Relationships Between HEXAD Types

It’s been a while since I wrote about the HEXAD user types, but the world does not stand still and I keep seeing them turning up in academic papers – which is amazing, so I thought it time to say a few words on things that have repeatedly come up!

I was inspired by a recent paper by Ana Cláudia Guimarães Santos, Wilk Oliveiraa, Juho Hamari and Seiji Isotani called “Do people’s user types change over time? An exploratory study ” You can grab a copy here.

Without spoiling too much, they come to many conclusions about the types, but one that stuck out for me was

“the dominant user types can not be considered stable.”

There were also a few comments around Free Spirits and Disruptors being a touch difficult as well!

“Disruptor and Free Spirit presented reliability results slightly below the acceptable […] might highlight the necessity of the improvement of Disruptor and Free Spirit sub-scale or further analysis of these user types”

So – Let’s dive in 🙂

Your Type Changes

The first really important point about any user or player type is that it is not fixed. There are two main reasons I have seen for this, context and experience.


Depending on what you are doing, your dominant type could be completely different from task to task. Think about video games and how you play them. Some games you want to go and destroy everything, others you want to explore and yet others you want to create. The same is true of any system. Depending on the context of the system, your motivation to use it will be different and therefore your user type will be different. This makes it very hard to rely solely on a survey to understand player motivations. Their answers will be in the context of doing a survey and not necessarily interacting with your system.


Just because you are one type when you start using a system, does not mean that will forever be your type in the system. When designing onboarding for systems, we often rely on pulling on the Player or reward-driven type to be dominant, rewarding correct activity to encourage more of it as the user learns the system. We are then actively encouraging them to change type over time to something intrinsically motivated and in line with the needs of the system.

Consider a game like Minecraft. You may enter Minecraft as a Free Spirit, wanting to explore the world and create new and exciting things within it. Over time, you may start to be more interested in finding specific features such as Raider Castles or Mansions to test your combat skills, becoming more of an Achiever. Then you may feel that you want to get more into playing with others and exploring the vast worlds that have been created online. Initially, this may see you behave like a Player, earning rewards and beating other players. You might even become a bit of a disruptor, griefing other players and trying to find the loopholes and bugs to gain an advantage. Over time, however, you might develop more into a Socialiser in your style, being there to meet with friends and play cooperatively with them. finally, you might decide to contribute to the community with your own maps and game modes, becoming both a creative Free Spirit and a Philanthropist.

In this slightly exaggerated example., you can see how one person could display all six HEXAD types in one game, based on their experience over time in the game. That is why it is so important to try and build your gamified systems in a way that might appeal to all types, not just one.

Some Types are Closely Linked

The second point I want to look at is how closely linked some types are and why this is.

In studies, I have seen that people see strong correlations between Socialisers and Philanthropists. This has come up a few times now. There is a very good reason for this, which I will come to. However, it is important to remember why I made the types in the first place.

They were built as a practical tool for me to use when trying to describe the motivation and potential behaviours in gamified systems, building on ideas from Bartle’s Player Types, but with a foundation in Self Determination Theory. Initially, I just had three Intrinsic types based on SDT – Socialiser, Free Spirit and Achiever, based on Relatedness, Autonomy and Mastery.

However, as I was working more in the field, I noticed behaviours that did not quite fit these three. Initially, it was selflessness or charity/philanthropy. Whilst building a system I wanted to explore how to motivate that specific style of behaviour and realised that it was not, in a practical sense, well covered with the initial three types. So the Philanthropist was born.

Later I realised I was not catering for those who were there purely for rewards, like those being onboarded early on. These types became the Players. This later led to me realising that not all participants would be positive and would have motives that did not fit the more positive nature of gamified design, these became Disruptors.

What causes issues with research is that these types often display very similarly in surveys when asking for people’s motivations. The biggest culprit being Socialisers and Philanthropists.

Socialisers and Philanthropists

The strong link between these types is that they both are motivated by Relatedness. Without people and connections to people, how can you be philanthropic!?  So when you look at pure motivations, they both will score high on relatedness. However, their intentions are different. A Socialiser wants to connect with people and interact with them. A Philanthropist is more interested in acting on those they are socially connected to, in a way they feel is positive. Be it charity, mentoring or even just being bossy!

Free Spirits and Disruptors

In a similar way to Socialisers and Philanthropists, what separates Free Spirits and Disruptors is intent! Free Spirits interact with their environment, whereas Disruptors Act on their environment (or conversely other people), imposing their will.

Where Free Spirits want to explore the possibilities of their world, Disruptors want to explore the limits, finding flaws and weaknesses to exploit. However, their motivation is still the same (for the most part) Autonomy.

So the common factor here is intent, whether a user is acting or interacting is very important to how their type will display in the real world.

Type relationships 500x432 Relationships Between HEXAD Types

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