Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

14 September, 2005

Finding the Explorer
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:37 PM

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 “doesn’t account for the Explorer type, but after seeing Nick Yee’s work in trying to discover the Explorer, I’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.

My thoughts,


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8 Comments »

  1. Interestingly, Erwin Andreasen’s Bartle type test seems to indicate that, at least among his test-takers, the distribution of types is surprisingly even when considered over all MUD/MMOG populations as a whole. I would wager that Explorers and Socializers are probably more likely to find the test and take it, skewing the percentages, but still, I think it’s good evidence for the clear existence of the Explorer. (An awful lot of Erwin’s “famous” list have Explorer as their primary type — and the list is largely designers and commentators.)

    I did up a version of this specific to Puzzle Pirates, and the figures there are pretty interesting as well — decent equilibrium among the secondary choices, but the primary preferences skew strongly to Explorer and secondarily Socializer.

    Explorers, by the way, develop relationships with content; I don’t think that it’s pure data consumption for many. Reading about something on a site is never the same as directly experiencing it oneself — the context is pretty crucial. Moreover, the more skill-based play is, the more that direct experience matters. Finesse, not raw power, tends to remain attractive.

    Comment by Amberyl (Lydia Leong) — 14 September, 2005 @ 10:09 PM

  2. In WoW (and from what I’ve seen of EQII), I’d argue that there isn’t much to explore (from my POV).

    There is a large world which amounts to a NxM grid of height fields and terrain textures. There are no secret doors or out-of-the-way places not led to by a quest. Dungeons are slightly more interesting, but not much. Morrowind has much more interesting “geography” because interesting bits are hidden everywhere.

    Around the world are scattered houses and trees (which are intert), and monsters (which always attack, never talk or do anything else, each with their own special ability taken from a menu of 50(?) special abilities). Each weapon has an attack rate, damage, and occasional special ability that usually amounts to an attribute boost and eye candy. Same for armor.

    There are no bars of uranium… A bar of uranium is a special piece of code with unique behavior that causes it to blow up when too many are in the same room… I call this “exceptional physics”, since the interactions are exceptions to the usual rules. WoW and EQII are all “Universal physics”, where (almost) all rules work everywhere equally, with no exceptions. Once you figure out the basic rules, there’s nothing left to understand about the physics. If WoW and EQII had an enormous library of universal physics, exploring the rules might be interesting, but their universal physics are fairly simple.

    Furthermore, there isn’t much in the way of NPC “relationships” in either, although WoW is (only) slightly better than EQII. NPC X hands out quest X’, which should lead to NPC Y and quest Y’, that ends up at NPC Z and quest Z’. The links between NPCs create relationships that explain “what is really happening” in the world (as well as what happened). WoW has some of this. EQII quests tend to start and end with one NPC. Again, Morrowind is much better at it.

    As I see it, playing WoW and EQII is like wandering around a database. A world that is fun to explore is more like wandering around a program; maybe it’s the “non-linearity” (mathematical sense, NOT the story sense) of the experience.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 14 September, 2005 @ 10:51 PM

  3. Explorers, by the way, develop relationships with content; I don’t think that it’s pure data consumption for many.

    I agree. But, achiever-focused people are willing to go to a website to get information. In fact, riffing off Dave Rickey’s comment that we derailed with the Explorer discussion, I think Achievers probably prefer the website because they don’t have to expend any social capital to gain that information. They can keep their social capital and invest it in acquiring power in other ways instead of negotiating with an Explorer for information.

    I know that I’m still playing WoW because I personally want to experience more of the game. I’m having fun with new characters and new strategies, and have found a fondness for the classes with multiple roles (Druids, Warlocks, and Shaman); on the other hand, I get bored with characters with less variety and options. I’m trying to get the tattered remains of my RL friend guild back together so we can go explore Horde side content after playing Alliance characters up to max. Now, most of the content I’m consuming has been consumed before, but this is interesting for me in a hands-on way.

    In WoW (and from what I’ve seen of EQII), I’d argue that there isn’t much to explore (from my POV).

    I’ll politely disagree. There’s plenty to explore, but there’s admittedly not much variety. There’s lots of quests to run and rewards to evaluate, but after you’ve done the quests once it’s not a whole lot of fun to run them again, necessarily. There’s lots of explorable content there, but it gets old quickly. And, there’s not much of a market for explorer knowledge given the existence of sites like Thottbot and Allakhazam and their easily available information.

    As I see it, playing WoW and EQII is like wandering around a database. A world that is fun to explore is more like wandering around a program; maybe it’s the “non-linearity” (mathematical sense, NOT the story sense) of the experience.

    I can see that. I played a load of LP MUDs in college, and I know what you mean by this. Every area had a unique feel to it, and individual coding styles made the areas feel different. I knew I could get a free ranged weapon in area X if I could run fast enough, I knew area Y had monsters that were pretty sissy, and I knew area Z had monsters that were insanely difficult, so I avoided that in general (although I did map it out and used the relative obscurity of the area to kill a PKer that was chasing me like a good Explorer should!)

    On the other hand, the holy grail in a lot of text MUDs was to unify everything. Make the areas behave the same, make the items all have standardized damage values and special abilities. Now that we’ve achieved it, we see that the game has lost a lot of its flavor. Of course, Hero’s Journey from Simultronics is looking to use a lot of volunteer content, so we might see some of the individual flavor come back into the game, even if it’s just in terms of level layout.

