Thursday, January 10, 2008

A New Taxonomy of Gamers: Skill Players: Drilling Down

This is the fifth in an 11-part series. To start from the beginning, read part one: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Games." Or read the previous post, "Case Study: Guitar Hero."

We've established that Skill Players are concerned primarily with mastery of the game rather than enjoying the stops along the way. Their idea of "beating" a game is to pound it into submission. But this can mean different things depending on the game and on one's inclinations. It may be that Skill Players themselves, while broadly similar, have different motivations for playing games, and can be further classified into two more similar but distinct groups: Completists and Perfectionists.

A Completist may be less interested in maximizing his ability to play a game, and more interested in making sure he doesn't miss anything. Certainly you wouldn't say it takes skill per se to locate all the packages in Grand Theft Auto III, or all the agility orbs in Crackdown. It takes patience and determination. And while the game does offer incentives to do these things, in both cases they're non-essential to the task of beating the game in the traditional sense. The reward is having no mountains left to climb.

Compare this to the Tourist, who may find packages along the way and appreciate the financial reward, or who grabs agility orbs as a necessary part of gameplay, but won't take the time to find that 500th one. In the case of Crackdown, there is no quantifiable difference in your character's jumping ability between the 499th and 500th agility orb. It does not help you complete the missions to acquire every single one, but it does net you achievement points. The reason a Completist falls under the Skill Player heading is because his concern is not with surrending to the rules of the game world, but instead with asserting his dominance over them.

A typical Perfectionist is the classic high-score freak. Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe come to mind. They don't care about rescuing the princess; they care about proving who's the best Donkey Kong player. Donkey Kong himself is not the antagonist to these players. The scoreboard is. Other players are. There's a reason the only people still playing Donkey Kong are Perfectionists. A Completist would just need to make it to the kill screen once. A Tourist would probably do a cost-benefit analysis of rescuing the princess and move on to a different game.

Bottom line: the Perfectionist sees success as relative to the performance of others. In a sense, the last-place player in a Halo match could be said to have finished the game. But for the Perfectionist in him, it sure doesn't feel that way. Other examples of the Perfectionist style might be trying to get all "S" rankings in Devil May Cry, or playing through Ninja Gaiden Black on the hardest difficulty. In both cases, the appeal is in accomplishing something that only a select few ever will.

As with the earlier Guitar Hero example, which described how Skill Players and Tourists may differ in their approach to performing the same task, we may see situations where the Completist and the Perfectionist seem to be doing the same thing. Consider somebody who earns all 1,000 achievement points in an Xbox 360 game. For the Completist, there's no surer sign that he's completed everything there is to complete. There are no more worlds to conquer. For the Perfectionist, it means he has earned the highest possible score -- a perfect score. The biggest difference is that this likely means the Completist has, for all intents and purposes, finished his experience with the game. We can't infer the same thing about the Perfectionist unless we have more information.

Earlier we looked at how Guitar Hero was able to appeal to Skill Players and Tourists equally. Now that we've split Skill Players into two sub-groups, while leaving the Tourist group as it is, it's time to consider a different scenario. What happens when a game contains discrete elements that appeal to all three types of gamers, but those elements work in discordance with each other? Can we use these terms as a window into why a well-made, premium console game might still seem off -- why it might not work on a gut level? And can we isolate those traits in a single game that appeal separately to Completists, Perfectionists, and Tourists?

We sure can.

Next: Case Study: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption


Rick said...

Fascinating discussion. I'm not sure about "Perfectionist" as someone who is trying to be the best. Maybe "Partisan" might be a better word?

Anonymous said...

More problems with your definitions.

If a perfectionist is someone who aims for highest score, and if the highest score means completing the game at 100% (think RPGs), then what's the difference. If my wife loves sudoku, and completes all 100 challenges on hardest difficulty, what does this make her.

Also, you've contradicted your tourist definition. They are not going to do any real cost benefit analysis on the game. Save that for people the other people who actually care. You should really compare tourists to tourist who travel, or coin a new word to fit that description.

The bottom line is that you can define some category or type of player ANY way you want. It will always be TRUE in some way, but probably not every way. That being said, since there are exceptions, you can't define people and group them into a category they don't belong in those cases. You should either stick to generalities OR, give a much deeper analysis of particular types of players that belong to broader gamer categories. But I guess at that point you'd be writing an essay on this.

What this really reflects is your own perspective of how well you've been able to judge others through your gaming experiences. I think you need to realize that gamers could be anyone around you, and that the worst analysis you could base your findings are, are on the anonymous that you meet everyday over the internet.

don63 said...

What would be more funny and educational than defining categories of gamers by their characteristics would be the reverse operation: using human characteristics to define gamer behavior.

Mushy and jolly people will play for fun, and are going to be "tourists" in the sense that they consume a greater number of games and also proclaim more inane things about them on the internest, while having lower understanding of what a game is and what it is exactly they are doing most of the time.

Veteran computer user people are obviously going to play to skill.

Unskilled people and children will play simply for the basic feeling of control.

These are all different types of play that you and everyone else describe, but to really classify gamers you really need the sort of data that you can only get when you are IN THEIR BRAINS.

Regardless, a list of gamer behaviors and playstyles would be easier to read and more informationally dense.

7-26-11 2:07 AM usa