Friday, May 1

Bartle's GDC keynote address and Tobold's Hubris

Let me start with a quick summation of who Richard Bartle is.
His wikipedia entry will give you the basics. His personal blog and the many times his personal observations have been linked in my Shared Items can give you a better idea of the man behind the name.
In short, he is the co-writer of MUD, the first ever MUD that is. He stood as midwife and proud father both at the cradle of what we know now today as the MMO genre. True, true. MUD's were text-based, that's why they were more complex and wealthier in both design, execution and often experience. All the major MMO's of today, including and perhaps especially WOW, would not exist without MUDs in much the same way todays Airbusses would not be flying without the pioneering of the early aviators. With that distinction that Airbusses are a lot farther away from their humble roots on an imaginary evolution tree than MMORPG's are.

Richard Bartle also did research into Player types and devised a archetypal reference model, the simplified version of which has become popular canon and rudimentary design-for targets of industry developers around the world. You cans till take the Bartle test today at Gamerdna if you so wish. A lot of that was done in the late seventies and eighties. Yes! that long ago, and somehow it's all still valid. Or is it? The developers of todays games seem to think so and that's the habit that Bartle is trying to break them off.
These days Richard Bartle is a part-time Professor, overseeing Game Design courses, part time author of Game Design book(s) and Part-time Game Design Consultant and key-note speaker at many Game Designer conventions. He also Blogs, shoots his mouth off with controversial statements (like the "I've already played WAR, it was called WOW") which then naturally get quoted out of contest.

A lot of people don't get him. Mostyl because they don't know his work or what it really means.
For example Tobold, who's normally a quite intelligent and conscientious blogger read by- and lauded for his work by thousands, including both players and developers/designers, completely misses the purpose of Bartle's keynote address and uses the 'already played' remark (which he misinterpreted that time too) to be flippant about it. The thing about being flippant is, you should only do this when you're right. Not when it only serves to prove the point of the person you're trying to ridicule.

Tobold seems to think Richard's entire purpose with the presentation was to reclassify his player-types without good purpose.
The explorer turns into Alice in Wonderland, who goes wherever fortune and fancy might take her. The achiever turns into Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, who follows the yellow brick road. And the socializer turns into Wendy from Peter Pan, who makes up her own stories. The killer is dropped, because there were only these three girls in the child pornography graphic novel Lost Girls, and world literature is curiously void of children stories having small girls killing her peers.
Now, would Richard simply wish to drop the Killer type while later alluding to Eve Online as a game 'that got it right' or did he have another purpose with his speech? It's not Killer being dropped because there were only these three girls, it's Tobold completely missing the point because he's still smarting about the 'already played' comment. Maybe he should have recalled that history bore Richard Bartle out on that one as well.

Well, he's not alone in taking a Powerpoint Presentation as is without benefit of the actual verbal address accompanying it and making the wrong conclusions. Some great examples can be found in Scott Jennings' blog. Scott does get Bartle btw. He of course has the benefit of having heard Richard speak before and knows how he sets up his presentations. Read his blog entry for a good read which alas points out most of what I wanted to put in this post myself. So do it after reading mine ok?

The first thing you have to understand about the presentation is that Richard wasn't there to provide answers, something which Forum and Blogreaders tend to expect from people in suits with Powerpoint presentations. Richard however is aiming to get developers to think for themselves, not to blithely follow his aging models. That's why he's introducing the three girls as new archetypes. To get people to think about designing games in a new way, to spark discussion and growth. And no, not discussion about his personal grooming, which judging by his personal blog are above par even while at leisure or on holiday.
Naturally Richard does have his own faults, blindspots and flaws of reasoning. For isntance I don't agree with his scoffing attitude to User Created Content. But that's why he's trying to get developers (note that players weren't his target audience as GDC is a developers convention) to think rather than give them his own answers on a silver platter. You see, Richard's a pretty smart guy and wants YOU to think rather than take his word for it. Oddly enough that is what most people seem to have against him, even though it couldn't be further from his intent.

So on to his address, and be advised that I too am only interpreting what I got from his slides, not his speech itself. I do think that I 'get bartle' a lot better than Tobold.
bartle first comes with three new archetypes for players. Dorothy who likes to follow the yellow brick road to a destination, Alice who wanders around the world as she sees fit and Wendy who tries to build a home, for her friends. Tobold may be forgiven for thinking Bartle was getting rid of the Killer type if all he read was those first two slides.

