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Richard Bartle releases his classic “Designing Virtual Worlds” book for free (nwn.blogs.com)
424 points by Kroeler on Aug 18, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

Richard Bartle is a luminary in the field of game design. He invented a system for classifying gamers' preferred game actions called the "Bartle taxonomy", which helps game designers understand player motivations better. Think of it like user personas in software development - Killers love competition, Explorers love discovery, Achievers love mastery, and Socializers play games for social reasons. When designing a game for mass appeal it's often important to make sure players of all stripes find reasons to enjoy it, and Bartle's taxonomy is a great framework for analyzing how different types of players will interact with a game.

You can take an online version of the Bartle taxonomy questionnaire to get your own results here:


Psychologists could learn a lot from humans if they'd start building games and observe them.

Also, game-designers could learn a lot from psychologists. Whenever I heard Bartle's taxonomy for the first time during a game studies course, my question was (and still is): why is a taxonomy the best way to capture this? In a personality research course it became clear to me that the biggest successful models are dimensional in nature (e.g. five factor model/big 5) they are not taxonomies.

I'd love for more psychologist/personality researchers to team up with game-designers. I think it could advance some scientific discoveries into human behavior.

The test as I created it (that site uses a copy of the questions, those were written by Brandon Downey) asked 30 question evenly spread pitting e.g. Explorer against Socializer, so you ended up with a score that said e.g. you prefer Explorer 100% against any other.

Back when the test was relevant (around 2000?) there was lots of multiplayer games (MUDs) and so you could enter what MUDs you were playing after you got your score -- it was interesting to see the averages for each aspect matching up with type of MUD (e.g. PVE versus PVP versus purely social/RP).

I also tried to match the results against a volunteered MBTI: http://mud-dev.zer7.com/2001/8/20412/#post20412

Yes, but if you're limited in your choices in the game environment, what good is psychology?

For example, one of the questions:

Which is more enjoyable to you?

- Killing a big monster

- Bragging about it to your friends

Umm... neither? What is a 'monster'? Is it one of the last remaining megafauna, the rest having been slaughtered to extinction by other gamers? Is it a sentient creature (say, a dragon) that happens to be rather angry, but can be reasoned with?

What if I'd rather study the 'monster', like a zoologist might, in order to discover more about its life? (Do 'monsters' lead their own existence in a gaming world?)

There should be more to gaming than killing!

There is a lot more.

There is Animal Crossing

There are dress up games

Race games

Games that detail the high school lives of people


Just to name a few

> my question was (and still is): why is a taxonomy the best way to capture this? In a personality research course it became clear to me that the biggest successful models are dimensional in nature (e.g. five factor model/big 5) they are not taxonomies.

The types are labels for the extremes of a dimensional analysis of motivation:


    Consider the following abstract graph:

    Killers          |      Achievers
    PLAYERS ---------+--------- WORLD
    Socialisers      |      Explorers

ed: much like archetypes in personality tests

I wrote a mini-thesis halfway through my masters in cognitive science. I used a 3D virtual environment (basically, a FPS video game) to study curiosity, learning, and knowledge graphs.

It was cool. I learned a lot.

I'm gonna do more.

The Bartle questionnaire really highlights the one-sidedness of game design!

In her book, You Just Don't Understand, Deborah Tannen highlights the differences between women and men: their inter-communication, and how they perceive the world.

"Women are also concerned with achieving status and avoiding failure, but these are not the goals they are focused on all the time, and they tend to pursue them in the guise of connection. And men are also concerned with achieving involvement and avoiding isolation, but they are not focused on these goals, and they tend to pursue them in the guise of opposition."

"If women speak and hear a language of connection and intimacy, while men speak and hear a language of status and independence, then communication between men and women can be like cross-cultural communication, prey to a clash of conversational styles. Instead of different dialects, it has been said they speak different genderlects."

And Ursula Le Guin also wrote about the vast gulf in reasoning and perception between men and women: https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/ursula-k-le-guin-the...

All I can say is, we need more women game designers... Balance!

I must be a terrible person because all that "women are like this, whereas men are like that" stuff strikes me as epically sexist and extremely shallow. The precise kind of reasoning that comes out in support of "women can't x" and "men are useless at y"

I've enjoyed Le Guin's stories. So maybe i shouldn't be so put off.

Usually what's meant is not that all men/women always are X, but there's a general tendency towards X. Disregarding such observations merely because they appear sexist is living in denial.

No way I agree with that at all.

s/sex/race/g see how you go with that.

s/sex/sexual preference/g likewise.

Those aren't arguments by any stretch they just highlight where too look.

There has always been really crappy, nasty arguments that people with characteristic X have a tendency to Y therefore we should/can/will be under-considered for being able to Z. To ignore that and the utterly false, pseudo-scientific garbage used in support really is living in denial. To go the other way and say the characteristics exist for a specific case/characteristic requires hard evidence that stands up to vigorous verification, for mine. I don't see that. I see pseudo-scientific garbage. Does that make me from Mars or Venus?

I agree we need to be careful with concluding “therefore we should/can/will be under-considered for being able to Z” because it’s easy to become ham fisted there.

