GameDev Thoughts: Game Design Lessons Learned From Studying Bartle’s Taxonomy

Bartle’s Taxonomy was one of the earliest attempts to have a glance at a player’s mindset when they were playing a multiplayer game with other players. This method of player classification is used extensively by game developers to know and to better understand the players’ needs for a better multiplayer environment in games. It is also used to identify the demographic the game is being aimed at in order to create the best single player experience possible for any given game.

The concept of Bartle’s Taxonomy was of course brought forward by the one and only grandfather of MUDs, Richard Bartle, who was one of the first creators of MUD, or Multi-User Dungeon, in 1978. His role in the industry allowed him to observe players’ reactions in multiplayer environments.

His observations stated ways to divide a game between players for a richer and intuitive multiplayer experience. He found out these ways by having long and detailed discussions with players who tried his MUD. All those interviewed by Bartle were asked questions about what they wanted from the game. Each of the players had their own response, which was different than that of other players. These led to arguments between the players, as each had their own justifications due to the fact that they were invested in the game for dissimilar reasons. These disagreements led Bartle to find threads of similarities in opinions between the different players. His final observations, stated that different players were a part of either of four distinct groups. These groups were Achievers, Explorers, Socializers and lastly, Killers.

Achievers. The players belonging to the group of achievers played the game to achieve the goals as defined in the game. They want to stay on top of all the leaderboards and the get the highest score imaginable. They also want to finish the game as soon as possible in order to get the achievements faster and to get the most XP from a particular level. In order to entice these forms of gamers, developers should create some special achievements which are extremely difficult to get so that these players stay hooked to the game. Initially designed as a low-cost way to attract and retain players, achievements are now an important part of the gameplay experience. If your game targets these players, make sure that the player is continually feeling challenged by continually teasing them with more goals.

Explorers. These players play games to explore new stuff, be it geographical, material or even abstract. They love to find out the ways how the game works, to reach and find places no other player has reached before. For them, the gameplay acts as a tool which aids them in their pursuit of exploration. These kinds of players are not after the top score; they are content with the minimum needed in order to move forward in the game to explore new stuff. Game developers have special items in the game in order to make explorers happy, easter eggs being the most prominent of them. These easter eggs keep these explorers addicted to the game resulting in higher engagement rates for the game as well as a literal treasure-filled experience for the player. If your game targets these players, make sure that there’s always something new to explore in the game world, whether that’s literal exploration, new mechanics, new items, or even new interactions with the game world.

Socializers. The third category of players like the game for its interpersonal aspects. These players play the game to be a part of a community or group or clan. They trade stuff amongst themselves and make use of the chat feature to stay connected while in game. They tend to heavily prefer multiplayer games due to their social aspect. The socializing aspect of the games have been given a boost by services like Twitch and YouTube which allow for a better way of social interaction among players. If your game targets these players, make sure that there’s a large social component in your game. I personally don’t have direct experience developing multiplayer games, but in every game I make I always make it a goal to have players communicate with each other about the game. Whether that’s setting up a Wiki or starting a Reddit community, it’s always paramount to get players more involved and engaged.

Killers. Last but not the least, these are those kind of players which play the game to assert dominance over their peers or other players. They gain a certain form of enjoyment by being a pest for other players by getting in the middle of their gameplay and spoiling it. The leader of any clan can also act as a killer player by imposing his will and dominance over other players. These form of players usually harass other players using mods or cheats and target players weaker than them. As a kid growing up, I was one of these players. I would constantly try to troll other players and was quite the griefer. I eventually grew out of this phase in my late teens, but having this background has allowed me to get into the psyche of this player type — these people usually like getting reactions from others. When designing your game, make it as unrewarding as possible for players to grief others, and make it as rewarding as possible for players to act in a socially positive way.

Important Takeaways: Bartle’s Taxonomy allows game developers to learn about the kind of players they want to develop the game for in a fast and efficient manner. If your game targets Achievers, make sure that the player is continually feeling challenged by continually teasing them with more goals. If your game targets Explorers, make sure that there’s always something new to explore in the game world, whether that’s literal exploration, new mechanics, new items, or even new interactions with the game world. If your game targets Socializers, make sure that there’s a large social component in your game. When trying to mitigate Killers in your multiplayer games, make it as unrewarding as possible for players to grief others, and make it as rewarding as possible for players to act in a socially positive way.