How to take Bartle’s player type taxonomy into practice? Here’s the guide that will help you design your next game better.
A lot has been discussed and written about Bartle taxonomy of player types already, so my goal here is not to explain its psychological aspect ‘per se’, but to show how you can take it into practice. You might already know what players want and why they want it, so here I’ll review how to give it to them — using the corresponding game components and mechanics that fulfill their needs and enhance their motivations. Let’s start!
For those who are not familiar with Bartel taxonomy— in a nutshell — this is a quadrant model which is one of the basics fundamentals of game design, where one axis represents a preference for interaction or action (in our example below, the X-axis), and the other axis represents a preference for players or world (Y-axis, in our case). This splits the players into 4 main types:
👋 Socializers — Interacting with players.
🔭 Explorers — Interacting with the game’s world.
👑 Achievers — Acting on the game’s world.
💣 Killers — Acting on players.
All of the players do all of the actions of the other players as well, but out of different motivations which we will cover below.
Their main goals consist of rising in status, scoring-points, and completing tasks. To provide achievers what they want, our game will mostly use extrinsic mechanics such as points and status, achievement symbols (badges, trophies, medals, crowns…), progress bars, fixed rewards and so on. Here are few examples for such game mechanics:
Leveling System & Learning Skills — By having a leveling system and progress bars we are letting players know that they are developing, accomplishing, making a progress and learning, which makes the overall feeling of the game more rewarding for them — and especially for the achiever player type. Levels are also important to map the player’s progress; showing where they can go next and where they have been.
Achievements System — Achievements consist of challenges\tasks and fixed rewards. Challenges help keep achievers interested, testing the knowledge they gained in the game and allowing them to apply it. As a game designer you already know that when we complete a task, our brain releases chemicals that make us feel good — completing challenges will make players feel that they have earned their achievement and they will be motivated to continue from one challenge to another. The best practice is to have progress bars along with the tasks to stimulate the need to complete and to show achievers that they are making visual progress toward the goal.
Leader-boards — Leader-boards come in different shapes, most commonly relative or absolute. Their main functional purpose allowing players to show off their scores, but more importantly, used to set goals in their minds — and therefore are a good design component for achievers that are seeking to accomplish goals. Showing players what others can do motivates them to try and do so as well.
Bonus Points — Bonus points are awarded for doing an extra effort or fulfilling a potential task. Bonus points can be ‘useless’ (serve only as a secondary goal, such as in Super Mario hitting the top of the flag’s pole), but can also be used to fuel your game needs: For example, if you have a social game then you’ll want to reward bonus points for playing with friends (increasing the probability that achievers will help the virality of the game by inviting friends just for the sake of the bonus points) as you can see in Overwatch example below.
Boss Battles — A boss fight can be perceived as the final challenge at the end of a level, some sort of an ‘exam’ that asks players to demonstrate their skills. Unlike a ‘regular challenge’, the boss battle will be designed as an ‘epic challenge’ (in terms of art, music, pace, needed skills, strategy, etc.). It fulfills the achievers' motivations as it feels like a goal, progress, and a reward. Also, a boss fight makes the game more interesting as players will experience a different way to play and to break the routine.
Their main goals are exposing the game’s internal plot, looking for interesting features (including bugs) and figuring how things work. To provide explorers what they want, our game will use unpredictable mechanisms such as random rewards, hidden areas, open maps, easter eggs, evolved UI and so on. Here are few examples for such game mechanics:
Choices — Branching choices allows the players to choose their path and motivates the feeling of taking ownership and utilizing strategy (making players think about what they are doing, why they are doing it and how it might affect the outcomes of the game). Explorers are very likely to re-try and see what’s the impact of another choice will be on their journey. A choice has to be meaningful to be most appreciated; having the same result for different choices might harm the feeling of ownership and exploration. Adding a time-pressure mechanic to the decision-making step, will focus players on the problem and will increase the probability of making different decisions.
Internal Mechanism — Explorers will investigate your game and will try to expose its internal logic, your game design (including your meta-game) and so on. As long as you will provide them a rich internal logic to explore, they will be more immersed and satisfied. There are many examples of internal-mechanism, and as long as your game will have more depth, there will be more layers to reveal.
Let’s take an internal mechanic of “leaving footprints” for example (assuming your character leaving footprints on certain terrains): if your user steps in a puddle, does the SFX of the footsteps changes accordingly? Does the footprint’s graphic changes accordingly and look more “muddy” or “wet”? Are you having different footsteps SFX for walking on snow, sand, wood, metal, etc.? If the answers are yes, explorers will be delighted to reveal this, knowing you’ve thought about them.
Customization — The explorers are seeking tools to customize their experience in many ways; from a game design aspect this is an opportunity to allow utilizing creativity, add player’s investment, encourage exploration, and give a sense of ownership. As opposed to ‘branching choices’ which described one paragraph above, customization can be more extrinsic rather than intrinsic (i.e. let the players expressing themselves via their visual appearance just for fun without affecting the gameplay) — However, besides visual expression, customization is a powerful way of motivating the development of strategy (i.e. customize your rifle and choose between a silencer or a scope — each choice will affect how you play the game). Players also like to customize their environment, and if others can visit that environment, this will be very appealing to socializers as well.
