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WildStar and the Bartle Effect

Posted Thu, Sep 01, 2011 by Sardu

Richard Bartle’s definitive work, Designing Virtual Worlds, has been described by many as “the bible of MMORPG design.” Most, if not all MMOs incorporate at least some elements of Bartle's research on player types in massively-multiplayer online games as a core aspect of game design. The guy did help pioneer the entire industry after all, so it only stands to reason that he’d have some insights into what makes MMO gamers tick.

To give you a quick refresher course, or some insights as to what his research is all about if you’re unfamiliar with Richard Bartle’s role in the MMO omniverse, here is a quick overview of the four types of MMO gamers described in his work:

  • Achievers: This type of gamer enjoys being at the top of leaderboards in competitive titles, the first to down difficult bosses, and ultimately thrives off of the status those types of activities can earn them among the larger playerbase.

  • Explorers: As the name suggests, Explorers enjoy discovering new areas, Easter Eggs, or other hidden or less obvious elements of gameplay. They’ll typically shy away from linear forms of progression, and games that funnel players through content on a set path with little or no room for deviation.

  • Socializers: This type of gamer most enjoys logging into an MMO to chat with friends, and is most likely to gravitate towards large guilds, or spend the bulk of their time in-game hanging out in major cities, or other types of main social hubs.

  • Killers: This group refers to gamers who predominantly thrive in PvP, preferring to compete against other players rather than scripted AI encounters.

There will naturally be some overlap between the four main types of MMO gamers described above. For example Killers are also often Achievers since PvP and competitive ranking systems usually go hand-in hand in most titles. Likewise, more and more games have been including achievement systems that offer perks or status to all types of gamers. In World of Warcraft, for instance, there are some difficult to earn achievements created specifically for explorers.

In Designing Virtual Worlds, Bartle expands upon the initial 4 gamer types described above into an 8-part version that includes a more clearly defined breakdown of the player types. These include:

A Granok Warrior in WildStar
  • Friend
  • Griefer
  • Hacker
  • Networker
  • Opportunist
  • Planner
  • Politician
  • Scientist

Elements of Bartle’s research are almost universally bundled into gameplay systems in modern MMOs, but Carbine’s recently announced WildStar represents the first MMO to not only embrace this concept, but turn it into a core gameplay system that helps further distinguish any two given player characters based on what interests them the most.

While there were plenty of other interesting aspects of WildStar to absorb during PAX Prime, the Path system is the biggest element that made me stand up and take notice. This is partially due to my personal interest in some of Bartle’s research as noted above, but also because it ultimately offers players a more clearly defined means of being rewarded for the way they choose to approach playing the game. It’s not so much a case that other MMOs don’t reward certain behaviors or activities, such as exploration, but WildStar is perhaps the first title to formalize that type of system to such a high and obvious degree.


The Wildstar game trailer really hooked me, at first I was like "meh, nothing to see here" and then BAM!! The creativity and subtle humor really clicked and I was actually actively engaged in the little game preview and the world/game/characters it introduced.

Will definitely keep an eye on this game and hopefully will get a chance at a demo at some point :)

The more I see the more I like!

Hi,Sounds like a concept that will getarene a lot of interest. I know you have mine. What exactly are folk skills? For me having been born in the late 60s, I can't help that folk music and tie-dye are the first pictures in my head. Not bad pictures, but nothing I would be willing to invest in to learn. Green, organic, sustainable living, are all strong ideas that everyone is excited about. Learning how to compost, bake a natural yeast bread, grow sprouts, rid myself of pests and not harm the environment These are all skills I would be willing to travel and pay money for. Is this something like what you mean by folk skills?Good luck with your venture!-Lee

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