Thursday, September 13, 2007

Personality Types and Gameplay Preferences

Originally Posted by Ereiid:
I will eat my shoe if serious academic study doesn't support the notion that certain kinds of player behaviors and preferences co-associate.
If so, I'll be chewing on the other shoe. :)

Interestingly, Chris Bateman gave a talk at AGDC '07 on how temperament theory guides how players figure out gameplay. (Summarized at Gamasutra.)

I've had the pleasure of chatting with Chris; he's both friendly and sharp, and his ideas on how to help players enjoy themselves exhibit both of those qualities. I can happily recommend his blog as well, which describes his "International Hobo" gig as "market-oriented game design and narrative." Good stuff.

Side note: The four names Chris uses for the different kinds of narrative styles are terms that Keirsey uses for his four temperaments, and which I correlate with Bartle's four player types. In a nutshell:

ArtisanTacticalManipulator (Killer)
Originally Posted by Ereiid:
The trick for an MMO is not just to provide a game for each of those archetypes, but also (if not moreso), for the Achiever/Socializers and Killer/Explorer hybrids, that likely make up the vast bulk of the market.
Funny you should look at it that way. Keirsey might agree with you, and there's probably a good point to be made for that kind of grouping with respect to massively multiplayer games.

The first edition of Keirsey's book Please Understand Me just listed four temperaments, but I always thought there were some internal relationships between them. Sure enough, in his second edition of PUM, Keirsey added some grouping... only it wasn't the same grouping I saw.

In Keirsey's view (with which I agree), the single most important difference between people is whether they tend to be concerned with internals or externals -- abstract vs. concrete, theoretical vs. practical. Most people are the latter; they put more faith in what their senses tell them than in what their hearts or their heads say (which are what drive the Idealists and Rationals respectively). So I would say that by far the most important grouping of Bartle types (assuming that they're congruent with the four Keirsey temperaments as I think they are) is Socializer/Explorer and Manipulator/Achiever. The first group are what I see as the world-y types, the ones who want to "live in" a MMORPG, while the second group are the game-y types who want primarily to "play in" a MMORPG. As the online-game context for the Sensing/iNutiting distinction of Myers-Briggs and the related internal/external distinction of Keirsey's temperaments, I see Explorers and Socializers understanding each other far better than either understands (or appreciates) Achievers and Manipulators... and most definitely vice versa.

At the same time, Keirsey also sees a similarity between Idealists and Guardians, and the opposite similarity between Artisans and Rationals -- namely, that the first two tend to be Cooperators, while the second two tend to be Utilitarians. In Bartle terms, that suggests that the Socializers and Achievers would tend to put a premium on success through organization and relationships, while the Explorers and Manipulators would tend to think more in terms of how to most efficiently understand or use (I won't say "exploit") gameworld systems.

While I think that's a useful way of looking at the four types, I'm not sure that the Cooperative/Utilitarian distinction is the next most important difference between innate styles after a person's most fundamental motivation (Internals vs. Externals). To my mind, the next most common difference is actually the person's need for Freedom vs. Structure.

By that measure, I see Idealists/Socializers as more closely related to the Artisans/Manipulators in their shared need to be free to do their own thing, while I see the Rationals/Explorers as comprehensible to the Guardians/Achievers in the need both these types have to find the structural rules of or impose rules on their world. In my model, the four types look like this:

Artisan/ManipulatorExternal Freedom (power through manipulative sensation)
Guardian/AchieverExternal Structure (security through competitive accumulation)
Rational/ExplorerInternal Structure (knowledge through logical discovery)
Idealist/SocializerInternal Freedom (self-becoming through emotional expression)

All of which is why I answer the original question of "how to create a successful MMO" in this way: In addition to the other requirements -- quantity and quality of content -- you improve your chances of success by recognizing these four strong innate motivations in people, and then deliberately and consciously building forms of content that are specifically enjoyable by each of these types. Because to do otherwise -- which is exactly what most developers do by focusing monomanically on "competitive accumulation" Achiever content -- is to unnecessarily exclude potential subscribers.

No, of course no game can possibly be all things to all people.

But can't there be at least a few games that try to offer a little bit more to some other kinds of gamers?

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