WildStar and the Bartle Effect

Most, if not all MMOs incorporate at least some elements of Richard Bartle's research on player types in virtual worlds as a core aspect of game design, but Carbine's recently announced WildStar has taken those concepts and cranked them up to 11.

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.

For example, Explorers will have unique a locator mechanic that might alert them to something interesting in the area for them to discover, but won’t necessarily mark the exact location. Those players will then be rewarded for making certain discoveries in areas, such as climbing to the highest point in the zone. So again, this introduces a more formalized gameplay mechanic based on the player archetypes described above.

Another path that Carbine talked about during the WildStar presentation at PAX is the Scientist, notably one of the player types included in Bartle’s expanded look at player types in virtual worlds. For scientists in WildStar, they too will have a unique gameplay mechanic that allows them to learn more about the world around them through analysis. For example, you might come across an ancient battlefield, and scientist players will have a scanbot that follows them and helps to study different objects in the area. The more information they obtain the more power they get as well.

So in the battlefield example, while studying some of the robots in the area you may be able to figure out how to turn one of them on that will then follow you and help in combat. You might also be able to unlock different shrines in the area the help you and other players. Along the way, you’ll be able to uncover more of the story of the area giving you deeper insights into the world around you.

WildStar Scannerbot WildStar Explorer Radar Dish

Here you can see examples of the Scannerbot, and the Explorer's Radar Dish - tools that will help players progress in their selected path

Each of these things represents a unique system of game mechanics that achieve two main things. First, they incorporate a more formalized means of distinguishing your character and its place in the world based on what type of gamer you are, and then you will also be rewarded for your efforts.

I think it was a smart call on the part of Carbine to come busting straight out of the gates with a playable demo for gamescom and PAX rather than tease industry enthusiasts with a list of gameplay features that we couldn’t experience firsthand. Concepts like playing as an Explorer or Scientist might sound great on paper, but there’s nothing quite like getting a chance to experience them for the first time in a highly polished demo.

First impressions are king, and in that department, Carbine certainly nailed it with its unveiling of WildStar this month. The graphical elements may not be to everyone’s liking, but from what we’ve seen so far it’s shaping up to be a very accessible and fun game. It likely goes without saying at this point, but the Paths system in WildStar has certainly piqued my interest perhaps more so than any other aspect of gameplay revealed so far.

If the routinely packed booth at PAX Prime for all three days of the event is any indication, I think it’s safe to say that WildStar has earned a place on many MMO gamer’s radars as well, regardless of the specific motivating factors involved based on their gamer types. Given that the game was only recently announced, it’s still a bit too early to tell how large a following it will ultimately gain, but I expect big things from WildStar in the future.


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