MMORPG founding father Richard Bartle establishes new unplayer matrix

Dr Richard Bartle, best known to MMORPG players for establishing the research that ultimately led to the admittedly flawed but widely quoted “Bartle test,” spoke at Gamelab Barcelona 2017 last week with research of continuing interest to gamers: a new model for non-player types, floated by him publicly for the first time.

His original model was “insular,” he argues. “It tells you why people do play, but not why they don’t, which is often more useful.” The new matrix covers what is essentially the developer’s quest for accessibility, the “sweet spot where the game’s depth matches the player’s insight,” on a quadrant of easy vs. hard mapped over shallow vs. deep. Like Bartle, I’m not sure “rock babies and opera zombies” will catch on, but he manages to apply it convincingly to explain who buys what and why in free-to-play MMOs.

The whole slideshow is worth a look (doesn’t load in Chrome, note), though I suggest you choose to read that font ironically! With luck we’ll get a video of the whole talk at some point.

Incidentally, Bartle also blogged about meeting Richard Garriott at the event, which you might be surprised to learn marked the first time the pair had rubbed elbows. “When Richard collected his award, he invited me up onto the stage for the photo,” Bartle writes. “It was his award; he didn’t have to do that. I’d heard before that he’s a class act; now I know for sure that he is.”

Source: QBlog. Thanks, Sally!
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39 Comments on "MMORPG founding father Richard Bartle establishes new unplayer matrix"

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Alex Malone

This is certainly an interesting theory. Analysis of why people aren’t playing your games is definitely a worthy pursuit. I’m not sure I agree with boiling down peoples reasons to difficulty and complexity. I’ve had a think about a lot of the big games that I don’t play and admittedly difficulty and complexity are two of the main reasons for not playing games.

However, there are three other big reasons that fall completely outside of these axes – creative direction (IP), multiplayer and business practices.

There are tons of games out there that I won’t play because I don’t like the design – for example, I don’t like the typically androgynous design that comes with a lot of Asian RPGs. There are also loads I won’t play either due to lack of splitscreen multiplayer or lack of social features for online games. Finally, some games I simply won’t play due to bad business practices. I avoid nearly all Electronic Arts games, as well as F2P MMOs and early access games. Voting with my wallet is pretty much the only meaningful thing I can do so I refuse to support game devs with shaky business practices.

I guess you could bundle multiplayer into the complexity axes, but creative direction and business practices have nothing to do with gameplay, yet still play a large role in determining buying practices.

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Melissa McDonald

He must live in Denver or Seattle, he’s definitely been smoking something.

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Dobablo

That is an amusing, tongue-in-check yet insightful presentation.

kjempff
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kjempff

In regards to mmorpgs I think such a graph is inadequate to describe what makes players stay or not. There are so many factors regarding game mechanics and design that I think plays a bigger role than a generic axis placement. Also mmorpgs are often on several points of the axis at the same time and also depending on what features the player is using (many players are only playing half the game, the parts they like and completely ignoring the other parts).
For simpler games I am sure the graphs can be used more accurately, for mmorpgs the sheer complexity I think obscures such a method.

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angrakhan

Without the talk the chart is a bit confusing. What is the difference between “Hard” and “Heavyweight”? Seem pretty similar to me.

In a completely unrelated note I just want to point out that I have never once had someone attempt to hack my steam account until I started logging on to this site with my steam account to post comments. The reported IP address for the attempt was from Russia. They didn’t get past the multi-factor authentication, but still it tells me that either MMORPG or whatever service you’re using for that authentication process has had a breach. Might want to look into it. I, of course, have changed my steam password.

It could be coincidental, I suppose. Just raising the red flag.

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Tobasco da Gama

“Heavyweight” is more like “complex” or “complicated”, as in games with lots of interacting systems, which is why he illustrates the lower-left quadrant with games like Civilization and Oblivion. “Hard” is more like traditional measures of difficulty: completing challenges requires tight timing and precision control, which is the the upper-right quadrant is illustrated with games like Pong.

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Sunken Visions

This kind of mapping is pointless, since people have different skill levels and interests. Clicker Heroes is one of the most popular games on Steam, but I will never play it.

The only way a game can be ‘too’ anything is in relation to age groups. Unless of course one of these components is missing or broken.

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Veldan

People having different skill levels and interests is why this kind of mapping exists

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mistressbrazen

Some of the slides are interesting, of course, this is theoretical, which is fine. I guess I am what he considers a core player. I agree with @Woetoo below that core players seem to be valued less today. We will actually play the game that was developed with all of its challenges and we don’t expect someone to give us a way around them. Today, emphasis seems to be on monetizing an option to get around the challenges. It was also interesting to see Wildstar in the Too Hard Too Heavyweight sector. I assume this was from the initial complaints about the skewer towards end game content.

