Howdy Hexers! Let’s talk about design today by delving into a foundational design tool for multiplayer games: Bartle’s Taxonomy. We want to dive deeper into how Hex fits into the taxonomy as well as where we can expect Hex to shift as new features are added. First let us do an unjust overview of what is Bartle’s Taxonomy.
What is Bartle’s Taxonomy?
Back in the MUD days of the internet Richard Bartle started asking players what they wanted out of a multiplayer game (like the MUD) and found that the player’s desires were not the same across the board but were more diverse. That became this paper here where he breaks out these players into four broad categories as well as how their play styles interrelate. Those categories are commonly known as Socializers, Explorers, Achievers and Killers.
These players love to interact with others. They chat, form guilds and often help new players just to make friends. Socializers hate Killers and love other socializers.
Players who want to locate Easter eggs, test the very edges of mechanics or see every nook and cranny of a map tend to be explorers. Explorers are hated by Killers but are loved by achievers.
This group plays a game for the obvious express purposes, gain the levels, grab the gold and get those achievements. They love explorers and hate Killers.
These folks are the PvP-focused players who often enjoy a game at the expense of others. The more a killer can frustrate the opposing player the more satisfied the killer is. Killers hate explorers because the explorer can sometimes embarrass a killer with a stray victory but the Killer loves achievers. Achievers have competence in the game to present a challenge and also give the killer great satisfaction when griefed.
In addition to the player types Bartle also produced a simplified diagram of how the design of a game impacts these four player types. These axis are players vs the world and acting on vs Interacting with something. This allows you to ask questions about concrete outputs of a game and see how they might affect each player type. Before we attempt to slam Hex into the Bartle’s preexisting mold we should mention that trading card games have their own classification system for players.
How are TCG players classified?
TCGs for a long period recognized three main player types: the Spike, Johnny and Timmy. Recently a fourth category has been embraced my the TCG community: Vorthos. A more in-depth look at the player types can be found in the MTG world of articles. For quick reference we will break the player types out here.
Spike players are competition-focused players. They desire to play the best card for the best situation with the purpose of winning as often as possible.
Johnny players enjoy the creative deck-building and mind-stretching possibilities of how the cards combine. Winning is less crucial to Johnny but witnessing his eccentric deck combo work thrills a Johnny player to no end.
Timmy loves to play the game with the cards that make him happiest. This often includes large creatures and highly thematic cards.
Vorthos players are the oddballs of this group. These players started the game because they loved the lore, art, or IP of a game before enjoying the game itself.
With the exception of Vorthos; Spikes, Johnnys, and Timmys are all subsets of the killer player-type. TCGs naturally bring out the killer mentality but with the strange quirk that you have to consider the person on the other side of the table. TCGs are the social killers’ games and this paradox has sharpened the griefing edge generally given to the killer player type. If a player is too obnoxious in a TCG, they quickly lose the ability to play as everyone avoids playing with that person. Digital TCGs notably will assign a victory status if a player leaves the game but also has a lessened social-interaction element because of general anonymity in the digital world.
TCG player classification and Bartle’s Taxonomy reach a unique axis when the majority of players are the killer type. Players begin to define themselves on secondary characteristics. Spikes no longer epitomize the roll of killer but really are achievers trying to climb the ladder. Johnnys are explorers teasing out the full extent of a game’s mechanics. Timmys are socializers trying to have fun and make enjoyable games. Vorthos in this paradigm serves as a support player roll. Killers need socializers and achievers to thrive but Vorthos is almost purely an explorer player type. Beating a Vorthos player rarely carries prestige or significance and losing to one is embarrassing. When Vorthos wins they don’t need to carry on about the victory but will gladly share how the foiling of that legendary card subtly changes the art style and speaks volumes how the same legend fits into the lore.
When we look at the TCG genre of game through the lens of interactions, we see that trading card games are highly focused on players at the general expense of crafting a world. Each game has to wrap up in a neat and complete context as there is not player persistence between games. The mechanics of a trading card game have been honed and refined for interpersonal play because of the physical limitations of paper cards. As games built lore and scores upon scores of cards the Vorthos player type could be born as a form of world canonization was created over time. TCG player types are the result of passionate players exploiting the very depths of a game genre to the maximum, but what happens when a game takes on the same ambitions as Hex?
