Why Player Types Matter in Gamification

Tell me how you behave in a dungeon and I’ll tell you who you are. I’ll tell you what you like. And also how you want to be rewarded.
We all belong to categories: man or woman, tall or short, blond or dark-haired… And when it comes to games, we also follow some patterns.
During a gamification process, knowing your target audience and how they behave will allow you to understand what they expect.

Once upon a time – in 1978, Richard Bartle created, with Roy Trubshaw, the first multiplayer online game, MUD (Multi-Users Dungeon).

In 1990, based on his experience, he developed the first model to categorize player personality types in virtual worlds. He identified 4 different kinds:

  • The Killers want most of all to defeat other players in the game.
  • The Achievers aim at being 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.).

Each player may share some characteristics of all 4 categories, typically with one or two dominant ones.


To design your gamification process, you must consider this in order to create a fun experience for the widest possible target audience. Let’s take a look at 3 very different cases:


The heroes of Azeroth!

Beyond the “Blizzard” seal as a token of quality, many observers have explored the reason for the success of World of Warcraft. With 12 million players, this game holds the record in its genre.

Well, it’s probably because it reaches all the different player types.

The majority of MMORPG players belong to the Explorer category. WoW’s huge success is thus explained by the size of its world, the variety of regions, the depth of its universe, and the rewards associated with exploration – as experience points or hidden chests.

But not only: Achievers will appreciate the multitude of treasures, legendary and rare items, dungeons and quests.

Socializers will enjoy the possibility to communicate via many public channels, private messages and “role-play” servers.

Last but not least, the Killers can unleash the fury of their axes in arenas, battlefields or simply by slashing players of the opposite faction in PvP (players vs players) servers.

As a consequence, if you enjoy this kind of game and universe, you are simply bound to get addicted to WoW.


The heroes of poker!

Speaking of addiction, let’s take a closer look at poker. A little niche of sharks in quest of glory and money, you may think. Not at all! (Or at least, not for all of the players.)

Among poker players, there are pros who, indeed, seek above all glory and wealth, and are eager to confront others – the Killers. The semi-pros who want to progress and master the game – the Achievers. The ones who play poker for fun and to enjoy a good time with cards and friends – the Socializers.

And to a varying extent, all three types may have a streak of the Explorer in them.

So creating a fun community site for this target audience requires ensuring an appeal to all of these categories.


And RankingHero decided to rise to the challenge! It is a ranking site and social network for poker players.

Through a variety of features and community activities, RankingHero brought together many poker players who want to extend the poker experience beyond the tables.

The different rankings – total or annual earnings, worldwide or national rankings,  number of victories, number of final tables – cover all the results of pros and amateur players and appeal to the Killers and the Achievers.

A “social” ranking based on the number of friends and posts and interaction with other members rewards the Socializers.

The community activities proposed by the site include quizzes, predictions about ongoing tournaments, or strategic situations in which members demonstrate their skills. Killers and Socializers can confront each other, exchange technical tips or make new friends on the site.

Achievers may also unlock badges and special honorary titles.

The site also offers mini-quests to explore its many features.

RankingHero created an interface well adapted to its target audience, attracting and engaging the different types of players.


The school heroes

Here is an original way to apply this target profiling.

An american teacher gave his students the Bartle Test at the beginning of the school year to identify who belonged to which category.

During collaborative projects, he formed groups in accordance with the categories and gave them different tasks:

The Explorers do the preliminary research on the topic, the Achievers design the plan, the socializers publish and share the process, and the Killers (named here Griefers) try to find the loopholes in it (it would have been a bit extreme to ask them to use an axe on their classmates while they work).

The purpose here is to get every student to feel in their right place and more involved with the assignment; to make sure that the Explorers are not “wandering off into the woods”, or that the Griefers try to interact with others without shooting paper darts at them.

No need to deny it. We all had one.

Moderate this concept

With the fast evolution of games and the perspective we have now (38 years since MUD1 and 26 since Bartle’s paper), we know that an adapted gamification is far more complicated than simply reaching 4 categories. And 2 questions have to be asked:

Do I really want/need to reach all the profile types?
How do I reward them?

The answer to the first question is clearly no. Avoid the trap to make at any cost a product for all. Gamifying your site requires examining and defining the profiles of your users and adapting your strategy accordingly.

The site woot.com, for example, appears to have made a choice regarding its target market. “One Deal, One Day.” That’s the motto of this retail website. Each day, one new product is available at a very competitive price, only one product per day and in a limited quantity. Only the most driven veterans of “first day of sales” battles will succeed.

It seems obvious that this principle mainly targets the Achievers (be there first) and the Killers (crush the other users), even though, in this case, both profiles are motivated by the same objective.

Explorers, nevertheless, can be attracted by the curiosity and unpredictability of the offers. However, they will probably not be as relentless and successful as the two other types. As for Socializers, they may not enjoy much the experience of a platform where you cannot directly interact with anyone.
For the second question, the answer resides again in one word: adaptability.

Points and badges are appealing to Achievers, not to Socializers.

An Explorer who visits every inch of your site will seek for more information, or “secret doors”: hidden pages that he’s the only one to know about.

There is an acknowledged fact that you must keep in mind when you gamify: points, badges and rankings are only a small part of what gamification is about and are far from being enough.

And even though the categorisations evolve and can be much more complicated than the four Bartle types, the underlying principle remains the same: it is essential to understand and adjust to your users in order to offer the experience and rewards they are really after.


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