on time you can spend playing expect them to get involved in the community filling their non-playing time with forums and websites discussing the game.
As players, knowledge of these types and dynamics is important because it can help you find a game which fits your own unique playstyle. Not every game is friendly to every type and many outright forbid certain styles of gameplay (most commonly PvP and almost every game frowns on griefing). Knowing more about what you enjoy in games will help you seek out games which cater to you and help you derive the most satisfaction from games that don’t, since you’ll have a better idea where to start looking within them for the portions that you enjoy.
As game designers knowing and understanding these categories is crucial to designing a game for not only your existing audience but also for an audience that might be missing from your game. Some of the types are very easy to please and some are tougher to please. Always keep in mind though that changing the game to pander towards certain types of players can also negatively effect the experience of others. Knowing what each group values, and what groups play your game most is invaluable when considering any change to an existing game or planning any new game. The more you know your audience the more you’ll be able to deliver content to them that is interesting and engaging and will make them stick around to see what’s next.
I intend to continue this work in the future eventually turning the archetypes into a test in the same vein as has been done in the past with Bartle’s original four archetypes (3). I intend to make the test more dynamic however such that if a player with a radically different viewpoint and motivation set stumbles across it they will be able to provide feedback and enlighten others as to where they are actually coming from. The ultimate goal for this would be to provide recommendations for games based on the results of the test. This would benefit both players, who would discover new games they would enjoy, and developers, who would attract new players to their games.
(1) Bartle, Richard. Designing Virtual Worlds. Berkeley: New Riders. 2003. Print
(2) Yee, Nick. The Daedalus Project. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
(3) Bartle Test of Gamer Pyschology. GamerDNA. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.