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On Mapping Bartle’s Player Types To Employees

by Frank Caron on July 23, 2011, 5 comments

Though there have been a great many captivating stories around gamification in the last few days, I thought I’d take a second to talk about some of the work I’m doing at my day job. I’ve talked a lot about the theories behind gamification recently, and one such theory that is currently preoccupying my mind is the increasingly-referenced concept of “Player Types” as outlined in Richard Bartle’s influential paper, “Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs“.

Bartle’s types were drawn from the players of multi-user dungeons (MUDs), an early form of online virtual environments that were the forefathers of today’s massively-multiplayer online games. These games are vastly different than normal games in that gameplay is designed around the real-time social interaction between the player and other real humans, either cooperatively or competitively, at a massive (100+ players) scale and in persistent online worlds.

From watching these interactions, Bartle was able to derive a set of axes and quadrants based on four marquee player types upon which a given player could be plotted. The quadrants are defined by four tendencies: the Killer, the Achiever, the Socializer, and the Explorer.

My Take On Bartle’s Types

In beginning to think about applying gamification to the workplace, I returned to my studies of Bartle’s Player Types from the old Tail Towns days. As I tried to map the types more directly to gamification, I came up with my own, slightly-tweaked interpretation:

My Take On Bartle's Killers, Achievers, Socialites, and Explorers. Click to view.

Understanding what player types exist and how they can be targeted is informative in-and-of-itself, but the challenge I presently face is to map these types of players to types of employees. Better understanding the different types of employees and what motivates each will be a boon in developing employee engagement software to target these employees.

More specifically, this knowledge will help in the design of a solution that will drive desired behavior in each and every employee — and not just the ones predisposed to respond to specific stimuli like badges. And, to that end, I’ve had some success so far.

Early Findings

Implementation specifics aside, it’s clear that certain types directly map to certain roles. In many organizations, the correlation between “Killers” and salespeople is obvious. Most sales organizations directly pit salespeople against each other with clear goals, and this has been gamified informally for years before the term was coined and the buzz began (and now formally).

One could also make the argument that HR employees, and specifically recruiters, could be tied to the “Socialite” type. After all, recruiters are required to develop large contact networks as a part of their roles. How exactly that process would be gamified is subject to debate, but an argument for this correlation could be made.

The reality of the situation is, though, that the employee’s role in an organization is not necessarily indicative of the stimuli to which that employee would respond. For example, I see myself dipping into the “Killer” territory quite frequently, and yet, I couldn’t be further removed from a sales function.

Thus, it’s clearly more important to identify the different personality types that appear in the workplace and to understand how to introduce the elements of gamification into a workplace environment in a manner that can effectively drive business-related behavior. A good employee engagement solution is not a game, after all.

As it stands, I’m deep in the throes of this research. The magic formula may not be immediately evident, but I’m confident that this work will pay great dividends when it comes to developing a product that can effectively engage employees of all types without turning work into a game. The point is to drive the right behaviors for the business and not the software, and I’m far more mindful of that then others, it seems.