But that doesn’t mean we should disregard a sound observation in itself. Yes, it may be politically incorrect, but it’s still real. For example:

s/sex/race/g Black people tend to commit crimes more often.

s/sex/sexual preference/g Transsexuals tend to commit suicide more often.

Both of these are statistically true. What matters is what you conclude. Should we just get rid of blacks and transsexuals? Or is there a root to these issues that we can work on?

Please Google "confounding factors."

I have no further wish to continue this conversation at all in any way. I have a general tendency that way.

> Please Google "confounding factors."

sigh That's exactly what I was saying in my last sentence.

You should take a minute to actually understand the post you're replying to. Especially if, as you almost figured out yourself, you have a general tendency to strawman and be snide about it.

>I must be a terrible person because all that "women are like this, whereas men are like that" stuff strikes me as epically sexist and extremely shallow.

Confounding factors are THE thing that make this kind of thing utter bullsht even if* there's data. But there isn't data.

Do you understand the point I made that you responded to now? I'll ignore the condescension in your response above because it's against the rules around here to respond to it other than by noting it.

So for the sake of the argument let's make up a utopian scenario "group X is Y, but it is so exclusively because of this clearly identified confounding factor Z".

It obviously doesn't follow that group X isn't Y anymore. It just means group X is Y and Z.

If someone says "let's accomodate group X by accomodating Y-ness", and you go and say that's shallow, X-ist, utter bullshit, then you are in denial that group X is Y.

> But there isn't data.

Is this denial again?

> condescension

Sorry, I acknowledge that I was needlessly being a dick. But don't get on the high horse over it. It was just in response to you needlessly being a dick.

This brings back memories. I was a huge fan of the old pkmud. It had gameplay that very much anticipated today's battle royales. The various players would get teleported randomly to locations in the DIKU MUD world and then scramble to kill MOBs and collect gear to better murder the other players. Looks like it's still around[1], and for some reason my handle is an illegal name. Fascinating! Sadly, like most MUDs, the player base is nonexistent.

Most of my time though was on a deeper SillyMUD derived PK MUD called Forbidden Lands. It was neat because the focus wasn't on murder, it was just an option. So the politics and mores around killing got quite interesting.

Edit: Still KASE.

[1] http://pkmud.net/

Never heard of this before, but it seems like it was a class-based Battle Royale created 25 years ago? Wow, that was way ahead of the times.

That's cool to know I'm a EASK (Explorer). It's just like Myers Briggs Personality test. I do lean more to exploring the virtual worlds and building things.

> It's just like Myers Briggs Personality test


I have read the book a long time ago (around 2005 I think) but I remember one of the 4 player types was griefer which he said was the only category that wasn't useful to the virtual world and should be dealt with.

For those interested, Bartle is the co-creator of the first MUD (multi-user dungeon, online text style adventure).

He made a brilliant explanation why is text the best medium to activate the imagination:


History is complicated. Scepter of Goth (SoG) preceded MUD commercially as the first commercial multi-player role playing game. But Scepter of Goth disappeared while MUD continued to be around for longer, so SoG is not as well remembered.

Bartle's book is great, it's highly recommended.

People are still developing interactive fiction ("text based adventures") today.

Interactive fiction is not to be confused with MUDs though. Both are a subset of text based adventures. Typical IF is more of a single-player closed system with linear progression while MUDs are open world, multiplayer (but still text-based) systems.

I agree, interactive fiction != MUDs. Thanks. It's a little sad that this has to be explained today :-).

Bartle inventing "MUD" is like the has-so-many-PhDs-guy who claims he invented "EMAIL".

Bartle was unaware of the PLATO system, which had numerous MUDs up and running and mature by the time his was released online.

If two people invent or discover a similar thing, independently, they’re both inventors.

I see you've written a book on PLATO -- I'd love to know some of the examples of these early MUDs.

I believe the deal with the noted jurist who claims to have invented email is that he may have had an earlier version of a text delivering system called email, except that there is very strong disagreement that his version of email has any living descendants.

If we assume that he's wrong, then the right inventor of MUDs is the one whose creation has many (more popular) descendants.

I played on the original Essex MUD in the early 80s, and it had a lot of distinctive qualities that directly inspired many of the other MUDs, including I believe LambdaMOO.

And, unless you have any competing evidence, I think it might be fair to say that Bartle and colleagues predecessors at least coined the term "MUD".

I see DVW discusses PLATO's multi-user games in the section "The Fifth Age", at least Orthanc and Oubliette pre-MUD1 (Essex MUD; 1978), saying "the interaction it allowed between characters was very limited; it was almost there, but not quite".

Were there other world games on PLATO in the 1970s?

(Same section adds "In late 1979, the first ever fully-functional graphical virtual world was released [on PLATO]: Avatar.")

Essex MUD wasn't commercial.

> No matter how far you take graphics, eventually, the farthest you can get is text.

Interesting point of view.

The cinema overwhelms the senses, text stimulates what is already present in the reader's mind. You can't (yet) broadcast smells or tastes by recording them with a camera but a good writer can make the reader feel things they couldn't feel from watching a screen.

