Damion Schubert, an old-timer in the MMO development world, posted an excellent discussion of some common ways that designers misuse Richard Bartle’s taxonomy of MUD players over at his blog Zen of Design.
Now I’ve expressed my opinion of the Bartle types before: useful as a very quick shorthand, but of limited value for really understanding your audience in depth. So as you might imagine I was pleased to see Damion reinforcing some of the points I’ve made myself — especially since more people listen to him than to me!
The most important point he raised (aside from the catchall #9: “Don’t assume that Bartle’s is the answer.”) is to my way of thinking a combination of #1 (“Don’t assume that players are only one of the above.”) and #2 (“Don’t assume player types are fixed.”). Unfortunately, I don’t think Damion goes quite far enough in his caution. In my experience, players don’t just change over time — they can shift dramatically from moment to moment. And yet, at any given moment a player may well be interested in only one of the major areas. It’s for this reason that I find it easier to think in terms of motivations rather than player types.
On the other hand, I think that I am going to have to steal #6 (“Don’t be too literalist with the title names.”) for my future rants. It’s a great point. The example that Damion gives — that explorers are not just people who want to sight see — is one I run into all the time myself. I like to sight see and explore the complexities of game systems, but my moods and motivations when I do each of those activities are very, very different. Sightseeing is for relaxation; system exploration satisfies my urge to solve puzzles and show off in front of other gamers. Similarly, killers aren’t necessarily all about killing — there are other types of competition — and socializers are often the people running the guilds.
At any rate, it’s a good read when you have a chance!