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