Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

7 August, 2015

Killing in the games I play
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:28 AM

Blaugust, day 7

Time for the last Bartle category: Killers. I think this is the least understood and also the least catered to group. But, let’s take a look at what Killers are and what opportunities there are in the games I play.

What is a Killer

If you go read Bartle’s original paper, you see that Killers are defined in two ways: first as someone who wants to “act upon” (contrasted with “interact with”) other players (instead of the game world). Bartle also compares Killers to sportspeople who like to hunt and shoot; in game terms, their targets are other players.

But, Killers also come in different flavors. You have people who chase after other opponents for sport, but you also have the more social type of Killer. Bart Stewart likes to call Killers “Manipulators”, which fits here; although I might go more with “Dominator”, “Director”, or “Controller”, but these sometimes have gameplay connotations. But, the upshot is that there are people who want some measure of control over others. The most obvious form of control is being able to interrupt your gameplay experience by killing your character. But, there are more benign versions like the guild/raid leader who enjoys directing people to accomplish a goal, or the chatty “den parent” type who knows all the gossip and helps people sort out offline problems.

I’ve written before about how hard it is to cater to the Killer types in MMOs. They tend to want less investment, more melting faces. I suspect that MOBAs have drawn a lot of people with the Killer motivation and kept them using the trick of character persistence that MMOs used to have as a centerpiece. I think some people still like the idea of a persistent world, but it’s hard to keep things balanced and fun when your goal is to not have the world to burn down around the players.

I’ll continue to use the original term “Killer”, but hopefully you realize that the motivation is more complex than that label would have you think.

The traditional killer gameplay

FFXIV has two main Killer avenues. The first is the typical segregated PvP areas that seem to be the norm for theme park type games. PvP is off in its own little area, with its own rules, game mechanics, gear, and even abilities. There’s the Wolves’ Den, which is the typical deathmatch-style competition. With the expansion came Seal Rock, which is more about taking and holding objectives to earn points, rewarding organization almost as much as it rewards combat prowess. You get rewards in terms of PvP XP and special currency that allow you to buy items that are specifically suited for PvP encounters.

The other avenue is the guild/raid leader. The game has free companies that are like guilds in other games, where players can organize themselves. There are raids, including “hard” and “extreme” versions that can test even the most capable group of players. It takes someone with a strong will to herd the cats necessary to overcome these challenges.

Arena side-shows

DDO has very limited PvP. There are arenas in each tavern that allow you to kill each other if you step inside the marked area; however, these tend to be fairly empty most of the time. You can also challenge people to duels, which takes you to a special PvP arena away from the main world. These duels allow party vs. party fights as well. The problem is that what makes a good PvP build (high burst damage) is just one thing that makes a good PvE build (which often requires endurance and survivability against hordes of monsters); usually whatever class can give the best burst damage (usually Sorcerers), wins the day in PvP.

There’s not much requirement for the guild/raid leader role. Raids in DDO are interesting, but usually don’t require a fanatical level of organization that the hardest raids in theme park games require. And, the severity of even a small level disparity means that the way that characters can help each other is limited to mostly giving money or other resources to help a new player out.

I am a PvP snob

You know that guy who insists that only that beer crafted in some hole in the wall once every 5 years that only he has tasted is “real beer”? People call that type of person a “beer snob”. Yeah, I’m a PvP snob.

I think it’s probably because I worked so long on a PvP-focused game, but I just can’t enjoy most PvP because I see the flaws. The particularly egregious offenders are games with heavy gear or level based mechanics. Since DDO has a severe disparity between levels and FFXIV focuses on gear and level, I’ve not found the PvP in these games to be particularly enjoyable. I have played a bit of the new Seal Rock game in FFXIV, but I’ll admit I hadn’t even touched Wolves’ Den at all and never did any PvP prior to the expansion despite playing for about a year.

The result is that I’m much more likely to indulge my Explorer side before I am my Killer side in many games.


  1. When I think about positive outlets for Killers/Manipulators in MMOs, I think immediately of Star Wars Galaxies and EVE Online.

    Both of those games offered opportunities to manipulate people in positive ways. In EVE, I’d guess that the most well-known corp leaders are Manipulators, gifted at reading other people and at adapting their tactics. And SWG actually made that function explicit as the Politician skill tree.

    They’ve got a bad reputation lately (not entirely undeserved), but a good politician can help their constituents. The best of them, like a master magician, will actually tell you right up front that they’re manipulating you, but you’ll all have so much fun that it’s OK. That’s partly why I try to see beyond just the Killer aspect, whether it’s actually killing characters or exploiting bugs in the game’s code. The trick, I believe, is to give the players who enjoy that kind of risky behavior things to manipulate that want to be manipulated. That way everybody wins.

    Well, except for Killers who refuse to be socialized. They’ll try to screw over players and break the world no matter what you do, because they need the risk. Them, you just have to boot.

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 10 August, 2015 @ 1:48 PM

  2. One of the first MUDs I wanted to create basically had a system built in to handle killers. I wanted to create a fantasy MUD where the admins were demons that could corrupt players. Players were trying to survive against the demons, but it would be more about indirect conflict rather than “see demon, try to murder it.” The idea was that admins would try to corrupt the players who would be the most interesting. Of course, you’d probably still have the killers who would just “forge their own path”, but the demons might not appreciate competition…. :)

    Comment by Psychochild — 10 August, 2015 @ 5:56 PM

  3. It’s a larger point than what you’re discussing here, but the question of “how do you design a multiplayer game that discourages players from hosing each other?” is a really interesting challenge.

    The two answers (out of what’s probably a lot of answers) that I find most interesting are: 1. Encourage cooperation, and 2) Give players an alternate target.

    That second one is why I’m commenting here, as your suggestion of admins corrupting player characters is nearly an example of it. I’m fascinated by the possible consequences of a game in which part of the operations team are a kind of PvP challenge. (This is a bit different from the promotion of players to wizzes in MUDs in that the role here is explicitly antagonistic.)

    On the plus side, by giving players an officially sanctioned target that isn’t other players, you offer an outlet to the Killers so that they aren’t driving off other paying customers. The possible downside is that if the admins promise to play fair, they absolutely have to do that.

    I think something like this could work in a game billed as being totally unfair — a MMORPG version of Paranoia, for example, where the ops team play Ultra-Violet High Programmers, and the fun is in how cleverly everybody gets screwed over. I’m less confident that defining admins as the antagonists would work in a more conventional MMO; my guess is that no amount of fairness would be perceived as enough. But maybe I’m underestimating people.

    Comment by Bart Stewart — 11 August, 2015 @ 9:47 AM

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