Open Maps — Opens maps are a supportive form of exploration-based gameplay. With this design component, you can give the explorers a huge open world to explore, and embed it with many randomized events, points of interest and collectibles. Curiosity is a strong motivation that will encourage players in new directions.
Side Quests — When designed correctly, side quests are enhancing the main plot of the game and should not overcome it. They should be quick, fun and rewarding: adding exploration layers and opportunities of meeting new characters, locations and obtaining unique gear. Explorers will appreciate a rewarding side quest with an attractive reason to explore the game’s environments. As a game designer, you must respect the time of your players so beware of tedious and repetitive side-quests that will just send the player to many places without any inherent motivation — missions like this will be exhausting and will result in a feeling of an overall frustration.
Easter Eggs — Easter eggs are the ‘behind-the-scenes’ connection between the game designer and the player. Explorers can (and will) spend a lot of time searching for easter eggs in your game, nevermind if it’s a significant reward, a small bonus, a hidden message or a joke. Every item on this list is a reward for them. Adding easter eggs to your game will enhance the explorers’ interest, and if the joke is clever enough it will also increase the likeliness of ‘spreading the word’ and therefore supporting the virality of your game.
Hidden Areas — Hidden areas are similar to easter eggs, but are found outside the main flow of the game, meaning explorers will have to dig deeper to find them (and will be more thrilled when finding them): exploiting a bug, sliding through walls, entering cheats, and mainly trying to do things the game doesn’t want you to do normally.
Their main goals are about interacting with people and what they have to say. Even observing people play can be rewarding for them. To provide socializers what they want, our game will use social mechanisms that involve other players such as friending, gifting, chats, caring, guilds, competitions and so on. Here are few examples for such game mechanics:
Trading — Trading provides an opportunity for players to interact with each other, which adds a social depth to your game. A successful trade is a win-win situation, which also perceived as a reward for both sides of the deal (both players are reaping the fruits of their social interaction by receiving what they wish for). Trading also adds an additional layer of non-combat mutual interaction, which satisfies socializers to interact with others even if the other player is not interested in socializing (i.e. an achiever trading with a socializer; for the achiever the reward will be to get the desired item, and for the socializer the interaction itself will be the reward even more than the benefit of the deal).
Gifting — Allowing players in your game to send gifts or donate resources to their friends. Unlike trading, gifting can be a one-sided process. Some players will actively send gifts, while others will passively receive them. However, receiving a gift motivates a mutual interaction between the sides, as the receiver is somewhat obligated to gift back or to contribute to the community. For example, if the receiver is part of a guild and won’t gift back, there’s a risk that this player will be kicked from the team in order to make room for more committed players.
Chatting —Having a chat mechanic will give your players opportunities to socialize and will convey the presence of other players in your game — making your game feel more dynamic and alive in real-time. In addition to the social establishment, an in-game chat can help your players to coordinate their strategy as a group, sharing tips, answer questions and make new connections.
Forming Guilds — Allowing players to form a guild or to be part of teams, based on common interests, makes them feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. It motivates collaboration, competition, and elitism: meaning each member of the team tries to secure the pride of the group by taking specific actions. As a game designer, adding the option of showing the player’s contribution to the team will motivate the urge to try harder and will reward personal pride even if the team itself lost (in case that we are the top player among our team).
Friending — Send a friend request or invite others by sending invitations to join the game. Needless to say, playing with others is very appealing for socializers, but while this kind of interaction is one way of socializing in your game, even if your game won’t allow a direct player-to-player interaction, it can still support friending via invitations to create a friend-ladder: Friend-ladders are forming a conformity-anchor, which encourage the socializers' motivation to play out of what their friends achieved and where they are compared to us — even when they are offline. This component also appeals to Killers.
Sharing Knowledge — Allowing players to share knowledge with others in your game, helping peers or helping the group to achieve its shared goal, will be a reward for socializers. Even if the group will eventually lose, being valuable during the round itself is a reward. There are many forms of sharing knowledge: some of them are extrinsic to the game (meta-socializing) such as writing guides (exactly as I’m doing here :P ), or can be intrinsic to the game such as share the knowledge of a danger-zone via ping wheel and alert the group altogether to take caution or to stay away.
Caretaking — Caretaking corresponds with game genres like farming and pets very often, but there’s more to this— the idea is to have a game component that allows socializers to actively support the other players. Many battle games that are more ‘killer-oriented’ by design will combine a caretaking mechanic to appeal to socializers as well — for example, having a “healer” class. When a healer is part of the team it allows the player to feel useful to the rest of the party, usually by escorting them along the way and not going solo; This is a mutual interaction because the party will also have to take care of its healer which is usually lower in stats compared to offensive classes. Socializers will be part of such games because they can feel valuable and they would love to help others.
