People Who Suit MMOs

As part of the background reading for my thesis, I recently read Richard Bartle’s ‘Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: People Who Suit MUDs.’ It’s something of a classic in game design, and I’d heard his terminology before (often on Kill Ten Rats, a blog I highly recommend), so it was great to finally read the original piece.

My initial impression was that although Bartle’s player types are still useful categories today, a lot of his examples and criteria are very out of date. The article was written in 1996 and based on MUDs, text-based virtual worlds much closer to programming or writing than current online games. Player-killing isn’t the issue it was then. As I read on, though, I found that Bartle’s four categories still have clear analogues in MMORPGs, lending great weight to his typography in my mind.

Bartle suggests that there are four types of players (or playstyles) in any MUD:

  • Achievers: they’re in it for the challenges, even if they have to set their own goals to overcome. Achievers want the most points, the highest level, the most impressive bragging rights (achievements, in the XBox sense, were made for these players). They’re the ‘diamonds’ of the title – they’re always seeking out treasures and prizes.
  • Explorers: they want to tinker with the world and discover its secrets. Explorers also love their bragging rights, but they don’t care about conventional rankings; obscure knowledge, tricks and clever work-arounds are more their style. In older MUDs, they were the ones who could manipulate the code and found obscure commands. They’re ‘spades’ – digging things up.
  • Socialisers: these people are there for the people. The world is just a setting for conversation and meeting people, and socialisers find other players to be the most dynamic and interesting part of a game. Relationships and social reputation are what they value. Socialisers are ‘hearts’ – they feel empathy for other players.
  • Killers: so named because in games which allow it, these people chiefly enjoy hunting and killing other players. They’re in it for the fun of, in Bartle’s words, “imposing their will on others.” In rare cases he admits that Killers can have positive intentions (they step in to help players, whether their help is wanted or not), but in general they cause distress one way or another. Killers are ‘clubs’ – “they hit people with them”.

Achievers are easy to find in MMORPGs. They’re max level, they raid, they talk about the challenges of the game and how they beat them. They collect achievements and titles and show them off. The game content in a strict sense is aimed at them, whereas it might be incidental to other players.

I always thought I was an Explorer, because I love taking my time over areas, enjoying the details and finding little Easter Egg type features (Guild Wars is fantastic for those who like environment design!). Bartle’s definition of Explorer is a little different, though. In a MUD, they learn commands, develop programming tricks, and understand better than anyone else how the world works in a technical sense. In current MMORPGs, Explorers seem more like the the people who find glitches and exploits in their games, highlighting loopholes in the code and, in the process, their own cleverness. Game modding communities are probably populated with Explorers. Then again, Bartle does mention that Explorers may have specialty subjects, so to some extent I’d consider myself a lore Explorer.

Socialisers are easy to spot. They’re the ones chatting in the public channel and making friends with random players they happen to party with. They’d rather sit around in town and talk about the game (or anything else) than play it, at least some of the time. According to this quiz, I’m a Socialiser type, and I think that’s right – after all, I’m The Roleplayer around a table-top, and I do like to chat with randoms if I’m not playing with ‘real life’ friends. A lot of casual MMO players fall into this category – those who enjoy the game, but aren’t worried about getting top gear or the highest rankings.

Killers are at first glance the most difficult category to find equivalents for. Most MMORPGs don’t allow casual player-killing, or at least they clearly designate areas where it’s a risk so that players can choose not to be exposed to it. Recent games have plenty of difficult PvE challenges and/or structured PvP, but that’s not what Killers enjoy – they do it for the look on your face, for the knowledge that they just got one up over somebody out there. However, as Bartle says, Killers can get this thrill even in MUDs without combat by finding other ways to harass players. Today’s Killers aren’t the PvP pros (who can be very sportsman-like, and in fact may see themselves as e-sport players). They’re the griefers, the trolls, the people who hack accounts or harass other players in chat for their on amusement. Socialisers are still their easiest prey, I think, but Achievers are far less tolerant of them then Bartle suggests, as they may have items or achievements stolen from them rather than just suffer a combat loss.

So where do you fall? Is your playstyle different in MMOGs to single-player games? My Explorer tendencies definitely define my play of Skyrim, for instance (I don’t have the drive of an Achiever), but I’m not interesting in the software, only the world. As an online Socialiser, I suppose my story and role-play tendencies in single-player games shouldn’t surprise me; I’m all about the people, even when they’re computer-generated and scripted. I’ll leave you with this graph of Bartle’s, so you can place yourself on the axes:

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4 Responses to People Who Suit MMOs

  1. alexinwonderland says:

    Great article… And true, too. It’s quite cool that these ideas that were originally presented in 1990-1996 are still relevant today in an entirely different kind of game.

    For reference, I’m something of an explorer/achiever mix. For me it’s all about the world I’m in.

  2. BlueJay says:

    Very interesting. I’m noticing that there’s a lot of similarity between these MMO ‘suits’ and the player archtypes for table-top RPGs.
    You’ve got your Roleplayers, the people who live for character interaction and confrontations they can work through with roleplay instead of resorting to combat, who are similar to Bartle’s Socialisers. However there’s also traces of explorer in them as these players tend to be the lore enthusiasts, interested in finding our how the world fits together in a narrative sense.
    The ‘Real Man’ (or woman as the case my sometimes be) is probably closest to the Achievers, players who are in it to look cool and do awesome things. It’s not quite the same but there are some similarities.
    The Loonie is something of a blend between Killer and Socialiser. Someone who does anything for a laugh they are not usually as directly antagonistic towards other players but their antics can cause grief to the rest of the party.
    Lastly the Munchkin is a merging of Explorer and Achiever. Munchkin’s are all about being the best, maxing their gear and exploiting the rules to get all the best bonuses. These guys live for min-maxing.

    Of course there will always be gaps in this comparison because the media these playertypes are found in but I think the similarities are interesting never-the-less.

    • Curuniel says:

      I do think the Loonie is equivalent to the Killer, even if they’re not outright malicious they get their fun by stirring people up and doing things that don’t necessarily progress the game’s objectives. And I would say the Munchkin is the Explorer, showing off their ability to manipulate the game. You’re right that they fit pretty closely though! I suppose that makes sense since MUDs very much came out of tabletop role-playing games, even if they developed into something a bit different with time.

  3. satoes says:

    Haha good read. I’m not exactly sure where I stand in MMORPGs, perhaps somewhere between Achiever and Explorer.

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