4 misuses of Bartle’s Four in narrative design

Over on Zen of Design, Damion Schubert discussed several ways to misappropriate Bartle’s 4 player types in designing MMOs.  However, you can address some of these design challenges by how you incorporate story, characters, and dialog.  While many insist stories are irrelevant in MMOs, reportedly 25% of MMO players actually read quest dialog and 100% travel through story-based worlds, so clearly MMO developers need to explore narrative as a design tool.  Below are a few suggestions on how not to misuse Bartle’s Four when it comes to narrative design.  As theft is the highest form of flattery, I’ll steal some of Damion’s concepts, as well as add a few of my own. 

1.  Don’t take the the four type names literally.  Explorers and game story match well, because a great way to convey story is through the world your player explores.  However, some take interest in exploring other aspects of the game — such as the game story and game characters themselves.  Weaving in strong story and dialog is a great way to motivate these types of explorers.

2.  Don’t assume players are all one type or another, or that they are set in stone.  Just because your MMO is composed of 90% killers doesn’t mean you can get away with poorly designed story or characters.  If the design of your narrative, gameplay, and world is compelling enough, you can actually win over a few converts from the ranks of other types.  Furthermore, those killers could already have a strong secondary type.  For example, in MMOs, I have a strong achiever bias.  While playing City of Heroes, I ploughed through quests, without reading the text or paying attention to the story.  However, when I went into a zone where the buildings were caved in and in ruins, I thought, “What happened?”  My explorer gene kicked in and I started running around, looking for a plaque that might give an explanation for the zone.

3.  Don’t ignore the other types with your method of conveying game story.  You might be able to get away with big blocks of story text in appealing to explorers, but you’ll be ignoring the other types in the process.  According to Bartle, killers are people of few words — you need to tell them the game story in as few words as possible.  Like in the CoH example above, no text was even necessary to get me interested in the story.  You won’t be wasting your time designing narrative for these player types.  Good narrative design can add a reason to achieve for the achievers, a reason to kill for the killers, and a reason to socialize for the socializers.

4.   Don’t spend too much time writing for just one player type.  While writing a quest for phat loot will appeal to the achievers or killers, it may not appeal to others.  Try to write story and quests that can appeal to many types at once.  Years ago I heard of an in-game event where the starting city for, say, the orcs was raided by an NPC army.  Players stayed up all night trying to defend the city before it eventually fell.  Because of a story-based event, all four player types banded together.  If anyone remembers what game this event happened in (possible EQ?), please let me know. 

And the last tip — when designing for MMO player types, don’t forget narrative design, which can include story, characters, and items as well as gameplay and level design.  Despite naysayers about story in MMOs, it’s yet another tool for gaining traction with players, whether they fall under Bartle’s types or your own. 

Question Mark Last week’s game dialog came from Owyn the Blademaster in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. More Guess that Game Dialog to come!

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Published in: on October 15, 2007 at 1:24 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] you have all these player types in mind, though, you will need to avoid the 4 misuses of Bartle’s Four.  What other wisdom is buried in D&D?  Stay […]

  2. While it’s good to make any single design attractive to multiple playstyles, it’s often worthwhile to design separate content for different styles. The trick is to design for them as cooperative roles. Allow players to act separately and yet augment each other’s gameplay by doing so.

    Games have long included cooperative roles in the form of classes, but it should go beyond that. Economy is another way. Allow explorers to wander through wilderness and puzzlers to unlock treasures; then reward them for bringing their discoveries back to the market and community. Likewise, enable killers and achievers to empower explorers and puzzlers through financial support or the clearing of paths.

  3. Sure, we’ve certainly seen cooperative roles in MMOs. I saw in Gemstone and in WoW thieves who would just sit in the city and open boxes, while the explorers would return with their boxes for them to open. This type of design is great for emergent story, though its benefit to narrative story is not immediately apparent.

    It might be interesting if it’s a story that would only become apparent if you were sitting in the city opening 20 boxes in a row. A series of items that tell a story, and if you open them out of order, you kinda get the story, and if you open them in order, you get the story and win cookies.

    Of course, you could be an exploring achiever, and wouldn’t wait for everyone to bring their phat loot. The dangers of ignoring point number 2.

    -Anne

  4. […] We often talk about writing and designing a game for each gamer type, especially Bartle’s Four.  Now’s your chance to find out where you lie.  GamerDNA has hit 500,000 tests today and […]


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