A View from Atlas Park: Powergamers, Gadabouts, Dilettantes, Dabblers

A little while ago, Zameda wrote about the different types of players and what characterises them. I disagree slightly with some of his definitions, but overall think what was written was correct. It made me think about how I played mmogs and what type of player I am.

Achievement in mmogs is a function of time spent in-game. There is an extremely limited amount of achievement you can make outside a mmog if you aren’t playing it (the only thing I can think of doing out-of-game is communicating with other players to improve your tactics or setting up groups, and arguably this achieves very little in a mmog). It makes sense that time spent in-game should be the focus of a mmog; after all, that is what you are paying for and what devs earn their living off.

When it comes to time in-game, most players are broadly classified into two types – casual and powergamer. The casual player logs into game for undefined-yet-small amount of time per week, while the powergamer spends huge amounts of time playing and advancing their character(s). This generalisation of “casual” versus “powergamer” play-types has led to a lot of arguing about how mmogs should be developed and what they should let players do.

However, such classification is has limited use since (and as Zameda noted) time in-game isn’t the only thing that is important to player achievement – it’s what they spend that time on. Although mmogs have hard-coded methods of achievement (eg experience, levels, items) there are also less tangible rewards that keep players involved. For some players, the thought of (for example) creating a CoH character that resembles Popeye and meeting up with other comic-strip characters to act out a script would be a waste of time; for others, it is a session well spent. There is a noticeable divide between players who are only satisfied when reaching the next level and next power (in-game development focus) versus those who are happy to log-on to chat to friends, explore a zone or hold dance parties (ex-game development focus).

By in- and ex-game development focus, I am referring to where the attention of the player lies for achieving their goals. The in-game achievers are looking to use the game systems to improve their character(s) / avatar(s) position – in other words, more xp, more phat loot, more quantifiable advancement. Ex-game focussed players are more interested in creating their own entertainment outside of the coded gameworld – this time is spent socialising or exploring or in some other activity that doesn’t necessarily return a tangible in-game reward.

I am aware of Bartle’s Player Types (Achiever, Socialiser, Explorer, Killer) and Yee’s Player Model (which adds Leadership to the above four titles) but feel that these player types ignore the player-time aspect of mmogs. So I’ve drawn up the following model to create a matrix that looks at player achievement focus against the amount of time they spend in-game. The matrix quadrants have each been labeled to assist in some explanation below.

Player Matrix

The labels for the quadrants have been developed to describe the nature of the players who fit the appropriate time / achievement focus characteristics.

Powergamers are those players who spend a lot of time per week concentrating on achieving gameworld-quantifiable goals. This type of player will be the first to max-level and the first to have the most powerful (in game terms) items / enhancements / skills.

Gadabouts are players who spend a lot of time per week in-game, but are more interested in meeting up with friends, organising events or even killing other players if that is against the game rules. They will advance their character through levels, but that isn’t the focus – achievement for them is qualitative and in the meta-game, rather than in terms of numbers.

Dilettantes are players who do not spend much time per week in-game and choose to focus on non-game system achievements when they do log in. This may be just to hang with friends or look around the game world for a bit, with little being achieved in terms of the player advancing towards the next level.

Dabblers only have a short amount of time per week to spend on advancing their character through the game systems. Commonly called casual players, it is this type of player who wants to achieve in-game, but is limited by time factors on reaching their achievement goals.

The above model is rough and completely untested, so it could be wrong. I also have go no idea what percentage of players fall into each quadrant, or how “sticky” each quadrant is (ie once you are a Powergamer, how hard is it for you to become a Dilettante?) However, I feel it is important to distinguish between player intent and the time a player has to achieve it in. I haven’t seen this discussed much before, except as a complaint on the forums.

Right at the top of this column I mentioned I had been thinking what type of player I am. From my player matrix, it turns out I am a Dabbler (and hey, for a simple answer, it sure was a long explanation!). But what does this mean to my playing of CoH? I’ll answer that question next column, where I’ll apologise to all my team-mates, past and future, for having to team with someone who can only dabble…

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