Dr. Richard Bartle is a respected academic and author on the subject of virtual worlds. The Bartle test is named for him. See: Bartle on Wikipedia
Back in March, we used a Richard Bartle blog post to discuss retention in MMOs and how developers could up their stickiness factor. But in rereading it, I notice that most of us took as a given that MMOs want to increase their retention in the first place. And I’m not so sure they do anymore.
What studios actually want is to make money. For subscription games, sure, retention is equivalent to direct and obvious money in the bank. But for free-to-play and buy-to-play games, it’s not quite so direct. Presumably, roping players in, bringing them back again and again and keeping them playing for years, increases the likelihood that they will buy something. But instead of spending resources trying to make that happen in MMOs, why not just spend resources on, say, paid DLC and expansions, which you know a sizable number of people will buy flat out? And who cares if they leave in between as long as you got their money?
Are we not already seeing that exact model for non-subscription MMOs? Do MMORPG devs worry too much about player retention?
Publishing a video game globally is a monumental task, more so if it is a live online game such as what you’d find with MMORPGs. With different countries and regions come various traditions, prohibitions, language barriers, government restrictions, playstyle expectations, and financial models that must all be sorted out and overcome for these games to come out.
One of the most famous examples of adapting an MMO for use in another country is how World of Warcraft had to make significant graphical changes to its death-themed imagery (including its Forsaken race) in order to get approval to operate in China. Censorship aside, many studios have adjusted their games to include elements appealing to a certain country in order to get more fans (such as WildStar’s panda explosion).
Today we’re going to look at a short-term oddity in EverQuest II’s history, when SOE attempted to expand the game into the east — and how that rebounded back to impact the west.
At the beginning of every year, I give the games that I am embedded in a letter grade centered around the four different player types featured in Dr. Richard Bartle‘s taxonomy. And at in the middle of the year, I like to see where things are so far.
Of course, I know that the paper that the taxonomy is based on is over 20 years old now, and the theories don’t apply 100% to MMORPGs. But I believe that there is enough of a connection between what people want from an MMORPG and the player types from Bartle’s paper that we can draw a connection.
The four different player types are Socializer, Achiever, Explorer, and Killer. For grades, I take a look at Elder Scrolls Online and ask, for instance, “What would an Achiever think of what ESO has done this year?” And then just as important, I ask, “What could be done to improve the game for the Achiever?” Of course, it really just boils down to my opinion, but I’d like to think I’ve been pretty good about putting myself in other people’s shoes in the past and looking at games from their perspectives.
Yesterday’s post on Richard Bartle’s new unplayer matrix got me thinking once again about my quibbles with the original Bartle quotient, which won’t surprise anyone here, least of all Bartle himself, who’s expressed similar sentiments about his early work (and specifically the test it subsequently spawned).
One thing that always bugged me is how your score masked why you picked what you picked — why you do what you do in the game as presented to you. That wouldn’t matter if people treated Bartle’s theories as descriptive, but developers apply them prescriptively (for example, in WildStar) and tailor games to attract achievers, indeed turning most game content into achiever content. As I wrote a few years ago, a player who explores every last inch of a game map would be an explorer in a game without achievements, but in a game like Guild Wars 2, she’s far more likely to be an achiever on a quest for achievement points. An old-school World of Warcraft PvPer was just as likely to PvP for twink gear and titles as for an actual drive to slay other players as a “killer.” And so on.
All of this is to suggest that in a world where most games reward achievers with the best stuff, most of us are achievers. Are you? And if so, what kind of MMO achiever are you — were you born to competition and leaderboards and prestige-acquisition, or do you “achieve” to meet your goals in other parts of the game, like a roleplayer who raids for the best cosmetics?
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.
When it comes to text-based MMOs created in the ’80s, ’90s, and 2000s, the sheer number of them would blot out the sky. There are certainly more multi-user dungeons (MUDs) than I’ve ever been able to get a handle on when I’ve tried creating lists of the most important to know, but I will say that there are a few that seem to pop up more than others. The original MUD1, created by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, was certainly a watershed moment for online roleplaying games. Learning about DikuMUD is pretty essential, considering its impact on graphical MMORPGs that we still play today.
But there’s another title that often goes unnoticed, unless you keep an eye out for it. It’s a MUD that keeps popping up when you look into the history of the MMORPG genre, one with ties to key players and design concepts that are still active today.
It’s the MUD that shaped the MMO industry, and it was called Sceptre of Goth.
Even though there are hundreds and thousands of MMOs spanning several decades, only a small handful were so incredibly influential that they changed the course of development for games from then on out. DikuMUD is one of these games, and it is responsible for more of what you experience in your current MMOs than you even know.
Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone knows what DikuMUD is or how it shaped the MMOs that came out after it. You might have seen it used as a pejorative in enough comments that you know it is loathed by many gamers, but I find that there are varying degrees of ignorance about DikuMUD in the community. What is it, exactly? Why is it just the worst? And is it really the worst if we like the games that can point to this text-based MMO as a key ancestor?
Today we’re going to dispel the mystery and myths of DikuMUD to lay it out there as it was and is today.