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Veldan

I think I’m in between core and hardcore, though judging by the games I’m playing right now I’m more towards core.

Core gamers are indeed terribly undervalued in most MMOs. That’s a big part of the reason I haven’t actually played an MMO in quite a while. All the open world and dungeon content is designed for casuals and carebears, and anything that’s challenging (like raiding) is designed for hardcores.

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Sorenthaz

Yep most MMOs operate between the extremes because they want the hardcore/carebear players who’ll stick around and pay up a large sum of $$$ (basically whales in F2Ps) and they also want to keep roping in casual players for the sake of keeping numbers up, queue times down, and extra sources of $$$ from people who’ll dip in and buy some stuff on occasion.

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Witches

Can’t really find my niche in this scale anymore, superhard content that i just can’t surpass doesn’t really bother me, what bothers me is that elements of the game that are within my skill level are hidden behind said superhard content.

miol
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miol

:/

miol
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miol

Sorry, having a really hard time wrapping my head around the comparisons of killers=casual=zombies, but explorers=hardcore=books=EVE, the biggest playground for “killers”!

I thought, killers can be hardcore too and weren’t explorers care bears, especially if they mostly want interact with the world instead of players, as initially put before this here?!

I think, there is a bad PvP/PvE (players/world=too easy/too hard -axis) mix-up going on here!

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Thomas Zervogiannis

I believe the intention was that the two graphs (old and new) are supposed to be “orthogonal” i.e. they do not overlap, but are extensions of one another.

miol
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miol

That would be true, if it weren’t for the graph shown in the header, where he went from the non-player graph back again to a player graph, combining the results of 1 & 2!

He refers to “orthogonal” (page 16) only between the two axis within the 2nd graph >> between insight (lightweight/heavyweight) and playing skill (too easy/too hard)!

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Thomas Zervogiannis

I still do not think he implies a link between the two, rather than a way of reasoning for either one separately.

In any case, as I commented elsewhere, I do not agree with this taxonomy, I feel the “simple vs complicated” and “easy vs complex” would be a way more relevant one (see my other comment). All his thoughts and comments fit this and leave room for more.

I really loved his “Basic Rules” slide though, as well as the way he ties his thoughts to the “insight” and “accesibility” capacity of the players. All in all a fun read :)

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fanggwj

I would change the graph names to meaningless v cerebral on one axis and streamlining v challenge on the other. Though I am puzzled by the chart since there seems to be no “correct” option unless it is to design content closer to where the axes meet.
Or perhaps the message is that if you are designing content that is:
Too meaningless or too cerebral- don’t make it too streamlined or to challenging
Too streamlined or too challenging – don’t make it too meaningless or too cerebral

I would also contend that streamlining something cerebral or making it overly accessible would tend to make it lose its complexity. I think cherry picking is a great example of this.
Yet I would also contend that making something challenging and meaningless would not always be wrong. Grinding is mostly bad but when the player can witness their character’s growth it becomes a lot more palatable and won’t show warts for a long while.

Like no place else, in games the journey becomes more enriching than the destination. There are plenty of examples of games where the ending has sucked or gives the sensation of being unfinished yet they are still great games or even classic games. In a lot of old school classic games your only ending was a 4-16 color pixelated picture with some credits. Or maybe it was just “the end”.

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Thomas Zervogiannis

I think the taxonomy of simple vs complicated on one axis and easy vs complex on the other side would be way more relevant and spot-on.

Complicated or complex – knowing the difference is important

This is not exclusive to games and nothing new either. This graph sounds to me like a re-skin of this taxonomy. The only complication arises from the fact that you need to account for mechanical skills as well as analytic/mental ones. But then both of them can be fit on these two axes.

A game that has lots of mechanics but which are not interacting with one another and are easy to figure out is “complicated” but “easy”. On the other hand, there are games/problems/systems that are “simple” (few mechanics/rules) but “complex” (i.e. not easy, think chess). Mechanical/motor skill requirements can also fit in these two axes. A game might have few simple mechanics that however might be hard to execute, or just hard content.

Sidenote: I tried REALLY HARD to not mention any specific MMORPG for a specific category, it was sooooo tempting :P

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fanggwj

I like the overlay of mechanical vs mental. For instance something like Dragon’s Lair had only a joystick and one button but was both mechanically difficult with regards to timing and mentally difficult over time. Another example would be a flight sim were simple goals require a dozen steps, checks and gauges to maintain that grow with the size of the aircraft.

miol
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miol

Awesome link! Thx!

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Peregrine Falcon

Interesting.

Also, I’m sure that you meant to write that the whole slideshow is worth a look, not work a look.

