A Player Type Framework for Gamification Design

User Types Hexad
User Types Hexad

Another very misunderstood yet over used metaphor from game design that we use in gamification, is Bartle’s Player Types [1]. What follows is an attempt to create something similar to Richard Bartle’s player types, but for gamified systems.

A quick note, on asking Marvel about permission to use their images and hero names in the archetypes, I was asked to remove all references immediately.  The archetypes are no more I’m afraid.

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Expansions and extras

Marczewski’s Player and User Types Hexad

In this model, there are six types of user described (at a basic level).

There are four basic intrinsic types; Achiever, Socialiser, Philanthropist and Free Spirit. They are motivated by Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose [2][3]RAMP. The other two types, whose motivations are a little less black and white are Disruptor and Player. The images below show the basics.

In brief

  • Socialisers are motivated by Relatedness. They want to interact with others and create social connections.
  • Free Spirits are motivated by Autonomy and self expression. They want to create and explore.
  • Achievers are motivated by Mastery. They are looking to learn new things and improve themselves. They want challenges to overcome.
  • Philanthropists are motivated by Purpose and Meaning. This group are altruistic, wanting to give to other people and enrich the lives of others in some way with no expectation of reward.
  • Players are motivated by Rewards. They will do what is needed of them to collect rewards from a system. They are in it for themselves.
  • Disruptors are motivated by Change. In general they want to disrupt your system, either directly or through other users to force positive or negative change.

Players are happy to “play” your game, where points and rewards are up for grabs. Disruptors want nothing to do with it and the others need a bit more to keep them interested. This looks a bit like this

willing to play


The point of these types is to give gamification designers a simple framework to think about the types of people they may have using their system. It is essential to keep in mind that people can not be broken down into simple categories like this, they will likely display most if not all of these traits in varying degrees. You need to design to encourage the behaviours that will give your system the best outcome, whilst engaging users. These types can help with that.

Intrinsic User Types

  • Socialisers (as in the original Player Type) are the ones who want to interact with others. They like to be connected to others. They are interested in parts of the system that help them do this. These are the ones will evangelise your internal social networks. Most motivated by the social connections aspects of relatedness.
  • Free Spirits like to have agency. They have two basic sub types, Creators and Explorers. Explorers don’t want to be restricted in how they go through their personal journey, to explore the system. They are also likely to find the most holes in a system. Creators want to build new things.They will have the fanciest avatars and create the most personal content. They seek self expression and autonomy.
  • Achievers are the ones who want to be the best at things, or at least be achieving things within the system. They want to get 100% on the internal learning system. They do this for themselves and are probably not that bothered with then showing off to others about it. (This differs from the original definition, but I could not think of a better word!!). Will compete with others, but as a way to become better than others. The system provides the platform, other “players” are just things to be overcome and mastered. May also be motivated by status as a representation of their personal achievement They need a system that will enrich them and lead them towards mastery.
  • Philanthropists want to feel that they are part of something bigger. They want to give to others but expect nothing in return. These are the ones who will answer endless questions on forums, just because they like to feel they are helping. They want a system that allows them to enrich others and feel a sense of purpose.

Player (Extrinsic) User Sub-Types

Essentially the Player is motivated by rewards, plain and simple. They will do similar things to the intrinsically motivated group, but only if there is a reward at the end of it!

  • Self-Seeker: This group of users will act in a similar way to Philanthropists. They will answer peoples questions, share knowledge and be helpful – but for a cost. If there is no reward, don’t expect them to get involved! They can be useful, however if they are being asked to get involved for rewards, expect quantity over quality!
  • Consumer: Consumers will do what is needed to get rewards. If that requires them to learn new skills or take on challenges (like an Achiever), then they will do it. However, if they can get rewards for just doing what they were already doing – even better. Think of them as the ones who will enter competitions just for the prize or who shop at one store just for the loyalty programme.
  • Networker: Where a Socialiser connects to others because they are looking for relatedness, Networkers are looking for useful contacts that they can gain from. They follow the big influencers on social networks, not because they are interested in them, but because they hope it will get them noticed, increase their influence and lead to reward.
  • Exploiter: Like Free Spirits, these guys are looking for the boundaries of the system, where they can go and what they can do. However, for them it is a way to find new ways to rewards. If they find a loop-hole, don’t expect them to report it unless they feel others are earning more than them exploiting it! They are the most likely to exploit the system (you could say cheat!). They are also the people who will build things just to sell. Think of Second Life. Loads of people started to build things – some realised that as well as being fun, they could make some money from selling items. For a few this turned into a way of making a living. They stopped making things for fun and just made them for profit.