Bartle’s Taxonomy of Hex
Hex is a digital PvP-focused TCG in its current form. The majority of the cards are PvP and the majority of the shared activity is competitive limited/constructed. Many players do take advantage of the free PvE Arena element of Hex to grind out sums of gold for rolling chests and unlocking extended art cards. Hex—like other TCGs—is social and supports interaction with chat, the auction house and the forums as the foundations of player interaction. The separator in Hex from other TCGs is its Arena and auction house functions.
Arena serves achiever and explorer play styles. These folks will like how the cards interact but do not enjoy combative pretext of PvP. Achiever types want to beat every challenge and unlock every feature. Explorers, like Johnny characters, will want to explore how the game reacts to numerous combinations of cards as well as see how deep the game world goes. Arena was very successful in fulfilling these desires from the player base but only for a short time. The explorer and achiever player types are voracious for content and if the delivery of a quality experience is too shallow they will turn on a developer very quickly.
More unique than the Arena experience in Hex is the auction house system and how it serves as a social tool and achiever outlet. Achievers in the auction house treat the trading tool as a mini game of how to collect all the assets and gather the most currency. If you feel compelled to watch the stock market, you likely have a hefty amount of the achiever player type in you. From the social perspective, the auction house facilitates anonymous trades which help those who may be shy or less skilled in the social realm to be able to continue to discover parts of the game. Buying and selling has always been a social activity, and the Hex Auction house helps everyone who may be intimidated by numbers and values interact smoothly and cleanly.
Less unique but highly critical are the tools for communication in Hex. A TCG must serve the socializer player set effectively and Hex has the basic infrastructure to allow players to communicate. The chat tool allows for direct messaging as well as general chat. The mail system and friends lists enable the more private communication. Hex’s most recent chat update introduced moods and portraits so players could have more customization. What the system lacks is more emotive forms of communication. Intonation and digital body language through an avatar are lost in a text-based chat system. Moods are a step towards providing basic intonation for the chat structure but sometimes you just want to /dance.
Bartle’s Hexonmy after PvE
Hex just released an amazing preview of their upcoming PvE content Fort Ronor. Go watch it now. Yes, now. I will wait.
From what we can tell in this preview, the depth that achievers and explorers were hungry for after devouring the Frost Ring is getting close to completion. PvE appears to serve that aspect of players most distinctively which should help grow the overall player base. Beautiful and immersive content will attract new players to the game and give them a place gain levels and explore a fresh new world. They will get new cards and try some basic PvP in the proving grounds as they try out decks. The competitive killers will enjoy seeing the fresh faces and teaching them the more excruciating ways to play the cards. Existing socializers will help out the new influx of players with over-stocked cards and words of wisdom the new players will need as they dive back into the PvE experience. The growth will hinge on several factors.
PvE needs significant depth. Arena at release was beautiful. It serves a purpose as the game’s source of currency and PvE cards but the experience is too shallow. One can explore and conquer the Frost Ring within a month as a brand new player. Coupled with being the only source of gold the experience has become repetitive. Depth is the solution that achiever and explorer player types will need from PvE. Classic RPG elements like quests and dungeons will go a long way to serving the player base and any additional features promised in the kickstarter which are implemented will add even more lasting value.
Always the Kickstarter
The Kickstarter is a great reminder of where Hex desires to be in Bartle’s Taxonomy. Much of the original promise was the merger of achiever and explorer mechanics of the MMO genre with the social and killer aspects of a trading card game. Due to circumstances which deserve their own article one day, Hex had to bring out the functions in pieces. This contributes heavily to player sentiment which Hex is fully aware of.
Many highly vocal and extremely passionate Hexers crave the experience of a TCG with persistent world effects and an expanded scope of interaction with Entrath. Until just recently, achievers and explorers have been limited in their options for TCG games that allow them the complex combinations of deck building but also a feeling of progression, accomplishment and wonder. Hex has promised to deliver the TCG to these hungry, no voracious players. PvE is one step closer.