Applying Bartle's Player Types to Customer Loyalty Design

Richard Bartle is a British writer, professor and game researcher.  He is a pioneer in game design and was instrumental to the  popularity of Massively Multiplayer Online games.  He's the author of Designing Virtual Worlds and is credited with inspiring the Bartle Test, an online questionnaire that determines a gamer type based on a number of criteria.

The Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology, or simply 'Bartle Test', lumps people into four categories: Explorers, Socializers, Achievers and Killers. Lucky for us, those nicely line up with the four suits in a deck of cards, so we can easily follow a design description that works for Achievers ( Diamonds), Explorers (♠ Spades), Socializers ( Hearts),  and Killers (♣ Clubs).

As intuitive as the four categories are, we still need a basic understanding of the player types before we compare them to a customer in the midst of a brand loyalty engagement. As well, understanding how a Bartle Player-type applies in a single vs. multi-player situation is also relevant to how a customer would interact with others within a program.

 Achievers, also known as "Diamonds," are players who prefer to gain points, levels, equipment and other concrete measurements of success in a game. They look for prestige and will go to great lengths to achieve rewards that give them little or no game-play benefit to get it.

Sound familiar? Canada is ripe with Achievers as a highly-penetrated loyalty market. We love our points! In a loyalty context, an Achiever is trying to get everything they can, whether that's collecting an Air Miles Reward Mile at Rexall or earning Aeroplan Status Miles for flying with Air Canada on every trip.

Achievers are attracted to any game that can be "beaten" or won in some way because it appeals to the Achiever play style. Games that offer some kind of special bonues or achievement for beating it appeal to Achievers.

In loyalty, rarely is there an opportunity to "Win", but the act of 'maxxing out' becomes the Achiever's crack-cocaine of winning. If they can double-dip at the grocery store by using a Club Sobey's BMO Credit Card along with the Club Sobeys card and earn twice as many points, they feel like they're winning. If a triple dip opportunity arises with a manufacturer's bonus, the Achiever is over the moon.

One thing that Achievers really like is the opportunity to show off their skill or elite status. They don't particularly like competition from other achievers, and look to the ♥ Socializers to give them praise. The more they achieve in a game, the less likely they become a target for  ♣ Killers. These are also the players that enjoy seeing their names at the top of a leader board or ranking.  In XBox Live, gamers can earn achievements that they can show off to others all around the world.

In the loyalty world, an achiever is looking for status from the  socializers in the form of recognition, as well as status for statuses sake. Forums and blogs that discuss earning and redemption 'tricks of the trade' often highlight the Super-Users who are avid collectors of the virtual currency or masters of the skies with their un-reachable airline status levels. Much like MMOs, almost every loyalty or engagement program has an element of achievement. Since the psychology of an Achiever is to set sometimes obscure goals for themselves (in the game world) in the real world that can mean going incredibly far out of their way or repeating an action numerous times simply to achieve one more goal. Gas retailers love the Achievers since their product and reward mechanism often requires a customer to go just a little further for the payoff.

 Explorers, dubbed "Spades" for because they're the ones who dig around, are the players who prefer discovering areas, creating maps in a game and discovering  hidden places. They don't like games that have time restrictions or count-downs as that doesn't allow them the freedom to explore at their own pace. These gamers are also the ones who take pleasure in pointing out a glitch or finding an easter egg.

In loyalty, an Explorer is someone who wants to figure out the challenge. That's their reward. They are the ones scouring the flyers for bonus offer of pudding purchases that they can turn into trips around the world. They're also the ones that baulked the loudest whenever a loyalty program announced they were adding a time-limit or expiration date to their points. They earned them fair and square and getting boxed in to redeem goes against the grain with them.

Explorers aren't as into one on one fighting games and the concept of beating levels or earning points is secondary to the Explorer. The Explorer will try to learn any back story they can find about the people and places in their game, hoping to discover something that nobody else has. Different from an ♦ Achiever who is all about moving on to the next-- an explorer will remember all of their rich adventures and history.

