Tobold's Blog
Friday, April 27, 2012
A DMs view of MMORPG player types

Switching back and forth between discussing MMORPGs and pen & paper roleplaying games made me realize where my personal position towards the famous "Bartle types" of MMORPG players stems from. The explorer, socializer, achiever, killer quartet doesn't really exist like that in a game like Dungeons & Dragons. Or rather, certain types don't work for players and especially dungeon masters:

  • You can't have killer type players. There is no PvP in D&D, and killing a member of your group is like a foul on a member of your own team in sports. You risk getting kicked from the team.
  • You can't have a killer type dungeon master either. Unlimited power and a goal of killing off the players simply don't mix well. It is too easy to achieve to be a challenge, and if your players feel you are killing them off malevolently, they'll stop playing with you.
  • You can't even have an achiever type dungeon master. Again ultimate power and a desire to win don't mix. A DM needs to run the monsters more like an impartial referee, and not as if it was a game of DM vs. players.
As I played Dungeons & Dragons for two decades before the first MMORPG, that very much influenced my expectations of what a MMORPG *should* be. UO was a shock, EQ was a lot closer to the social standards of pen & paper games. In Dungeons & Dragons everybody wins if the DM and the players together manage to tell a great interactive story. The idea that another player is your enemy, which you should kill or harm if you can, or insult as clueless noob if you can't, is foreign to Dungeons & Dragons. And I still find it a bit sad that this is the general attitude many players have in MMORPGs.

Since a lot of people came FPS or RTS games I guess that explains a lot of this attitude shift. I agree though I certainly was shocked coming from an RPG background into the delights of online gaming.

Would a killer type in D&D actually be the player who can't resist starting a bar fight in every tavern, the type who wants to kill every NPC? I've been lucky enough to avoid them mostly but have read about such players.
This is all generalisation but you should get the idea.

The old school games you mention were mainly aimed at and played by old school nerds. Many of whom were also roleplayers.

The successful marketing of WoW resulted in a huge number of new players to the online game sphere, many of whom had different motivation than the old school nerds.

Many of this new breed of online game player were younger and therefore were less mature, or had less experience with the older, hard games, where communities were forged through blood sweat and tears.

The greater community in many of the older games meant that killer personalities got a reputation which was known and they were often ostracised. These days, due to size, more servers, faster churn rate of games, etc gaming is far more anonymous. These days if you piss people off you just change games or servers. In the old days neither of these were usually an option.

Due to significantly more online players there are also more killer personality players about so they can form their own communities and form peer groups, etc.

This change isn't bad, its just different.

Just my 2c after a few glasses of red, but hopefully it makes sense to someone.

Gobble gobble.

Actually, the Bartle Model and "interesting" behaviors spawned by MMO PvP pre-date WoW by a large margin.

Honesty, WOW PvP is incredibly tame compared to OU and EQ, which had player looting mechanics. I still recall when Inspecting another player was considered by some to be a highly aggressive act.
Socializers can also me major PITA for DM as they have the habit to brew intrigues inside party, divide it or disrupt the story flow with internal issues.
The most disruptive D&D (as well as freeform RPG) player I knew was of killer/socializer type. If he managed to charm another GM into taking him in game, usually the game plot was been destroyed and party divided into his followers and enemies in short order. In the end, however, he would annoy anyone and the party would team up and kill his character. But it's always too late: the game is already destroyed by that time.
RPGs are very very unusual games in that players are usually expected to be co-operative, and even the GM is mostly there to set up fun stories co-operatively with players. (Well, there are killer GMs, I suppose ...)

This is very very different to just about any other type of game. It's the RPGs which are the outlier.
Whilst the DM would deliberately not invite player types that disrupt the flow of gameplay or make other players' experiences unpleasant, the MMO developer treats all player types as equally valid and (hopefully) gives all player types sufficient tools to enjoy the game.
Actually, I would rather say that those attitudes are very common in real life (metaphorically), and that it's too bad so many people think in those ways.
You should try playing in a D&D group where one player is having a secret affair with the wife of another player, gets found out, wife leaves husband for player 1, messy divorce ensues...

There was PvP both on and off the table for a while.
I'll also put forward that a number of pen and paper games are set out with PvP as an explicit goal -- where the DM is responsible for the world, and for being a neutral referee, and the players pursue goals that may align with or oppose each other. Vampire the Masquerade or Amber Diceless are the poster children here, but there is no reason that D&D can't be used.

As far as "achiever" type DMs, conventions and demo teams fit this fairly well, collecting demo team thank yous.

I think the types don't really fit, exactly. But people are people
I guess the trick is to limit PvP to between factions and also in other ways, as games like WoW and LOTRO do. Then in principle players who are out to ruin your day can actually add to your experience by just doing what evil monsters with better AI would do.
Why is competition so hard to understand?
Years and years ago when Dragon was called The Dragon and only appeared in dead tree form there was an article about PvP. Featured things like formal challenges, restrictions on the number of magic items that could be brought to the arena, determining rules for the terrain, and negative XP letter bombs if someone decided not to answer a challenge the DM determined was legitimate.

In general, I agree with you but there was a great deal of player friction in most groups. Leaving out Amber, already mentioned, I saw a great deal in the original Ars Magica. The players all had agendas and while it may have been in their best interest to cooperate that was always subject to personal goals. Fights in Grog Turb were rather common as I recall.
It is worth remembering that roleplaying servers do exist in most MMORPGs. Sure, they're the minority, but one significant enough to be catered to by the companies.
A footnote from Chapter 3 of my book, Designing Virtual Worlds: Footnote addicts who looked at the Knights of the Dinner Table comic book series after I mentioned it earlier may be amused to consider the following mapping: Bob/killer, Dave/achiever, Sara/socializer, Brian/explorer.
I fully agree Tobold.

We used to play DnD at my mom's home way back in time. My mom would often ask after the session "Who won?". Somehow I never got the point across that in DnD there are only two possibilities.

A: We had a fun session, everybody wins.
B: We didn't, everybody loses.

I do think you can have an achiever type DM though... As long as he measures his achievement as succeeding in providing a good play session, not in "winning" inside the game by regular TPKs.
There are certain games that provide more of these particular interests, even if they're not DnD itself.

For Killer players, one classic game is Paranoia. Paranoia does lend itself rather quickly to killing other player characters, to the point where many games of it turn into battles to kill another character in the most interesting and wacky ways.

For Killer DMs, you can easily do the same in Paranoia, or get a dose of Descent, the board game. It has a campaign mode, and in Descent in all its forms, the DM is playing with guidelines from the game itself, to try and defeat the player characters. It's one of the few where the DM actually levels up by killing the player characters.

Achiever DMs can easily play Descent in campaign mode as well, or go to the game Burning Empires. This game, an offshoot of Burning Wheel, pits the DM versus the players in an alien takeover of a world. The players are trying to stop it, while the DM is trying to make it happen. A tight budget on how much both sides can do, and mechanics for this metagame element, mean that achiever DMs can try their best to accomplish this goal, and make the world a very different place indeed in the process.

The trick is knowing that DnD is just one of the games out there, and if you want to cater to other types of fun, you might want to sometimes try different games out, if only for a little while.
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