    Comment by Psychochild — 14 September, 2005 @ 11:57 PM

  4. the Explorer role has been taken over by automated systems and organized central databases with information

    I think it’s important to consider who is setting up those systems and databases, too. As you’ve said, Explorers aren’t constrained to exploring in-game geography, they’re exploring mechanics, data, systems and the best way to understand these is to build a system to retrieve and store the data you have about them. There’s only so much brain dumping you can share in a forum-post.

    Explorers are monitoring the data stream between their client and the server and pulling data from it. Explorers in WoW are messing around with interface design to display the data in easier ways. Explorers spend a lot of time outside of the official client, too.

    Comment by Rob Drimmie — 15 September, 2005 @ 9:13 AM

  5. Another problem with the “They weren’t there by the time he looked” explanation: The Facets study was multi-game, and included over 1000 respondents from DAoC. At the time, Camelot was less than 6 months old, and there was no Thottbot-like functionality. So why didn’t he find that Camelot had explorers and EQ did not?

    Are you saying that all of the possibilities for Camelot were exhausted in less than 6 months? Then why was it a year before *we* (the operators) finally found out what our combat algorithm was *really* doing? And it was the players that told us.

    Comment by Dave Rickey — 15 September, 2005 @ 10:11 AM

  6. Personally, I believe that Nick’s Explorer questions didn’t really adequately capture more than the narrowest sense of what being an Explorer means. (I do agree with his conclusion that interest in mechanics and interest in exploring the world are separate motivations, though.)

    “I want to experience as much of the game as possible”, “I like trying out new things in the game”, “I like sharing my knowledge with others” and similar statements would likely have revealed far more Explorers.

    Comment by Amberyl (Lydia Leong) — 15 September, 2005 @ 11:05 AM

  7. I think it’s important to consider who is setting up those systems and databases, too.

    You are right. I guess I didn’t state it explicitly, but my point was that the existing explorers are doing things more efficiently as well. Sites like Allakhazam allow a proportionally smaller number of people categorize the content of a rather huge game. In a text MUD of 200 players, you might have a dozen or so explorers. When you multiply the playerbase by 5,000 you don’t get an equivalent boost in the number of explorers. I think that one of the defining characteristics of an explorer is sharing the information; to once again tie into Dave’s theory, this is how they accumulate social capital; explorers need some willing participants if they are exploring stuff that’s largely multi-player.

    So why didn’t he find that Camelot had explorers and EQ did not?

    I’m treading way into the realm of speculation here…. Keep in mind that DAoC had a sizable beta period that helped the game, and lots of explorers were working during that time. I remember the character builder being available before launch in particular.

    In addition, DAoC was advertised by the commentators as “EQ without the suck” initially. Could the similarities between DAoC and EQ have chased off the Explorers? I know that when I played DAoC, I didn’t really feel like getting into Explorer mode. I figured out the skill system pretty easily and there weren’t any special places to go for drops. The quests were okay, but kill quests were much more efficient so most people only really cared about those. All you could really share about kill quests were the location of the NPCs that gave level-appropriate quests. Personally, I had watched my roommate play EQ for a few years before DAoC came out, so I had seen a lot of the basic stuff before.

    In addition, DAoC was the first game to use generated terrain, meaning that there were fewer little hidden bits of interesting stuff around. It also used the “Lego” system for dungeons, where the dungeons were just put together from parts. Now, this was a great way to generate a lot of content for people, but it reduced the amount of interesting stuff there was to really explore.

    I got up to 35th level with my character and felt that I had explored just about everything I cared about. I quit before realm abilities went in, so I didn’t get into that.

    Of course, this isn’t to say that DAoC was a bad game, I just don’t think it had a lot of explorable depth. It catered to the Achievers just as EQ did and it enjoyed a lot of success.

    “I want to experience as much of the game as possible”, “I like trying out new things in the game”, “I like sharing my knowledge with others” and similar statements would likely have revealed far more Explorers.

    Exactly. These are the motivations for explorers, and I don’t think they were accurately measured.

    I guess it comes down to the fact that I, personally, know that Explorers exist. I like to explore games (in both the mechanics and the location sense), and I have friends that have similar motivations. Given my experiences, I’m more willing to believe that there was a problem with Nick’s testing methodology than I am to accept that Explorers don’t exist, especially when there’s even semi-reasonable explanation for it all.

    My thoughts,

    Comment by Psychochild — 15 September, 2005 @ 5:04 PM

  8. Psychochild wrote “I’ll politely disagree. There’s plenty to explore, but there’s admittedly not much variety. There’s lots of quests to run and rewards to evaluate, but after you’ve done the quests once it’s not a whole lot of fun to run them again, necessarily.”

    I agree with your polite disagreement… there’s a lot of content in WoW, but it’s fairly homogonous. Of course, most/all MMORPGs are like this.

    I suspect it’s a combination of (a) cost, (b) not enough scripting freedom/skill for content designers, (c) exponential costs based on scope… In a world with 10 rooms/objects, the designer has to worry about the interactions of a bar of uranium with each of the 9 other objects. In a world with 10,000 objects/rooms, uranium could interact with other objects in 9,999 ways. This makes the problem O(N^2) with respect to the number of objects (10,000 objects x 9,999 interactions = a lot of work). Realistically, it ends up being N LogN, because objects can be classed together and most interactions are NO-OP’s.

    To cut costs, designers make just a few classes of objects (to limit the O(N^2) completixity), but make lots of them and disguise them with different names/colors/textures. This makes achievers happy, but explorers (or at least me) are more interested in the complexity. Achievers are a larger percentage of the population, so designs favoring them win out.

    Comment by Mike Rozak — 15 September, 2005 @ 5:52 PM

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