Woetoo
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Woetoo

It all got a bit abstract in the middle for me, but some of the bits towards the end brought it back together.

I was particularly interested with the idea that “core gamers” don’t see value in paying for anything within F2P type models. In effect, if F2P “does things right” (to attract the largest income), then the payment model itself actively works against attracting core gamers. Although I can see a good game would be attractive regardless of it’s business model.

Which lines up with my experience. But then I start to wonder about the need for core gamers within an MMO. To me, they’re there to be the foundation of everything else. Core gamers make the game consistently active, and that perception of an active game is what supports the other gamer types and maintains confidence.

But I guess someone crunched some numbers and decided that games don’t need a core any more, and that a large transitional playerbase willing to spend more than the average is more profitable.

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Tobasco da Gama

Keep in mind that “core” doesn’t mean “largest” or “most active”. It’s just a label for a particular play style. The true core (largest, most active) player base of any given game might be from any of the other groups.

Most MMOs are probably in the bottom half of the chart, actually. MMOs with rich lore or character customisation will mostly have players in the (ugh) “care bear” quadrant. Raid/dungeon-based MMOs obviously appeal to the “hard core” quadrant, and the same goes for heavily PvP-based MMOs. MMOs with solo grinding-based progression might appeal to either the casual or hard core quadrant, depending on the difficulty of the basic combat loop and the steepness of the progression.

When I try to think of MMOs that appeal primarily to “core” gamers, the only ones that come to mind are console-based shooter-MMO hybrids like Destiny and the Division. The other examples I can think of are WoW and ESO, which I’d actually put into their own unique little “something for everybody” bucket rather than being games with a strong core of “core” gamers.

I think the most valuable thing to come out of this research would be a new set of terminology to break. “Zombie rock opera baby” definitely isn’t it, but at least it’s starting the conversation. But if we could replace the super-loaded, squishy, and not particularly useful categories of “casual”, “care bear”, “core”, and “hardcore” with new categories based on the orthogonal depth/challenge axes, I think we could start having much more interesting discussions.

Woetoo
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Woetoo

No. I recognise the context. And Prof. Bartle is only talking about players who DON’T play specific games for specific reasons or perhaps used to, but don’t any more. Then discounting all those reasons that have nothing at all to do with the game in the spotlight. Then further qualified by recognising that whilst the classifications can be objectively discussed, any individual person and their choice of games within that grid is going to be very, very subjective (For example, I wouldn’t say Starcraft is harder to pick up and play than Eve Online.)

Core are the people who (as a massive simplification) might be comfortable playing the game in it’s existing form, without modification – but aren’t playing. They’re engaged enough (for themselves) by the content. They’re challenged enough (for themselves) by the game’s mechanics. They aren’t looking for shortcuts and might look upon any as pay2win. They aren’t looking for any extra difficulty.

In the context, I doubt “core” players are a significantly large group. Within an active MMO, they might historically have been, compared with other groups. But here, I’m sure they’re massively outnumbered by the “it’s too hard”, “it’s too easy”, “it’s got the depth of a puddle”, “it’s too intimidating” crowds.

I guess the difference is the distinctions between “core gamers who DO play” and “core gamers who DON’T play”. And even in hindsight, I’m not sure how to clarify my original point to separate the two without it becoming a very unwieldy paragraph.

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Tobasco da Gama

Haven’t got through the whole slideshow yet, but I have to say his motivation here is spot-on. It’s super important to understand why people either don’t play or stop playing a particular game.

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Veldan

I thought it was a joke at first, judging by the names, but went through the presentation, and I think it’s actually very accurate. And even though words like carebear and hardcore have become loaded and overused terms, I think the above distinction is close to what they’re supposed to be.

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Darthbawl

Wait… Babies or Babes? I’m confused.

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BalsBigBrother

Yeah I just play games but I am sure this is immensely interesting for folks who like to explain all the things or are into graphs :-)

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thirtymil

I spent over a year analysing my own gaming habits, working out what I played and why, what kind of games worked for me, and what content I enjoyed. I ended up with a 15-page spreadsheet that lists everything from character builds to time played across a number of games to a checklist of things I should look for in new games.

And the only line really worth taking away from the whole thing is ‘Games should be more fun than effort’ :)

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Thomas Zervogiannis

It’s part of the “metagame”!! Plus organizing one’s thoughts into tidy little boxes is always fun :D

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BalsBigBrother

Organising pft embrace the chaos

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Sally Bowls

There may be said to be two classes of people in the world; those who constantly divide the people of the world into two classes, and those who do not. Both classes are extremely unpleasant to meet socially, leaving practically no one in the world whom one cares very much to know.
— Robert Benchley 1920

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Stropp

There are 10 kinds of people in the world. Those who know binary and those who do not…

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