The Player User Type is important to recognise as most people coming into a gamified system are probably there initially due to rewards (points, prizes etc). The trick is to try and convert them from being reward oriented into intrinsically motivated users (Socialiser, Free Spirit, Achiever, Philanthropist). There is some evidence to show that the extrinsic types will convert to their analogous intrinsic types (so Networker -> Socialiser etc) but it is not a dead certainty in all cases. Design for the intrinsic user types that benefit your system, but include reward paths for the onboarding process for best effect and greatest coverage.

Disruptor User Type and Sub-Types

Disruptors disrupt a system in some way. This may be by acting on users or on the system itself. As with the Player type, the Disruptor type is a group rather than a single type. However, I don’t tend to go into the detail as the effect on your design is generally similar for all the variations of the type.

Going into a deep dive, we get these 4 main types of disruptor:

  • Griefer: This is our Killer (yep, finally I have an answer for those who kept asking where it was!). I have chosen to use Bartle’s description from his 8 types, because this is the pure arsehole type. They want to negatively affect other users, just because they can. It may be to prove a point about the fact they don’t like the system, it may just be for fun. They have no place in most gamified systems, so you need to find ways to either change their minds – or get rid of them.
  • Destroyer: This type of user wants to break the actual system directly. This may be by hacking or finding loopholes in the rules that allow them to ruin the experience for others. Their reasons again may be because they dislike the system or it may just be because they find it fun to hack and break things. If you can’t convince them to at least convert to an Improver, then you have to get rid of them.
  • Influencer: These users will try to change the way a system works by exerting influence over other users. This is not to say they are a negative type, far from it. If they feel the system needs to change and you actually allow them a voice to help change it, they could become massive advocates. Make use of them or lose them – worse still the could end up switching to a Griefer!
  • Improver: Improvers will interact with the system with the best intentions in mind. They may hack it or find loopholes, but their aim is to change the system for the better. They are similar to the Free Spirit type in reality, they want to have the chance to explore the system, find problems and try to fix them. Take care of these users as they can help you massively. Mistreat them and they may well become Destroyers.

As you can see, the Disruptor can be a complex type and whilst they make up a very small percentage of the overall user group, they can be very powerful. Handled correctly they could help improve your system, handled badly and they may destroy it.

Summary of the User Types

Intrinsic

Icon

User

The people you are building your gamified experience for. They are the most important element!

general

Philanthropist

Motivated by Purpose. This group are altruistic, wanting to give back to other people and enrich the lives of others in some way.

philanthropists

Achiever

Motivated by Mastery. They are looking to learn new things and improve themselves. They want challenges to overcome.

achievers

Free Spirit

Motivated by Autonomy. Some are looking to be creators, others explorers. Try to cater for both if you can. All like to be free!

free-spirits

Socialiser

Motivated by Relatedness. They want to interact with others and create social connections.

socialisers

Player

Icon

Player

Motivated by Rewards. Will play your “game”, for the purpose of gaining rewards. Subset of users containing Networkers, Exploiters, Consumers & Self Seekers.

players

Self-Seeker

Will act in a similar way to Philanthropists but only for reward or recognition. Value quantity over quality (unless needed!)

self seeker

Consumer

Consumers will do what is needed to get rewards. If that requires them to learn new skills or take on challenges (like an Achiever), then they will do it.

consumer

Exploiter

Like Free Spirits, these guys are looking for the boundaries of the system, where they can go and what they can do. However, for them it is a way to find new ways to rewards.

exploiter

Networker

Where a Socialiser connects to others because they are looking for relatedness, Networkers are looking for useful contacts that they can gain from.

networker

Disruptor

Icon

Disruptor

Motivated by Change, Disruptors come in four types. They can be of great assistance, but can cause a lot of trouble as well.

disruptors

Griefer

They want to negatively affect other users, just because they can. It may be to prove a point about the fact they don’t like the system, it may just be for fun.

griefer

Destroyer

This type of user wants to break the system directly. This may be by hacking or finding loopholes in the rules that allow them to ruin the experience for others.

