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7:46pm on Tuesday, 10th May, 2016:

Old Types


When my player types paper was published 20 years ago, its findings were criticised by psychologists for not being testable. The model talks about what players find fun, but independently verifying what any individual player is actually finding fun is very difficult. Only the player really knows, and even then they may not be aware of the answer until they reflect upon it.

The usual psychological methods of divining a person's motivation from observing their actions don't work. It is possible to watch what players are doing, of course, but that doesn't mean you know why they're doing it. For example, to identify a player as a socialiser you might think to track the number of times that player communicates — yet explorers will often communicate between themselves to try figure something out. Likewise, guild chat could be gossip or an achiever-laden discussion of raid tactics.

My response to this early criticism hasn't changed over the years: it's valid, but I don't care. The theory isn't for psychologists to use to gain a deeper understanding of what's going through players' heads; it's for designers to use to make stable worlds with wide appeal. The point isn't whether or not some individual player is a killer, achiever, explorer or socialiser: the point is that there are significant numbers of players of these types in the player base.

Actually, even this is over-stating what I was hoping to achieve with Player Type theory. I wasn't trying to say that these are these four types of player; I was trying to say that there are different types of player, not just the one favoured by the designer, and that all of them are needed for the virtual world to be healthy. I was expecting the paper to be shot down within six months and the theory replaced by a better one. However, the fact it remains as difficult today as it was back then to perform an MRI scan on someone for 4 hours while they play an MMO means it still has some traction.

Although there is an underlying explanation for why the theory works (at least for MMOs), there's no solid empirical testing to affirm (or deny) it in practice. Normally, science works the other way round: from the observations, you make hypotheses which you can then test predictively. If you can't test it, which is the case for Player type theory, it's more philosophy or religion than science.

Hmm. The sooner someone can replace this work with something less faith-based, the better...

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