Hey everybody! I am currently in my senior year of college, and during these last few years I have been required to take several writing courses. While taking these courses, one of the most common pieces of advice that was given over and over is to know your audience. Different types of people have different reasons for reading, different levels of experience, and different points of view which must all be taken into account when putting together a piece.
In many ways, game design is the same way. There is no game that appeals to everybody, so it is important to know what types of players your game is for. To aid this effort, there have been a number of efforts throughout the years to divide the player-base into different categories based on why they play. These categories are known as “psychographics”, and in this article I am going to look at various different psychographic categories and the different reasons they play games.
Gathering the Players
The first set of player psychographics I am going to be looking at are the psychographics of Magic: The Gathering. This system divides players into three main categories – Timmy/Tammy, Johnny/Jenny, and Spike. Each of these players has a different focus when playing Magic, and I believe these categories can easily be applied to other games as well. Mark Rosewater, the head designer of Magic: The Gathering, has also written extensively about these psychographics – you can find his main article here, and additional articles by clicking the images below.
This category captures the players that play purely for fun. They enjoy winning, because winning is fun, but that isn’t their main goal. Instead, they would rather just enjoy the game, even if they lose. They love the game as simply a game, not as a creative or competitive experience.
There are many different types of Timmys and Tammys out there in the world. Some simply gain enjoyment by playing the game itself. Others enjoy the social aspect of the game, and love hanging out with friends and playing together. Some even enjoy it for the artistic aspects of the game, such as the artwork, music or story.
In Magic, common examples of things that Timmy and Tammy enjoy include giant creatures, massive game-changing abilities, and dramatic edge-of-your-seat moments. These things all create a visceral feeling of excitement in players, and lead to fun moments. Timmy and Tammy love “story moments”, when something happens in a game that is so cool that you just have to tell somebody about it.
When designing for Timmy, the most important thing to keep in mind is fun. Timmy doesn’t necessarily want to worry about tedious things such as inventory management, stat min-maxing, or complicated subsystems. While these systems don’t necessarily ruin a game for a Tammy, they tend not to be the main reason that they play. They enjoy epic boss fights, cool and unique set-pieces, and awesome weapons and armor. They also enjoy the freedom to explore and do what they want in the game world. Most of all, they just want to jump in and have a good time.
Johnny and Jenny are players that play mainly as a form of self-expression. They want to show off their style, personality and creativity in the games that they play. They are the players that try to come up with original strategies that nobody else has done before, or come up with new ways to play the game.
In Magic, Johnny and Jenny are mainly known for their deck-building skills. They try and build unique, out of the box decks. This could be decks based around an original strategy, a particular combination of cards that they came up with, or even a particular theme. Johnny and Jenny are the players most likely to put together a Magic deck based around the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, for example.
Outside of Magic, these players desire ways to express themselves in the game. One way to do this is through customizable player avatars. Johnny is the type of player to spend hours perfecting his character, and finding the perfect armor to make them look awesome. They are also the types of players that would be active in a modding community, creating new things and adding their own ideas to the game. Finally, any game that lets you create, design, or construct is likely to appeal to these players – Minecraft, for example, is a very Jenny game.
For a Spike, the main goal of any game is to win. Having fun and expressing themselves all take a back seat to the thrill of conquering their opponents and proving their superiority. Spikes are not satisfied just playing the game – they want to be the best, and to prove it.
In Magic, Spikes are known for playing whatever deck is considered to be the best at the time. However, this doesn’t mean that they don’t care about what they play. Spikes don’t just want to beat their opponent, they want to prove that they are the better player. Because of this, Spikes enjoy cards that let them outplay their opponent – cards that require a high amount of skill to optimize. They enjoy having options, and managing their resources to get the most out of them.
Spikes are the types of players that love trying to optimize things. In a game with stats or a skill tree they are the players that will be trying to optimize their build for maximum effectiveness. They will wear crazy mismatched armor and weapons if doing so will give them the greatest stat boost. These are the players who will search a level for every secret, and exploit every little glitch in a game to get through it faster or more effectively. These also tend to be the types of players that look down on randomness the most, because they believe that it can diminish their own skill. Spikes are competitive players who will try and eke out every ounce of advantage that they can, and also make up a large portion of speed-runners.
