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author: @aestranger

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Exploring gaming personality types and play styles: Part 2 The Explorer

We continue with our next part in looking at personality types and play styles in gaming. If you haven’t read Part 1 (The Achiever) in this series, then please do have a look through it.

With this series, we’re looking at and breaking down one of the more famous Player Type models, Bartle’s Player Type taxonomy, which splits people into four categories: Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers, and Killers. There are other variations and expansions of this model from Lazzaro, Callois, Kersey, and other psychometric tests, many of which are explored in detail in this Gamasutra article.

The issue that some may have with Bartle’s model is that it is incomplete, Dr. Bartle even mentions this himself. There are other player type theories and models that may offer some more scope. The problem that you may run into is that Bartle’s may be too narrow, or that the expanded variants on it are too broad or perhaps not broad enough.

One of the goals of this series is starting from Bartle’s player types as a base point of reference and to then explore how to expand to an even broader psychological taxonomy of player types. And this may be done by perhaps using Jungian Archetypes and the other expanded taxonomies to create a more holistic picture.

Before we continue, it is good to be reminded that these player types are not neat little boxes into which people can be placed. The player types simply describe an aspect of a personality. Each person will have all of the player types within them, just in varying amounts. And each player type may come more to the forefront depending on the experience on offer, either in a gamified environment or traditional games.

“The player types theory is there to remind you that you’re making games for human players, involving their psychology in how they perceive and play your game.”Source

With that, you must always perform a carefully designed qualitative research of the community for which you wish to create a game or gamified system. This is that you can more accurately determine what the target audience desires and better cater to the varying levels of each player type.

Bartle’s player types

As has been mentioned before, we’ll be using Bartle’s models as a base and exploring each one to get a better understanding of the four types, what varies between them, and how they interact. Here is a short reminder of what each type entails:

Killers: interfere with the functioning of the game world or the play experience of other players

Achievers: accumulate status tokens by beating the rules-based challenges of the game world

Explorers: discover the systems governing the operation of the game world

Socializers: form relationships with other players by telling stories within the game world” –Source

It is good to re-emphasize once again that these player type models don’t exist to stereotype people into specific roles. Rather they exist to help understand and add labels to concepts and varying types of interest found in each person. Each and every game or gamified experience or environment will appeal to one or hopefully to multiple player types if designed well. Invariably the experience will most certainly appeal to a specific type, due to the creator’s preference. Therefore, as a creator, it is recommended to the aforementioned qualitative research so that you are better equipped to create a more holistic environment for your audience. Through this method, you are guaranteed to increase the engagement on your platform.

The psychology behind the different player types

As you have read, each person has all the various player types in them, some are more dominant than others, and on top of that, it depends on which environment they find themselves to determine which is dominant at that time. The game draws out that player type and the user may prioritize a type depending on how they feel at that moment. We each have a varying list of games and experience we enjoy, sometimes we wish to be the number 1 at something, other times we choose for a meditative experience of exploring an unknown world.

When designing your environment keep in mind the overall demographic that you are aiming for, prioritizing that over the other types that are available. As these player types are based on a multiplayer game experience, therefore that doesn’t describe who these people are, but rather what they find fun and what type of objectives they enjoy. Knowing this you can create better experiences that offer the right sense of agency to the player.

With that in mind, we’ll be moving to next player type of the Explorer. The aim is to explore each base user type individually, as this is easier to understand, in the long run, otherwise, we’re covering too much to keep track of in a single piece.

What is an Explorer?

In Bartle’s player types, Explorer is in the quadrant of Interacting and the World:

“[…] players who seek out the thrill of discovery, learning about anything that is new or unknown. Referred to as the “Spades” because they tend to dig down and uncover things, explorers feel a rush of excitement when they discover a rare artifact or a secret pathway.”Source

As you can see the core drive and motivation for the Explorer type is to discover. It is the feeling surprise and the sense of unpredictability that energizes them. Their motivation is very intrinsic, what they do is for personal enjoyment and improvement. They do have a very small extrinsic motivator and this is usually expressed in the form wanting to discover exploits or loopholes in a system. You may recognize this trait in people who are hackers for example.

If you wish to look at the Explorers motivation from positivist psychology and Deci’s Self-Determination Theory, then the Explorer is predominantly motivated by Autonomy. The ability to choose for themselves where to go, what to do and create and discover as they see fit. An Explorer will seek out the surprise, determine how a game system works. They feel no need to max out their skills or characters or achieve every badge. They will do the minimum grind required to enable them to continue and effectively explore the environment that you have created.

