14 September, 2005
I’m guilty of assisting in the derailing a discussion over on Dave Rickey’s blog, so I’m writing this post to make up for the derailing and to give us a place to discuss the issue derailing Dave’s discussion.
Nick Yee made waves a while ago when he did some formal research into player motivations in online games. He was building off of the previous work of Dr. Richard Bartle who wrote a paper based on his observation of the four (which he has now expanded to eight) basic types of players.
One of the most interesting observations is that Nick Yee found no existence of the Explorer archetype that Dr. Bartle wrote about. This has lead some people, including Dave, to speculate that the Explorer type doesn’t exist in these games. I’ll argue, however, that the Explorer type doesn’t appear in all games.
Dave argues that, his theory of social capital in games “doesnâ€™t account for the Explorer type, but after seeing Nick Yeeâ€™s work in trying to discover the Explorer, Iâ€™m not sure that type exists on a large scale, as opposed to highly innovative players who try to build power by finding more optimum ways of accumulating utility.”
I replied that Nick Yee’s focused games, EQ and WoW, both have explicit reasons for not having explorers. I argue that by the time he did any significant work on EQ, most of the exploring opportunities had passed; the game had been dissected to am extreme degree and there really wasn’t much left for a real explorer to find. In WoW, I argue that the rise of automated exploring made the role of the Explorer moot. Why explore when everyone automatically contributes information to a central location that everyone can review? Additional reasons can be cited for this as well. Both games expose a lot of the numbers to the players. In both games, you can find out how much damage the weapon does and how fast it attacks. In fact, in WoW the game figures out the DPS of a weapon so you don’t even have to figure that out for yourself. Part of the traditional role of the explorer was to find out this sort of information, usually hidden from players, and allow them to figure out these numbers through experimentation. Plus, you have the rise of dedicated information sites which catalog the information just as explorers used to.
I also posted up a comment to clarify what an Explorer is. According to Dr. Bartle’s paper, “Explorers delight in having the game expose its internal machinations to them.” Most people think an Explorer is just someone who likes to map areas out (and this is one facet of the game’s “internal machinations”), but there’s more than that. Explorers enjoy understanding the mechanics behind many aspects of the game.
Finally, I pointed out that if you look at the interactions between different player types you see another interesting reason why explorers are rare. It’s commonly accepted that we cater to the Achiever archetype in these games, so the number of Achievers increases. As Achievers grow, so do the Killers (or “griefers” in PvE-focused games). As Killers increase, Explorers decrease because the griefers like to interfere with other people.
Now, Dave is right in one case: there aren’t tons of Explorer types. Bartle said that in a healthy game you want an equilibrium of the different types, but this doesn’t mean that it’s a strict 1:1 ratio between the groups. People who enjoy exploring are a bit rarefied, especially in recent games that cater primarily to Achievers. Also, most Explorers usually aren’t happy exploring just one game. In fact, many explorers tend to people who get bored of a single game easily and want something different. This leads them to either become the the “smarts” of our industry or it leads them to want to create their own game. So, as a game gets more established and the mechanics are more known you’ll see less explorers because there are other opportunities for them. I expect that many explorers also shift types, becoming achievers by applying the knowledge they have and/or socializers to remain in contact with their friends.
It’s also interesting to look at Nick Yee’s Model of Player Motivations to see how he did organize the motivations he found. You’ll notice that the two activities Bartle associates with Explorers in his paper, Mechanics and Discovery, are listed under Achievement and Immersion, respectively. Nick Yee writes that these two aspects aren’t usually found in the same individual. However, keep in mind that Bartle’s player types aren’t monolithic; players can shift or even show behaviors of more than one type. Explorers will sometimes achieve in order to explore more, just as Achievers might explore a bit in order to find a more optimal path for advancement. I think Nick looked too close at behaviors instead of looking at the true motivation behind that behavior.
In summary, the explorer type likely exists. However, it’s hard to find in most recent games because they cater to the Achiever type. In addition, the Explorer role has been taken over by automated systems and organized central databases with information; as a game gets more established and documented, the need for the Explorer decreases. The explorers often leave the game, becoming commentators or developers of games in their own right. Or, perhaps the shift over to other player types as their exploring part is no longer needed on a regular basis.