Bartle gamer types and enterprise gamification?

Richard Bartle’s  gamer classification schema is often used in understanding gamification, but is it right for the enterprise?

The classification lists 4 types of gamers. The implicit assumption is that if we don’t understand and cater for all four, are we in danger of building gamification solutions for just one type of person and reducing our overall penetration – i.e. 25% of our workforce instead of 100%?

Let’s revisit Bartle’s key classification of gamers as dividing into 4 basic “types”. These are often characterised by the suits in a deck of playing cards: Diamonds, Spades, Hearts and Clubs.

  • Diamonds  seek treasure
  • Spades are explorers digging up information
  • Hearts use games to socialize and empathize with others
  • Clubs use games to kill and  impose on others

So, the issues I see with this in a work setting are:

1. Club type ‘kill’ gamers (people who kill others) would be an unusual culture for an enterprise – the only enterprises where killing  is valued in its raw form that come to mind might be pest control and the army.

2. Heart style socializing sometimes need to be curtailed in the interests of getting things done – companies often ask employs not to spend too much time on Facebook at work for example.

3. Companies themselves are often specialised in one activity and so attract staff who have a predisposition towards that activity – caring professions attract hearts, financial professions attract the diamonds and clubs, while police and legal professions attract spades for example.

This means it is not necessarily true that any one enterprise will have all types in equal measure. Indeed they may not want to. A sales led organisation would value Diamonds more than Spades while a non-profit might value Hearts over Clubs.

What else are the issues with Bartle’s classification when applied to enterprise? And, what are the solutions?

Toby Beresford

Toby is founder and CEO of Rise the success tracking network to track, publish and share success. He was the 2013 chair of - the International Gamification Confederation and organises the UK Gamifiers meetup. As a gamification leader, he speaks at conferences and hosts workshops. Follow him on twitter @tobyberesford and Subscribe to this blog at Gamification Of Work blog feed

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  • Kathy Sierra

    Bartle’s Types have virtually no relationship to anything that happens in the workplace… they were never meant (according to him) to have meaning beyond a highly specific scenario. Even the most gamified of all workplaces will still not reflect the conditions under which Bartle’s types apply.

    Game scholar Sebastian Deterding is getting ready to release a paper that essentially debunks the use of Bartle’s types as discussed by gamification people.

    Also, the entire lucrative “types” industry, most notably the MBTI, is beginning to crumble under the weight of scientific scrutiny. And that is for a typing system that has been used and tested on millions. If that system is not holding up well (among other things, people tend to shift “types” rapidly, fluidly, and contextually), it is highly unlikely that one that was never intended by it’s designer to EVER be used this way will.

    The best thing people could do is to permanenly decouple gamification and Bartle’s Types, which is what Bartle himself has stated. But Sebastian’s report will be far more detailed and researched as to the reasons why the player types is not in any way applicable or useful for gamification, though everyone agrees it intuitively *feels* right.

    side note: There is a fascinating area of research around *why* typing feels so right despite all scientific evidence. The myth of “learning styles” (visual, auditory, kinesthetic), for example, has persisted despite not a shred of evidence that it exists. But it has been a difficult myth to dismantle because it *seems* to make sense to us personally, despite mountains of evidence have shown it just isn’t real.

    I suspect the Bartle’s Types falls into that same persistent myth category… we can easily “see” ourselves identifying with one type more than others, but context turns out to be far more relevant, and the same process developers have always used to understand their users is going to be far more useful. Personas, deep ethnography, plain old use-cases… all known useful practices with tested design patterns.

    • Kathy this is a great comment – worth a guest blog post in itself!

      I’ve just heard Jon Radoff’s evolutionary game motivation model that he put forward at the Gamification Summit. Perhaps this will be a better model to use – at least for those who find ‘typing’ players to be a useful exercise?

  • Hey Toby,

    Radoff’s model is only a slight semantic shift from Bartle’s and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t get the design community any further along beyond rebranding it “Radoff’s model.”

    I agree with Kathy above that the best way to effectively design positive gaming experiences for you audience is to know them intimately. No model is going to replace the effectiveness of gathering real qualitative and quantitative player data and using that to create personas. That said, Bartle’s player types & others can be used as strawmen in properly run brainstorming & ideation sessions but should not replace data driven personas.

    Very much looking forward to the release of Sebastian’s paper. Additionally, Chris Bateman of International Hobo released a great paper along these lines at DiGRA11. Anyone hung up on Bartle should seek that paper out as well.

  • I know I arrived late for any useful comment, but I would like to add that the “Issue #1” has a misinterpresentation about the Killers type.
    Killers are just like extreme achievers, but oriented to people, not to in-game goals. They don’t like to kill, but kill other players…
    They are the Sales Department. While Achievers – in enterprises – would have a leaderboard showing how much money they make or how close they are to reach the goal for each Quarter of the year, Killers have a panel showing who is the Best Salesman, Employee of the Month, who sold more houses, who “converted” more clients in telemarketing, and things like that. (sorry, English is not my first – nor second – language 😉 ).

    • Thanks Mauricio. I like the idea of Killers as extreme achievers.

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  • Patrick McQuaid

    Hi, I am relatively new to this whole space and thought I would take a risk and venture some opinions after just soaking up everyone else’s for the past 6 months!! Sorry for coming late to the party but I am very interested in this space and want to add to the discussion. Without weighing into the discussion on the validity of typing….I agree with Mauricio and think you could take it further;
    Killers – aren’t they really just the people who want to beat others – so they will love a leader board (or sales ladder type approach). If you equate it to one of your case studies about maintaining customer data then these would be the people motivated by knowing they were beating all others at keeping customers updated (or getting email addresses).
    Achievers – want to be the best at something (vs beating someone else), also a common stereotype in an organization; the perfectionist. So the game mechanic in your customer example would be showing them how complete their customer profiles are or what their “quality rating” is for their customer portfolio.
    Socialisers – want the activity to bring their work mates / team together. These are your team players in the organization and so will be motivated by the game mechanic around team based achievements etc. In the customer example ….how is the department doing?
    Explorers – I think this is the hardest one to translate but I think you see these people in the organization being those who just love “messing with the task” and knowing everything there is to know about their space. So in the customer example you could engage these people by showing them what they haven’t done or what is the least completed section of the customer data. This feels a bit strained but I think its close enough.

    Having said all this, the best gamification solution would obviously engage all these “types” to get the widest appeal anyway, so maybe the point about categorization of people into types is a bit moot when you are talking about a whole organization which has already been picked for you vs an audience that you are aiming at for your game.

    Am I way off?

    • Hey Patrick,
      Not at all, a good summary!

      It’s interesting how the distinction between Killers and Achievers becomes important. In Gabe’s book, Gamification By Design, he cites “trolls” (online forum users who tend to monopolise or derail other’s conversations) as examples of “killers” – people who are out to break the system / destable the community / rather than those who are trying to achieve and “be the best” within the community. It’s a subtle distinction but one I think worth making.



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