When developing an environment for the Explorer, you need to ensure that it is deep enough. An Explorer will continue to consume the knowledge and lorethat you have put into your platform. To keep the interested it is a good idea to for example add Easter egg surprise for them to find. Little nuggets of information that are incredibly difficult to find but offer an enjoyable surprise and intrinsic reward for the person who discovers them. Explorers also enjoy puzzles and mysteries, littering these around an environment will keep them engaged, especially if either of those requires multiple pieces and clues to solve and uncover.

As the Explorer enjoys interacting with the world, discovering, uncovering, their interactions with other player types are fairly superficial. The Explorer does not care about the Killer unless they are too many that impede them and their exploration of the environment. But Killers will grow tired of the Explorer as their motivation are too divergent. Achievers and Socialisers will generally seek out Explorers to gain the shared knowledge that the Explorer has accrued.

Explorers have no issues with other explorers and often the Socialiser trait will come up as the Explorer does enjoy discovering aspects of an environment with other Explorers, since what’s the point of finding something if others don’t know about it.

Using the Explorer type

When looking at the Explorer you may recognize yourself and others in it, perhaps when you’re working through a crossword puzzle, or trying to get to that one last area in an MMO game. Depending on the environment we all have the drive to want to find out what’s different and new about it. The Explorer is in essence in the pursuit of knowledge, pure and simple.

When developing your environment, you need to remember that the Explorer is the personality type that will try to uncover every single bit of content that you have placed into it. Whether you’ve created a game or a gamified platform, your content will require depth and breadth to keep an Explorer active. And like an Achiever the Explorer may also one become a Master in your system, teaching others, aiding novices and helping improve your onboarding experience.

The benefit of having ensured that there are enough breadth and depth in your content for the Explorer is that the overall experience will be enhanced for all player types. As there really is no downside to having a well-developed narrative, setting, milieu, etc… And naturally, if the platform is lacking then the Explorer types will be the first to leave, giving you a strong indication that work needs to be done to improve the experience for personality types.

When developing for the Explorer, the best strategy is (unfortunately perhaps) also the most intensive. If your aim is to cater for this aspect then it will require a lot of work to create an environment large to keep them interested. You will invariably become an expert and specialist in that environment which is a plus point, and if you have done it effectively you will have a platform done may become unrivaled. A good trick when creating it is to hint at the knowledge that can be gained through exhaustive searching, do not make too easy to find, and not too hard that they motivation disappears. And much like with the Achiever, break up that knowledge into smaller pieces and scatter them around the platform. On one side, this will extend the experience but on the other side will also make it that much satisfying once the Explorer has found all the pieces to the mystery puzzle.

It is that drive for autonomy in self-discovery of mystery that will improve your retention rate of those with a strong Explorer type mentality. And as was mentioned in the Achiever piece, these strategies are mutually beneficial, almost symbiotic when combined.


The Explorer type will be a fairly small percentage of your user base. Most people do enjoy discovery and the newness of something, but this motivation does not last with everyone, especially if the experience is too shallow. And many are simply content with having discovered the easy to find areas and wait for the more driven and hardcore user to uncover and share the knowledge that they did not have the time or inclination to uncover.

Despite the negative aspect of it, this practice is still important for your overall community as the Socialiser, Achiever and Killer aspects all depend on the small number of Explorers that go beyond and answer the self-imposed epic calling to discover all available knowledge. This sharing of the knowledge that you have provided and embedded is what will tie your community together and ensure that the other player types remain for much longer.

Be sure to check back in the near future as we explore the other player types, their personalities and make an attempt at creating a more straightforward and expanded player type that you can use in the development of your games and gamified experiences.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Please do check out the other posts on æ, and please do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

Please do Share if you found it helpful and know of someone who would it find it helpful as well.



2 Responses

  1. Sometimes player types theory reminds me of different pseudo-scientific ideas like socionics and so on. The reason for that is a generalization of types. The Bartle’s models proof it.
    I think the approach should be changed, but how is still a big question.

    1. Hi Cassie, thank you for the comment.
      Indeed they are generalisations, this is why they are used because it would be too cumbersome to categorise on an individual level.
      Bartle’s 4 player model is one of the most famous in Gamification, and as he himself has said it was developed for the MUD player base, and not as a general representation of every player.
      However, the generalisation serves the purpose of working out player motivations rather than assigning labels to people. The purpose of the series was more of a showcase of this particular model, due to its popularity in gamification.
      Though I would question the use of the term “pseudo-scientific” when discussing/describing theoretical frameworks in sociology and psychology. As the ideas you have named have been tested through a scientific method, and have an active academic community around them.
      As for the topic of the player-types, as I said before they are more descriptors to be used when discussing psychological, emotional drives and motivations. No one person is a single type, each individual has every type, and depending on the situation the type may have a higher position in the priority of the internal drives.
      Hope that helps.

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