destroyer

Influencer

These users will try to change the way a system works by exerting influence over other users. This is not to say they are a negative type, far from it.

influencer

Improver

Improvers will interact with the system with the best intentions in mind. They may hack it or find loopholes, but their aim is to change the system for the better.

improver

Appendix

Possible Interactions

All of these different user types have the potential to affect each other in your system. For example, Philanthropists are the parent figure. They are the ones who are likely to want to help anybody they can, no matter of the other person’s motives. Exploiters, on the other hand, will make use of anyone and everything they can to get personal gain from the system. Socialiser and Networkers will wish to interact with people. Neither will be after anything from people directly. In the case of a networker, their reward comes from being connected; where as the socialiser’s reward is knowing you and interacting with you. Self Seekers have no real interest in in the people within a system, they are just a means to an end (that end being the shiny shiny things). In a similar way, Achievers are not there for the people, they are there for self enrichment. The big difference here is that the Self Seeker is the one who will collect badges and trophies in a system to show off their expertise to others. The Self Seeker is very similar to the Bartle Achiever player type! Free Spirits and Consumers have the least impact on any of the other users. Their interests are purely personal, using the system to get what they want from it. Other users are of no direct interest to them.

Proposed User Type Evolution

Proposed User Type Evolution

How do you create a balanced system for all types of users?

The answer is, with great difficulty and it depends on the goals of your system. However, if you go back to when we just had five user types, Player and then Philanthropists, Socialisers, Achievers and Free Spirits, it becomes a little clearer. Create a system that appeals to the four basic intrinsic motivations and user types. Make it social, make it meaningful and give people some freedom. Then, integrate a well thought out reward system (points, badges etc.). If you do it this way around, you are not creating a system that relies on the rewards to run. That way, you get the intrinsically motivated people anyway and those that are there for rewards are catered for. It is important to keep in mind that you want more of the intrinsically motivated users if possible. These are the ones who will keep coming back, keep producing content or whatever else they are meant to be doing.

Philanthropists and Achievers can both help a system thrive. Philanthropists want to help everyone. They want to answer questions and guide users. Achievers, depending on the type of system, may also wish to do the same. They are interested in being the best – at mastering things. They will want to give the best answer to a question, not so much to help the user, but to know they were the best. However, as their main aim is self-enrichment, they can also give very little back to as system aimed at teaching – which may be just what you want!

Free Spirits tend to give very little back to the people if all the system allows them to do is explore. Too many of them and the social aspect of your system stands a good chance of not working. Give them the chance to be creative if you want to get anything back for others.

Socialisers are great for evangelising a system and bringing more people too it, however, they don’t add content to systems as much as other types can. Too many and all you have is a social network.

Disruptors are generally unavoidable. They want to change the system and will find a way if they can. Make sure you have solid rules that can be enforced. If you don’t want people to do something, make sure they system doesn’t let them do it! Also, keep in mind, disruptors can work as improvers or destroyers – so they are not all bad and may actually help you improve the system!

If the system is flooded with Players then you stand the chance of devaluing everything. They run the risk of generating lots of meaningless content, upvoting and liking just for reward, abusing others in an attempt to network and so on. Keeping them involved in a controlled way can be time consuming and expensive, so look at creating a system that converts them to intrinsically motivated users!

Final Thoughts

A few final thoughts It is really important to keep in mind, this is all here to help clarify thinking. Real life is not as black and white, users will most likely display traits from multiple user types. But, they will usually have one that guides them more than the others. They are also likely to change user types as they get to know the system. In systems where rewards are used in the onboarding process, but are phased out as the user becomes more capable, you will see them going from extrinsically “motivated” user types to intrinsically motivated types. This is when they realise that there is more to be gained from the system than just the points and badges. Finally, why not take the User Type Test and see which of the 6 types you may be?

Supporting Gamification User Types

 References

[1] Bartle, R. a. (1999). Players Who Suit MUDs. Retrieved March 22, 2015, from http://mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm

[2] Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. The American Psychologist, 55, 68–78. http://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68

[3] Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Distribution (p. 256). Canongate.

Most of the icons are available at game-icons.net. For more information, check the icons accreditation info here.

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Expansions and extras

There are 5 of me to find on the site!

There are 5 of me to find on the site!