Here is Bartle's actual announcement and download link:


I've cleaned up a scan of the original cover:


I did it for myself, so I could put it on the front of the PDF, but I thought I'd share it here also.

As far as I am aware, the original book is long out of print, and second hand copies tend to cost quite a lot, if the rights have reverted back to Richard, as he says on his blog, then I'm guessing he's not getting any royalties these days anyway. That being said, I trust everyone here not to reprint the whole thing and sell copies at a profit!

Is his work regarded well and/or studied in the more academic psychology circles?

I ask this as the usual line of “introvert - extrovert” never made intuitive sense to me, as it it was missing important details. For example I love talking with people and listening to their stories, and casual acquaintances would insist I’m an extrovert, but I tire quickly at social gatherings and recharge when I’m alone, and the pandemic lockdown was something I actually liked to some degree, which makes me feel like I’m actually a well adjusted introvert or something.

So when I first found Bartle’s taxonomy it all “clicked” I instantly knew where I was on the graph (explorer), and could easily place people I know, giving me more predictive clarity for mine and other people’s actions…

So was wondering if it is more generally known / accepted in psychology? Maybe it has some flaw that makes it not applicable to non gamers or something?

Your description is pretty much the definition of introvert. People get it confused because extraverts quite naturally get more practise at social situations, so on a group level they're better at them. But at its core, the extravert/introvert scale is about whether social interaction gives you energy or drains it. And of course it's not a dichotomy, it's a scale.

Slightly unrelated, but regarding introvert - extrovert -- Quiet, by Susan Cain may be an interesting read. I was in a similar position till I read it and plenty of things just clicked.

Is there a better more-recent book to start reading or is this still a good place to start?

"Designing Games" by Tynan Sylvester (creator of Rimworld), and "Game Feel" by Steve Swink, are both more recent books about high-level game design concepts, though they don't specifically focus on world building.

I recommend Raph Koster, "A Theory of Fun"; and Jesse Schell, "The Art of Game Design" (which has a complementary deck of cards called "A Deck of Lenses")

The best one I’ve read is Advanced Game Design: A Systems Approach by Michael Sellers. It’s a good bit more rigorous than other books on game design.

If you like this, you might like the Preserving TV series [1]. I loved it, especially the format of someone familiar with each one guiding you through somewhere.

1. https://preservingworlds.net/

Ah, such memories. MUDs were the first reason I almost flunked out of college. Especially when I started running my own. Gonna read this so much.

Especially since I'm building a MUD again, but using Discord and Slack as the clients.

Professor Bartle is quite approachable. Somewhere in my archive is the original code for his MUD1 that he forwarded to me.

Update: I'll have to ask if I can link the zip, but here is the opening text:

;Copyright (C) 1983 by ;Richard Bartle & Roy Trubshaw, ;Essex University, Colchester. CO4 3SQ. ; ; This software is furnished on the understanding that ;it may be used and or copied only with the inclusion of this ;notice. No title or ownership of this software is hereby ;transferred. The information in this software is subject to ;change without notice. No responsibility is assumed for the ;use or reliability of this software. name valley persona mud @txtcbt @txtlev @txthrs *rooms 96

It's on Github and multiple other places.

You're also going to need the Essex BCPL compiler and a DECSystem10 (or an emulation thereof) running TOPS10!

Happy days!

Roy Trubshaw

I heard the acronym was "multi undergraduate destroyer" although I'm thankful I dodged that bullet only to get taken out by working too much at my "part time" job :-/

Coding a MUD is what switched me from Health Science to Computer Science in 1996. Though, in hindsight, I wish I'd gotten a double major in both subjects.

This is what I see when opening the link: https://imgur.com/a/ITXoipP Come and Design Digital Toilets ... https://imgur.com/a/2rzcgjG

The book seems interesting. but the advertisement would have just led me to close the tab if it was not on hackernews.

This reporter reached out to Richard and got his comments on how well each chapter holds up today:


That's the same link as the Original Post.

wow, clearly I shouldn't have posted before coffee this morning! :)

I have a lot of old books from this era that are often obsolete, but I hesitate to part with, knowing there often isn't an eBook alternative available. Hopefully a lot more authors can release their old books in the future.

My first thoughts looking at that website and the 'ads': "Wow, is Second Life still a thing?!" It's been like 16 years since I tried it.

Why no releasing an ebook version? PDFs are more from the paper printed era.

Richard just posted:

>It occurred to me that if people are allowed to reformat the text of Designing Virtual Worlds, then perhaps I ought to provide it in a form more amenable to reformatting than .pdf is. I've therefore uploaded a .docx version to https://mud.co.uk/richard/DesigningVirtualWorlds.docx , for those readers who want to put it in a form that works on their phone, Kindle or US Letter paper (the .pdf is set up for A4).

>The news that I released the book for free seems to have made the first page of Hacker News. There are about 35 comments on it, many of which I'd love to reply to but know how much of my life replying to the resulting counter-comments would take up.

I read this way back when. It deserves its status as a classic. I highly recommend it.

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