Zubon at Kill Ten Rats recently spied a lovely tidbit over on Dr Richard Bartle’s blog. Bartle, I shouldn’t need to type, is considered one of the founding fathers of the MMORPG genre, having inspired through his research the infamous Bartle test. So it should be no surprise at all that he sees online worlds in everything: As his piece explains, he examined a document intended for advising universities on how to improve their student retention rates — and Bartle realized it read like an “MMO newbie-retention handbook.”
“A place where people can hang out between teaching events and make friends? Check. Organised groups led by experienced students that you can join? Check. A communication channel for students just like you? Check. A method of finding other people who are interested in the same things you are? Check. Fun tasks for people with different skills working together ? Check. Easy challenges with small rewards to get you into the swing of things? Check.”
It’s worth a quick read, especially for the cake joke, but I want to focus your attention on retention and stickiness specifically for the purposes of today’s Daily Grind. Do you agree that developers should be spending more time on retention? And what one thing should MMORPGs do to increase player retention?
Greetings, men and mer. It’s that time of year again when I take a look back on everything that Elder Scrolls Online has given us and give it a rating based on my opinion. However, I don’t just want to grade arbitrarily; I like to use one of the oldest measurements for online roleplaying games: Bartle’s Taxonomy.
Those who haven’t been a part of the online world since the ’90s will likely not recognize the name Richard Bartle, but he was one of the founders of online roleplay gaming. He co-created MUD1 and wrote many papers about online gaming and the people who inhabit that world. Besides the original taxonomy, Bartle’s work was famously turned into a test that asked a series of questions that would fit you into the taxonomy grid of four categories: Socializer, Achiever, Explorer, and Killer.
Unfortunately, the original test no longer exists, but 4You2Learn has a similar one to find out where you fall. Of course, few people will sit 100% in any one category, but it’s the balance of all four that make for a fun game for the largest number of people. I will explain what each group is about as I give the grade.
It’s that time of year again where we reflect on the year gone by and consider Star Wars: The Old Republic as a whole. Pretty much since the game launched five years ago, I’ve calculated my judgment for the game not as a single score but as a group of scores based on the taxonomy created by Dr. Richard Bartle that focuses on player motivation and how to appeal to them.
I’m not going to pretend that this is the perfect way to judge the game because it would leave out important things like the cash shop and the single-player elements like storytelling. However, it does look at the motivations of gamers and analyzes their general gaming style. Bartle divides gamer motivations into socializers, achievers, killers, and explorers. Of course, player specific motivations will encompass a spectrum of these four. But just as with most psychological categorization, gamers will lean heavy in one or two areas and less so in the others. If you’re interested in where you lean, there is a test you can take to find out. (The original GamerDNA test is gone.) However, it will be completely obvious where you lean as soon as you read my individual descriptions.
Hey you! Yeah, the player who actually reads quest text and lore entries when all of the other hooting madmen are furiously clicking past them so that they can go back to the digital bloodbath! There’s no shame to settle in with a good book that just so happens to feature your favorite MMO or touch on the genre as a whole. Many of us at some time have cracked open novels, art books, and even graphic novels to dive more deeply into the worlds of the games we love.
So if you’re looking for a printed companion to help you while away the hours this winter, we have a list of recommended reads for you today. You can get many of these as e-ink digital books, of course, but the bibliophiles should be happy to know that these are all available as physical tomes as well.
In last week’s Daily Grind about whether or not MMOs are better the second time you play them, the topic of burnout came up.
“I find that MMOs have become, in my own perception, a kind of homogeneous mass in my mind that is a barrier in itself to involvement, like there is nothing new any more,” commenter Gibbins wrote. “Playing any MMO at this point is like going back to something I gave up and mostly I spend less time before walking away.” To which another commenter, Mukk, observed, “MMO burnout, it seems…”
But is it really burnout? How do you know when you can say, “It’s not you, it’s me”? How do you determine whether you’ve outgrown a genre, or it’s changed so much that it’s grown away from you? And are you suffering, or have you ever suffered, from MMORPG burnout?
These are the questions I presented to the Massively OP writers this week. Onward!
Massively OP reader Sally Bowls recently pointed us to a blog post by Dr Richard Bartle about the leveling mechanic in RPGs — and how it’s not really about the character at all. Bartle writes,
“In role-playing games, levels are not only a mechanic for driving forward gameplay. They are a reflection in the game world of something the game world has no access to: the player’s self-image. When people play a content-heavy game, they improve at it; the point of levels is to recognise this in the game world. It’s not that your character is improving, it’s that you are improving; the character is merely going up a level to acknowledge that you, the player, are more experienced. If a designer understands this, then when a character goes up a level there doesn’t have to be much of a gameplay-relevant reward at all. […T]here’s no need to add new spells or access to new weapons or more health or anything else like that.”
Modern RPG developers, he argues, have forgotten all that, insisting on attaching tangible value to levels, from skills and gear to content locks, making the character more important than the player, thereby skewing world design. Don’t think it matters? It does: “If today’s RPGs flattened out their level curves more, we could have the open worlds we want without having either to gatekeep areas off using narrative or to level-up the game to fit the characters,” he argues.
What do you think? Should MMORPGs and RPGs gate content, skills, and wearables behind character levels, or should levels be merely a numerical representation of a player’s time and effort?