The concept of he Gamification User Types was born at the end of 2012, with my first official published version going live on the 30th of January 2013. It was with the help of Professor Richard Bartle that they truly went from mere idea to writing it all down here!

78 Responses

  1. Mathias says:

    Hi!
    I just love the test. Have done it my self and would like to do the same test with my students to make my teaching more relevant and to reach all the player types.
    I have translated the test to swedish and the students have done the test on a paper. Here´s the problem, I can’t do the test again. Now I’m standing here with a pile of paper. Is it possible to do the test several times?

  2. aneeshanand says:

    great analysis of user types and it will really help any gamification / game design experts to do their research. Thank you and expecting more on this.

  3. Nicolas says:

    Hello !

    Andrzej, I had the pleasure to hear you about the user types, in gamification, in the Iversity’s Mooc. For this 4th week, we have to work on our own project. Mine is very specific.

    It is intended for people with disabilities – mental disorder such order – So it might be quite difficult to establish the type of users, as it could be possible for other people.

    What advice would you give me in this very special case?

    Thank you in advance,

    Nicolas

    • Depends what you are trying to do. You don’t need to establish the types, just build for the types of interactions you are looking for. If you are looking for creativity, build things that free spirits may like. Mental disabilities or not, I am sure they are motivated generally in the same way as everyone else, you just have to be more aware of the levels of understanding and how you work with them.

  4. Matthew Miller says:

    This is just Brilliant. Thank you! This helps me in my thinking about player motivations and really helps in keeping the “grey” in the conversation. Should there be a gray inner circle in that diagram, in which Player and Disruptor have a part?

    Would you mind if I reference this in a presentation at ASB Unplugged on building course-long games?

    • Hi

      Yeah, took me a while to realise that you have to explicitly tell people grey exists and that people can display more than one trait. I mostly talk about the good side of these motivations – as that is what you want to encourage in a Gamified system, but the other side exists!
      I did have player in the middle of my original model, but that made it even more confusing lol.
      More than happy for you to reference, would love to see the materials you produce as well :-)

  5. Sebastian Woinar says:

    Hey Andrej, I really like your work.
    It answers some of my open questions about the MUD context of Bartles Player Types!

    Do you have by any chance some numbers about the distribution of players?
    For example in “Gamification by Desing” I’ve read that 75% of all players should be socialicers.

    Do you have similar statistics?

    Thanks!

  6. Scott Barnes says:

    My initial thinking here is that the node taxonomy (which is what it distills down to) is really about averaging out the variety of behaviours of the said user(s) into grouped descriptors. Using these as a base node to inherit from or to attach from makes sense (ie use these nodes as color coding your own behaviour nodes).

    It doesn’t answer however the variety of behaviors you’re likely to incorporate in your design, that is you still need to identify the Environment, Form Factor(s), Usage % and Influence along side their intent goal(s) which is where i’d say these fall into place.

    Example – a cluster of users could show outward signs of being “Socialisers” which gives clues to the intent or context in which they interact. It doesn’t tell us “how” they are likely to carry this out (Form Factor) or what kind of conditions they dwell in (Environment – low lighting, cave dwellers etc) and it also doesn’t indicate the influence they have over other users or behaviours (Trolling etc). Finally their actual usage of a feature(s) isn’t isolated either in that they may occupy 40% of the usage of feature “text chat” but only carry out 20% usage of TeamSpeak etc..

    At the end of the day we still need to do more work on unpicking the “who” and not just rely on the above nodes as “well thats all you need to know about users..”

    • I agree. This and the other links associated to it are here to help people to consider the types of user you may find in a Gamified system and how to engage them. The point is to get people thinking beyond a one size fits all. As I get more info and data from live systems, I intend to add more about interactions, other displayed behaviours of the types etc.

  7. Michelle Andreassen says:

    I can’t see most of the images – and there are no “like” and share buttons for this article :)

  8. dinthebay says:

    Really enjoyed this article. Taking it into consideration for the title I’m currently working on, I can see where we’re strong and weak when thinking about the game along the guidelines laid out in this article.

    • Hey, thanks for that! What sort of game are you working on, in my other life I run a games review site (yars.co.uk). Intrigued as this is written with Gamification in mind!!! Thanks again :-)

  9. rolandinchina says:

    Great article ,really helpful

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