Richard Bartle, Honorary Professor of Computer Game Design at the University of Essex, is perhaps best known in the games industry for his research into the taxonomy of player types.
He classified players into four categories: the Achievers, that like to act on the world around them; the Explorers who like to interact with the world around them; the Socialisers that like to interact with other players; and the Killers who like to spoil the fun for others in the game.
But is this research into player behaviour still relevant for today's mobile games market?
MobileGroove's Peggy Anne Salz caught up with Bartle to discuss how UA managers can adapt his famed 'game player types' model to develop mobile game user journeys and advertising creatives capable of convincing the right player types to discover, download and play.
Your model breaks players into four types. Why do we need to know this?
I originally developed 'player types' as a guideline to help designers of massively-multiplayer games back in the day of console games.
Since then the model has been applied to gamification and other disciplines, and most recently to mobile game user acquisition and marketing, following my presentation at the first UA Society Summit in London last September.
The model is not about player personalities, although it does help us to understand audience groups. It’s really about understanding what people find fun and how different player segments behave in different situations.
Knowing this allows us to design games in ways that will attract and engage the audiences we want in our games - in particular MMOs - but it also applies to mobile game monetisation because you want to attract the types that are going to pay and play.
The model is about understanding what people find fun and how different player segments behave in different situations.Richard Bartle
Think of it as another layer of information over the demographics and other data you use to target and acquire users. Player types is another weapon in your armory.
Take a game that attracts Socialisers. They’re going to support your game with lots of ‘buzz’ and help bring crowds to your game, but they may not be the ones that actually give you the money.
That will more likely be the Achievers, who want a challenge - and will be willing to pay for that experience - or the Explorers, who want to play again and again until they figure it out. Achievers want to feel they're better - by their own metrics - than other players.
You need to attract a wide audience because - if everyone is an Achiever - the whole cloth unravels. Socialisers are like a hem. With them in the game Achievers always have someone to feel they're better than, and the Socialisers don’t mind at all since they aren’t playing for points or scores - they’re playing to be with their friends.
It’s all about focus and balance in UA to create a great experience for the target audience - or player types. How can UA managers achieve the right outcome for their game?
The player types you want to attract to - or keep out of - your game will depend on your strategy. If you want to make money from your game, you have different priorities - and want to attract a different player mix than if you want to raise the profile of your game, or brand.
For the former, you might want more Explorers and Achievers; for the latter, you might want more Socialisers playing to spread the word to their friends. If you want Socialisers, then you want to make sure your game has social elements - like a way to share amusing photos or screenshots with the community.
If we look at Explorers and what attracts them, we have a good example in the survival game No Man's Sky. The gameplay keeps them coming back because they have a natural drive to figure it out. Of course, once they have figured out they may decide not to play anymore - which is why you need fresh content and challenges to keep them coming back.
Pokemon GO is an example of a game that has succeeded among Socialisers. There is interaction, sharing stories, communicating - but no battles, which is why it hasn’t attracted a huge audience of Achievers.
The problem is: Socialisers can get bored and leave - and that’s exactly what has happened with the game. As a rule, a game that attracts just one player type is not self-sustaining.
It may be phenomenally successful for a period of time, like Pokemon GO, but it won’t last. To be a sustainable success you need to design a game - and UA campaigns - that allow you to reach more than one player type.
You have called Killers the “psychopaths” of mobile gaming. What is their place in a balanced UA strategy?
They are the Killers because they like to kill the fun for everyone else, especially the Socialisers. They are highly competitive and crave attention - in part because they also feel inferior. They prey upon players, criticise your game on social media and post things that are offensive to the community just to get a reaction.
But Killers are also the worthy components that can keep the adrenalin flowing for Explorers, Achievers and other Killers. After all, what is the fun of beating someone in a game if it wasn’t a fair contest? It’s an empty victory.
So, Killers do have their place in the player mix, but acquiring too many of them for your game is like filling an island full of tigers. Eventually, the tigers run out of things to eat and they start eating themselves - and then there is nothing left.
Keep in mind the game does benefit from having some Killers. They are like pepper and can spice up the game for others.Richard Bartle
Keep in mind the game does benefit from having some Killers. They are like pepper and can spice up the game for others.
They give the Achievers an element of surprise and something to beat; they give the Socialisers something to talk about; and they interest the Explorers because they can take on the challenge of beating them, and don't really mind if they lose since they are interested in the gameplay and the mechanics over winning the game.
What are some tips you can offer around campaign approaches and creatives to target and influence specific Player Types?
It’s about finding the simple things that can have a big impact. Imagery is important and video ads are a great way to convey this.
If you show players and gameplay about finding a treasure, for example, that is goal-oriented and will likely appeal to Achievers. If the video ad shows a kind of ‘Hero’s Journey’ is necessary to get to the treasure, then that will likely appeal to Explorers.
If it shows one player taking the treasure away from another player and then disappearing with it because they are teleported somewhere else, then you can bet that will draw the Killers.
Socialisers are an interesting group because they help can you get more out of your UA spend. A great example is GoPets - a game that carpet-bombed the Socialiser quadrant with fun. Cute pets, lots of positive emotion to share and even a chat channel to message friends.
GoPets, was shut down after it was acquired by Zynga, but the company understood that the best way to reach critical mass was through Socialisers. Of course, the real money comes when you succeed in attracting Achievers - and that’s what happened with GoPets.
After Achiever content was added to the game, the microtransaction revenue doubled in a week. Clearly, you want to acquire Achievers for your game because they will pay to win. They are the ones who are going to say, ‘I really want that battle axe, and I am going to pay for it’.
Appealing to Achievers is what will help monetise the game, and having Socialisers will boost your marketing without increasing your budget.