Richard Bartle’s compartmentalisation of MUD/MMORPG players into 4 types – Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers and Killers – is well established in the lexicon of those that take an interest in MMORPG design.
Even though every MMORPG player is most likely some sort of combination of these types – a fact seemingly acknowledged in the popular test derived from Bartle’s research – we can probably assume that a majority of players have a tendency to prefer just one type. When we talk about Achievers, we are talking about players that prefer that aspect of the MMORPG experience over the others, but who don’t necessarily dislike the others. Therefore, talking about ‘Achievers’ as a group seems to be meaningful, with the caveat that there is probably no such thing as a pure Achiever.
The perceived wisdom used to be that MMORPG designers should attempt to appeal somewhat equally to all player types, but problems inevitably arose when the enjoyment of one type infringed upon that of the others. Back in 2000, the world of Ultima Online was split in two by popular demand. The PvP-free world of Trammel emerged, and this proved to by far more popular than the PvP world of Felucca.
The legacy of that split lives on today. WoW’s PvE server population dwarfs its PvP server population, and on PvE servers it is relegated to a consensual activity of marginal impact. In LotRO, PvP is relegated to a single zone called the Ettenmoors, which a player is never obliged to visit. AoC and WAR were both heavily designed to provide a PvP-free experience on the assumption that there would be many that wanted it. In recent times, only games like Darkfall, an unashamedly niche title, have attempted to embrace non-consenual PvP as an inherent design goal. Ultimately, I don’t think many would now argue that an MMORPG needs to appeal equally to all 4 types in order to be successful.
Fast-forward several years and there are signs that another conflict between the types might be coming to the boil. Achievers and Explorers have been knocking heads together for a while now, especially with regards to gating of content (yep, if it wasn’t obvious before, this post is yet another outlet for my axe-grinding).
Achiever types traditionally thrive in content gating situations. From launch until recently, WoW contained a fairly strict raid progression requiring much content repetition in order to slowly inflate player stats to the point where higher tiers of content could be attempted. Raiding became a highly competitive activity, not just between guilds on the same server, but between guilds globally. This was all fantastic for the Achiever types, but what about the mass of players that didn’t give a damn about ‘server firsts’, and just want to experience the shiny new content that their subscription dollars had paid for? Explorers undeniably got the short end of the stick during this period of WoW’s history.
The Explorers were forced either to join the numbing grind, or to hang up their hiking boots and call it a day. Somewhere deep inside Blizzard HQ, the chief exit-questionnaire-number-cruncher must have squawked loudly that the balance was swinging too far towards the latter choice, and consequently, Wrath of the Lich King saw raiding accessibility greatly increased. Achievers must now make do with ‘hard mode’ achievements in order to distinguish themselves from the masses, and the masses get to actually see the new content. Time will tell whether this uneasy compromise will manage to appease both camps, but I’ve certainly heard plenty of rumblings from Achiever types that they now find WoW raiding too easy.
In other quarters we have Turbine’s use of Radiance to gate raiding content in LotRO. The masses have spoken out against it, rather vehemently, and it seems like Turbine have had the good sense to get the message. We have been told to expect increased accessibility sometime soon.
So, given that Achievers and Explorers both seem to enjoy raiding, can they both coexist peacefully? Or is there a fundamental conflict between what they both want from the experience? Are we hitting the point where the tide is turning against Achiever focussed content, just as it did against the Killers all those years ago? Will traditional ‘hardcore’ raiding become less and less popular, even niche, in a similar way to non-consenual PvP?
Maybe it can be explained in relation to player demography. If we assume Achiever types have a tendency to be younger, and drift more towards the Explorer temperament as they age, perhaps Blizzard’s changing raiding strategy is simply an adaptation to its changing playerbase?
And Socialisers, what do you think about all this?