Competition — It really depends on how you design the competition in your game in order to change the balance from appealing to socializers rather than appeal to killers. This component suits both players, as it involves other players: as long as you will leverage the player’s participation and its contribution to the team’s shared effort, allow them to exchange information and allow the team to socialize under certain social mechanics as shown above — it will appeal to socializers. On the other hand, if you will leverage the stress caused to the other side, design it without collaboration and enhance ways to disrupt other players’ experience, it will appeal more to killers.
Spectating — As briefly mentioned in the beginning, even observing others playing is appealing for socializers. Watching an online match or a video of someone playing is perceived as a “learning” experience, learning from their mistakes and get inspired by their correct choices, which will allow socializers to share their knowledge with the community\group later on. In order to enhance the socializer motivation as a spectator, you can add extra interaction mechanics to this mode, for example: voting for others (giving the feeling of influencing the game and being part of the team), betting on the game, cheering the players (gives a feeling of supporting), chatting with players, etc.
Their main goals are imposing themselves on others. Killers will enjoy causing frustration of others, the more they are frustrated — the greater the killer’s joy. Killers also attack other players to kill off their personas and they want to see other people defeated. To provide killers what they want, our game will use ways to disrupt other players, establish domination, embrace chaos and more. Here are few examples for such game mechanics:
Ruin Strategies — Killers take pleasure in watching other players suffer. One form of this is by ruining their strategy. That’s what makes some of the killers actually play silently instead of being super aggressive; Watching opponents planning their next move, building their strategy, without knowing they are being watched or doomed to fail already. It’s only then when the killers will surprisingly jump out of nowhere and spray their opponents with a hail of bullets — or even better — with a disrespectful pan in the head.
Dominance — Killers love to gain victory over other players, that’s not special — but for them, the victory will be sweeter if it was gained by establishing domination that allowed them to impose their power or authority on others. If this strategy leads to winning the game it will be very enjoyable — but even if the victory is not in sight, they will still play to frustrate their rivals: this is their main goal. Allowing players to dominate over an area, resources, privilege and so on will motivate killers to join your game and enjoy it.
Speed Runs — Killers love an adrenaline rush and therefore getting themselves into stressful situations. If your game is aiming for killers, then you’ll want to make them perceive a certain situation as dangerous or stressful. Games can encourage producing adrenaline in a pleasing manner and in several ways; one of them is speed-runs. Speed runs are situations that can escalate and happen so fast that your players might not even fully process what is happening. For example: combo series attacks, dead-end hectic boss battles, fast car chases, race against the clock scenes, escalating pressure, and basically any situation that will get their back to the wall and will make them fight harder.
Horror — As noted before, killers love feeling nervous as it escalates an adrenaline rush. Add to this, they love feeling frightened. Fear itself is a justification to pull the trigger, to kill and eliminate the threat. And killers love to… kill. This time, without ethical issues even. When they know something horrible is going to happen, the anticipation itself makes the game terrifying, and emotional.
Anarchy & Chaos—Anarchy and chaos in games often refer to a lack of rules or to adjust the default rules for the sake of some “mayhem” event (i.e. +200% damage event). Killers love new options of imposing themselves on others — stronger & faster, with minimum limitations and guidelines. In addition, anarchy can be utilized in a form of ‘visual chaos’ while there are lots of things going on the screen — tons of particles, participants, hoards of enemies, cacophonic sounds and designed moments which feel ‘out of control’.
Destruction — Killers find pleasure in destroying things, so why not letting them blow up everything in sight? Destruction mechanic can go beyond exploding cars and fuel tanks. It can literally let you destroy the whole environment, re-shaping it and cause all of the breakable surroundings to collapse like Lego bricks. With clever internal logic and chain reactions, explorers will love it as well.
Anonymity — Allowing the killers’ identity to remain unknown, will encourage them to feel less moderate and to do or say things they would not normally do in offline situations (this is called the “disinhibition effect”). The majority of cyber-bullying, cheating, and aggressive behavior (rude language, harsh criticisms, anger, hatred, and even threats) are conducted by anonymous players. If the game itself requires or welcoming aggressive gameplay, then this game mechanic can be embraced. Use it wisely.
Bartle’s taxonomy is a valuable tool to have in your tool-belt as a Game Designer without a doubt. However, always keep in mind that this is not an exact science for designing games. Humans are not binary and every player contains a blend of all players, just at different levels. An experienced game designer can easily take a game component shown in this article under a certain persona and balance it to appeal to a different player type by adjusting it accordingly (i.e. balance a “competition” component from killer to socializer and vice versa). As mentioned at the very beginning of this article, I intentionally avoided writing about the model itself (i.e. its origin, its criticism, elaborated research papers and so on; this stuff is on Wikipedia) — as the aim of this article is to provide you a better starting point, and an interesting perspective of how to utilize this model in a more practical manner; straight to the point.
You are more than welcome to add your comments, advanced examples and share your thoughts!
My first article on Medium: Game Design UX Best Practices
Amir Dori https://www.linkedin.com/in/amirdori
Senior Game Designer at Matific (2016 to date)
Lead Game Designer at TabTale (2013–2016)
Owner at Lookandfeel Games (est. 2009)
Lecturer at Mentor College (Metagame & Game Design course).