In addition to the player types listed above, Magic also divides players into two other categories – Melvin and Vorthos. Melvin refers to players that enjoy a game primarily for its mechanical aspects – the game systems and mechanics itself. Vorthos players, on the other hand, enjoy a game for the creative and artistic aspects of it.
For a Melvin, a game is just a game. It is designed to be played, and if it is fun to play then
nothing else matters. They don’t necessarily need deep characters and plot, or even the greatest graphics as long as the gameplay is good. Most Nintendo games are on the far end of the Melvin spectrum – they have very little story, and their characters tend to be very one dimensional. However, they have a strong focus on gameplay, which is where these games really shine.
For Vorthos, on the other hand, a game is primarily a creative medium to be explored. Much like television, books and movies, games can be used to tell amazing stories with complex characters. These players enjoy the game as a creative experience rather than just a game.
On the farthest end of the Vorthos spectrum, you have Telltale Games. These games barely count as games – there is very little gameplay involved, and most of your choices never actually end up affecting the plot. They are more like slightly interactive movies. However, while these games will likely never get an award for great gameplay, they are still beloved by millions of players for their storytelling.
99 Bartles of Milk on the Wall
Another common way of classifying players was proposed in 1996 by Richard Bartle, an early designer of MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons – a precursor to modern MMOs). This system, known as Bartle’s taxonomy, divided players into four different categories – Killers, Achievers, Socializers, and Explorers.
Each of these players has a different reason for playing, and are distinguished on two main axes. The first axis is the social axis – is the player more interested in other players, or the world of the game itself. The second axis is the cooperative axis – do the players want to interact, or do they just want to act on their own?
According to Bartle, every MUD has some of each category of player, and it is important to maintain a balance of each of these types. If any type gets too numerous they can scare away other types of players and throw the game out of balance. He also suggests various ways to adjust this balance in his original article, which you can find here.
According to this system, Killers are players that prefer to act on players. What this means is that they are more interested in other players than in the environment of the world, but they are not interested in cooperating. Instead, they mainly want to prove themselves by exerting power over the players. One way to do this, as the name implies, is by killing the other players in the game.
These players are mainly concerned with the combat system in the game, and tend to be masters of said system. They also tend to find competing against artificial enemies too easy, and crave a real challenge. They enjoy testing their skills – after all, there is no fun in defeating a weak opponent.
Achievers also enjoy working alone, but instead of proving their dominance on other players the choose to dominate the game itself. These players don’t just want to beat a game, they want to 100% it. They want to complete all of the achievements, gain the maximum level, and conquer the secret bosses. These are the players who not only complete the entire Pokedex, but have every single Pokemon at level 100 in a box at any given times (likely with secret egg moves and perfect IVs). Their entire goal is to master the game itself, not so that they can defeat other players, but simply for its own sake.
Socializers primarily view the game as a way of interacting with other people. To them, the most important thing is going into the game, chatting with other players and hanging out with friends. The actual mechanics of the game itself take a backseat to these players – they may not be the best players, but they have a great time playing with other people. These types of players enjoy games that have lots of opportunity for communication without too many complicated game systems getting in the way.
The last category of gamers that Bartle identified was the explorers. Much like their name implies, these are the players that enjoy primarily interacting with the world. They want to see every corner of the map, discover every hidden secret and Easter egg. The want to try everything they can, and see what works. They want to test the limits of the physics engine, figure out how the damage equation works, and reach that ledge that seems juuuuust a little too far away to be reached by normal means.
Until Next Week!
That’s all I have for this week! As always, I would love to hear your feedback in the comments below or on social media. There is a lot more to say about these different types of players, so if you are interested in seeing more articles on this subject let me know! If you are interested in seeing more of my articles in the future, be sure to subscribe to the blog on Facebook, Twitter, or here on WordPress so you will always know when I post something new. And join me next week, where I will be talking about the gameplay possibilities of Ready Player One!