How does this relate to loyalty and engagement? Think about it from a speed perspective.  Explorers are the ones that are methodical, read the rules, understand the program and try to seek the best benefit.  They also want to go where nobody has gone before-- think exclusive experiential travel redemptions or 'Money Can't Buy' merchandise rewards!

And the reason the Achievers and Explorers share so much in common when it comes to loyalty?

The Explorer and Achiever benefits in much the same ways in a multi-player environment. They are surrounded by people who will benefit from their wisdom and can swap experiences.  Socializers do not mind listening either. The interactions between an Explorer and a ♣ Killer are usually hostile, as the play-type interferes with exploring. However, Explorers will lose interest with any game when they feel it has become a chore to play, with only more of the same ahead. This kind of makes sense for all gamers, but Explorers can be the most fickle when it comes to doing more of the same.

For those designing loyalty and engagement programs, it's the explorers that are the first to attrite from the program or churn as a customer.  Once they've figured it all out and get to a point where the only action left is to continue like before, an explorer loses interest in the program and looks for something new.  They may keep an eye out for new promotions, contests or challenges that allow them to benefit from trying something new, but a program rooted in change and adventure will keep them engaged longer.

 Socializers are are those who play games for the people, not the game itself. They're known as "Hearts." Most of the enjoyment they get from a game they get by interacting with others in a multi-player environment, either people or sometimes even computers with personalities. The game becomes simply a tool that allows them access to people within the game and outside it.

Next generation loyalty and engagement is social by design.  Without quantifying the impact of social networks, socializing, sharing, advocacy and other social elements into the value of a program, we would miss the biggest of opportunities.  Since a Socializer's objective is not so much to win or explore but to be social, they don't need to find a game that has good game play on it's merits, as they are not there for the game.  It seems counter-intuitive. Instead, they are attracted to popular games as they have the most opportunity for interaction.

Online games are very appealing to the Socializer as there is an almost limitless supply of new people with whom they can build relationships. Socializers are the first to import an address book, fill a friend-list and invite others to join in for the fun.  For any loyalty program with Social by Design as a key pillar, Socializers are the ones that increase the Virality of the program.  (Virality, meaning the likelihood that an idea will propagate between two people). They aren't there to win. They're there to have fun! In many cases they help people out in a game to make friends and see everyone do better. Socializers often become well-known names on discussion boards and forums and can build an offline following as well.

 Lucky for us, Killers in the game world refers to a player-type that is vastly different from it's description in the real world. In loyalty, you don't need to kill anyone else to win-- however there are similarities. The "Clubs" of the game world thrive on competition, and specifically from other real players as opposed to computers or simulations.  They don't just want to win, but they want others to lose!

Game mechanics used in loyalty design to appeal to a Killer are auctions and races.  Not only does the killer get to win, but everyone else loses.  Limited-time offers at retail, auction sites like EBay, and even to some extent daily deals like groupon (though you could argue that's awfully social for a Killer) are appealing to Killer player types. They like the idea that they should be "watched out for" since they're so dangerous to the game.

Killers also like to control the environment in which they play.  Contests where the audience decides who the finalists will be would appeal to a Killer, as the control over the end result could wreak chaos if they so choose.

Killers are also active the social and economic sides of a game. Market control appeals strongly to Killers, many of whom have a natural talent for reading markets (likely an extension of their common aptitude for sizing up strengths and weaknesses, vital to their play style). Social Killers tend to be community leaders—or trolls. Thinking Killers are antisocial or without friends is a mistake. When designing a loyalty program to appeal to killers we have to remember that they're not actual killers--- they simply thrive on competition. Interesting to be aware of-- if your community has a bored Killer, you could be sitting on time bomb, as their natural drive to compete and possibly destroy can push them to stir up trouble.

So now that we've applied Bartle's 4 Player-types to customers in a loyalty or engagement program, along with some examples, how can we design better programs?

The key when using game mechanics or gamification in a program design is to understand that only certain levers will affect certain people. People are unique and like different things and respond in different ways.  By knowing what you're looking to achieve as an audience, you can choose the right motivators and mechanics to get you there.

Thanks Wikipedia for all the examples and whatnot...