Player Taxonomies: Reviewing Richard Bartle

Today I sifted through two sources of Richard Bartle to get a handle on his player types model.  For those who do not know, Bartle was one of the designers on MUD, the first of its kind. MUD (a Multi-User-Dungeon) is what MMORPGs are based upon. Games like Everquest and World of Warcraft owe a lot to the world of MUDs, and to Richard Bartle in particular.  In 1996, Bartle wrote “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds“, an article which looked at players of MUD2 and tried to understand what people thought was fun in a MUD.  Many years later, Bartle revised his model in Designing Virtual Worlds.  The model was much the same, but expanded.  Here, I have my notes on what Bartle described in these two sources.

In “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds” Bartle sets up three factors upon which players may be plotted.  These factors represent binaries related to online play, though could be extended to offline play (or other social forms of play like tabletop RPGs).  Originally, though, Bartle identified four types of player and from those four types found two of the factors.  The four types of players are achievers, explorers, socialisers and killers.

  • Game-related goals
  • Desires “winning”
  • Amassing of wealth and power
  • Points gatherers
  • Acts upon the world
  • Likes being immersed in the world
  • Seeks mastery of the game
  • Uses levels as a ranking system and a point of boasting


  • Mapping and understanding the game world
  • Experimenting with the limits of the game
  • Desires knowledge and skill
  • Enjoys knowing secret inner-workings of the game
  • Interacts with the world
  • Wants to be surprised by the world
  • Enjoys the wonder the game world brings
  • Focused on the open-endedness of games
  • Interested in agency
  • Like being sources of knowledge, particularly obscure knowledge


  • Communicate with others as a primary function
  • Gets into the role of the characters they are playing
  • Desires interaction with other people
  • Empathizing, sympathizing, joking and listening are the tools used
  • Interacts with other players
  • Interested in getting to know people
  • People are compelling while the world is just a medium
  • Enjoys having influence


  • Causing distress or helping others
  • Imposes, does not care about others’ desires
  • Desires power over others
  • The greater impact caused the greater the enjoyment
  • Acts upon people
  • Keyed to the psychosocial moratorium
  • Wants to be well-known and/or feared

From these four Bartle created two factors from dichotomies.  They are Players vs. World and Acting vs. Interacting

Players vs World
  • Communicating with others in some way
  • Showing power over others
  • Imposing upon others
  • Interfering with others
  • Finding out about others and getting to know them


  • Exploring game areas
  • Understanding game structures
  • Figuring out game secrets
  • Cheating
  • Bending the game to the player’s will
Acting vs Interacting


  • Doing something
  • Setting goals
  • Carrying out goals
  • Focuses on performing actions on something (such as a player or the world)
  • Being acted upon
  • Having something done to you
  • Passive by nature
  • Being something instead of doing something
  • Focuses on performing actions which do not lead to a stated goal

In Designing Virtual Worlds, Bartle expanded his model to include a third factor: Implicit vs Explicit. This split the four types each into two, creating eight new types. The focus in this book was on the factors, though.
Implicit vs Explicit
  • Favors the unknown
  • Likes idealism
  • Prefers actions to be hidden
  • Wants things to surprise
  • Desires disorder
  • Seeks opacity (wants actions to be unclear and not easy to follow)
  • Favoring the known
  • Likes realism
  • Overt actions are preferred
  • Wants things to be expected and predictable
  • Desires order
  • Seeks transparency (wants actions to be clear and easily understood)

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