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Exploring MMOtivation

Genese Davis Posted:
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Motivation in the workplace has been studied for decades and leaders have used assessments like DISC and Myers-Briggs to determine their employee’s personality types to better anticipate behaviors and tendencies. What about assessments like the Bartle Test to determine what motivates players in MMOs?

The factors that motivate players evolve as they begin to find out what matters most to them. A pioneer of the MMO industry, author, professor, and game researcher, Dr. Richard Bartle created one way players can decode their Gamer DNA. Known for being the co-creater of MUD1 (the first MUD) and the author of the seminal Designing Virtual Worlds, Dr. Bartle produced groundbreaking research on player personality types in online games, and in his analysis, players can be divided into four types: Explorer, Socializer, Achiever, and Killer. Today, let’s narrow the scope down to the first category of the Bartle Test analysis—the Explorer, and what motivations could exist for exploring MMOs:


It's not so much the wandering around and poking about, but that euphoric eureka moment the Explorer strives for. The joys of discovery do not necessarily involve geography, real or virtual. They may derive from the mental road less traveled, the uncovering of esoteric or hidden knowledge and its creative application. Explorers make great theory crafters. The most infinitesimal bit of newness can deliver the most delicious zing to an Explorer.

Dr. Bartle explains that there are also secondary influences for each category of players, i.e., “The Socializing Explorer.” Taking into account everything we’ve seen in the latest MMO design, what should developers keep in mind when designing new exploration features? Extrapolating off of Dr. Bartle’s conclusions, let’s look at some possible motivations MMOs offer the explorer-driven players:

The Achiever Explorer: Motto: “Been there, done that.” Achiever Explorers will usually want to obtain every achievement and title. The badges, trophies and other rewards drive Achiever Explorers—they are the completionists of the gamer world. They like to find new places, quests, Easter eggs, unlock maps and check all these achievements off the list. Like real world travelers, this type of explorer might enjoy collecting memorabilia that help relive the experiences later. How far would an Achiever Explorer go to win an explorer title? If a developer could create a premier-quality world of epic proportions that would take a seemingly endless amount of months to travel, would this type of explorer do what it takes to claim that exploration title?

The Action Explorers enjoy seeing the world, meeting interesting people...and then vanquishing them! These players love the discovery, but also enjoy finding an edge over the competition. Always seeking new opportunity, this type of player likely knows the ten best places to find certain types of opponents, as well as ten different ways for taking them down. Would killing rare enemies found in only the most remote areas entice these explorers to discover every unknown map? What about special battlegrounds unlocked only after exploring certain zones?

The Scenic Explorers are engaged by breathtaking landscapes. To the furthest corners of an MMO, these explorers want to see award-winning artwork. (On a side note: It was so refreshing to see the Smithsonian feature “The Art of Video Games” exhibition last year, and have large prints of vivid in-game screen shots displayed! And just recently, Guillaume de Fondaumière, the Co-CEO & Executive Producer QUANTIC DREAM recently stated:

"To me, all games are a form of cultural expression. I see no reason why games should be treated differently than any type of literature or any type of movie. I think that more and more video games are becoming artful, and are becoming a form of art that should be recognized next to the others.") Games are offering more and more profoundly rewarding and scenic landscapes—how much exploration do these prized areas inspire?

The Social Explorers not only like to delve in to find all the cool stuff, but they also enjoy sharing that knowledge with others. Social Explorers power the wikis, maps, forums and theory craft sites of the gamer world. MMOs can offer exploration into dangerous areas that only a group of friends could explore together to survive—similar to a raid but for exploration purposes.

What motivates you to explore? Rare titles? Chests hidden in remote areas containing epic gear, consumables, and crafting materials that benefit you no matter the level of the zone? What about discovering breathtaking landscapes? Do you prefer quest lines that are guided/linear and have a cohesive story? Or do you like the freedom to explore areas yourself and find quests along the way? For some players, the exploring experience in MMOs make or break the game. Discovering new lands and interacting with NPCs and fellow players further our understanding of the environment, and enhance our experience. After all, the definition of exploration is traveling through an unfamiliar area, and MMOs are attempting to make that experience as thrilling and captivating as possible.

Let’s connect! Find me at GeneseDavis.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

Until then: Game on, and Lark Your Life. <3

Every week, Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about MMO gaming, the issues the genre faces, and the power of shaping online worlds.


Genese Davis

Genese Davis / Bimonthly, The Holder’s Dominion author Genese Davis opines about video games, the issues the industry faces, and the power of shaping online worlds. Find her on Twitter @GeneseDavis and GeneseDavis.com