The main thrust of his presentation is about Content, how expensive it is to make and how the industry has been collectively floundering in an attempt to find a solution for it. He heckles (prematurely in my opinion) User Created Content. I do agree with his analysis on Professed reason (We are empowering our players) and Actual Reason (They will make stuff for us for FREE). He also points out that the Raiding End Game as used by games like WOW isn't the solution either. If Raiding were such a Good game, why bother with the Level game? Answer, it's essentially the same game.
Richard's Golden Apple is User Generated Content. He shows examples of how Eve's political map will change on a days notice because of what players are doing on their own. Richard is a great fan of freedom, sand-box gameplay, or Virtual Worlds over the Guided Tours of more Gamey Games. But, he doesn't try to exclude people who prefer the latter. What he proposes is that developers stop producing games that have X amount of things to do for Explorers, for Achievers, Socializers and Killers but instead try to make an experience that appeals to all of them, but accoridng to the archetypes of the sandbox-loving Alice, the Guided-tour loving Dorothy and the worldshaper Wendy. An Impact PvP fan would be a Wendy btw, Mr Killer-got-dropped Tobold.

It all boils down to the main suggestionMake a virtual world that starts out as a Guided Tour but gradually becomes more and more Sandboxy with User generated Content.
Alice worlds are newbie-unfriendly but provide the depth and freedom that oldbies
• Dorothy worlds are very newbiefriendly but oldbies, who don’t want their hands held, feel disenchanted
• So: start off as a dorothy world and switch to alice for the elder game
• These 20-year-old philosophical differences no longer need to persist
Now, personally I see room for User Created Content as well. that's why I see Wendy as much as a builder as a Socializer. Sure, 99% of it is crap. People who like making that crap are enjoying themselves. That is still part of the purpose of games is it not?
It would give the Wendy's who aren't into Impact PvP like Eve's something to do that could benefit the Dorothies and the Alices alike. The Alices will be testing the produce of the Wendies and taking great delight in cracking down on the crud. The Dorothies will enjoy doing the 1% that is good. I happen to agree with Raph Koster that over 10 years of dealing with User Created Crud Content on the Internet (eg. Blogs for instance) have given us the technology and the theory to filter that.

So start out with a more constricting game for learning purposes, and branch out towards more and more freestyle gameplay.
It sounds obvious in a way doesn't it? That's why it gets people's hackles up. They don't like having the bleedin' obvious which they didn't see right in front of them pointed out to them by a snotty Brit. Richard actually cushioned that blow as much as he could by pointing out that people tend to not see this due to being to inured in archetypical playerstyle concepts that he helped create, when they were useful. Because developers think to much in terms of serving the Achiever, the Explorer and the Socializer, they are not properly serving the needs of serving Alice, Dorothy and Wendy. Yes, this does make Tobold's scoffingly mistaking the three new types for the four old ones minus one all the more poignant.

I don't agree 100% with Bartle, but I give the man enough credit to take in the whole 9or as much of it as he shares with us) of his idea's before slamming him about a detail. I respect his opinions based upon his authoritas as an industry dinosaur. I respectfully agree to disagree with him on those few points where I do, rather than add to the Interwebz white-noise flamefests which are part of that 99% of user Created Crap that he feels has no place in games and I think we can cope with where it doesn't outright add to the enjoyment of players.


  1. P.s. I'll spare you my paragraphs about how the Causal - Hardcore divide is as obsolete in my mind as the Alice - Dorothy divide, for now.
    The post is long enough as it is.

    I do welcome your thoughts and comments!

  2. I have actually only read your post, and not the entire article my Bartle, but I do like the idea of Alice, Wendy and Dorothy. Although even this is not a clear cut seperation either, it does help my own view on what I like and what I think others like.

    A while back I had already concluded that I don't care much for Tobold's opinion. He comes over too pompous narrow minded to me. So I won't even bother to read his view on this.

  3. You definately should try Bartle's presentation. It's less rambly (lower word count anyway) than mine :-)
    It also has some intruiging thoughts regarding American English with which you could pester your colleagues.

    As to Tobold. I'm more forgiving than you, in this regard. *watches the sky burn and flying pigs turn into bacon in the process*
    He's one of those bloggers with whom I don't agree half the time, but who does bring up interesting topics. He gets into trouble when he's trying to be flippant and or tries to explain Bartle.
    In this case, he tried to explain Bartle in a flippant manner...