Character sheet: Richard Bartle, the Dungeon Master

Richard Bartle is the father of online role-playing games (RPG). A story that began with the creation of the MUD series. He was also the first to categorize the different types of MMO players, a theory that should be at the base of any reflection about gamification.

British game designer, writer and lecturer, Richard Bartle got a PhD in the field of artificial intelligence from the University of Essex.

It was during his doctorate that he developed – with Roy Turbshaw – the text-based multiplayer online game MUD (Multi-Users Dungeon), a first of its kind.

No graphic interface, no map, no character seen on the screen, no 3-D. Similarly to the world famous tabletop role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons or a gamebook, an explanatory text describes a scene and the player enters the action they want to perform via their keyboard.
Your parents told you they got a ball for Christmas and were going out to play with their friends? BS! They were geeking out on Commodore 64!


He is also renowned for an article, published in 1996, categorizing the different types of MUD players. A concept that fits with MMORPGs too. He defined four of them:

  • The Killers want most of all to defeat other players in the game.
  • The Achievers aim to be the quickest to finish the game, complete all the quests or gather a maximum of gold coins and treasures.
  • The Explorers are more interested in uncovering the whole map or discovering the details of the universe and history of the game.
  • The Socializers are keen on interaction with other players and tend to be more engaged and immersed in their role-playing (i.e. no slang in a conversation that takes place in a medieval universe.).

The 4 categories of RPG players according to their preferences.

Bartle thus contributed towards theorizing an essential stage of any gamification process: know who are your users and what they expect as a reward.

While gamifying your website, for instance, you’ll have to take this into account if you want to reach the largest possible audience.

Achievers want points and leaderboards. Explorers want more information or access. Socializers and Killers want to interact (but for different purposes) with other users.


GSummit SF 2012: Richard Bartle – A Game Designer’s View of Gamification

The guy is British, so get ready for some jokes.


Bartle’s article has since been widely discussed and elaborated on with the development of new types of games for which it was not well adapted anymore.

It also served as the starting point for Erwin Andreasen and Brandon Downey in designing the Bartle Test – named after Richard, though he denies any paternity. This test consists of a series of questions that give you a quotient in each category.

You can, for example, be 90% Explorer, 70% Socializer, 30% Achiever et 10% Killer.


You can find the questions of the Bartle Test here.


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