Beyond Player Types: Kim’s Social Action Matrix



Human nature is complex – and personality types are convenient simplifications. that help us understand people’s different temperaments, motivations and social styles. Like many game designers, I’ve found Bartle’s Player Types useful, especially for MMOs and online competitive games. A key value of Bartle’s system is to raise awareness that different people enjoy different types of fun.  It’s also useful for de-bugging some of the more simple-minded thinking around gamification – particularly the limited appeal of Achiever-style point, badges and levels.

Yet when I’ve applied Bartle’s system to casual, social and educational games,  it wasn’t always a good fit. For example, I was working on casual games for a high-traffic women’s portal, and we found that the “Killer” archetype was almost non-existent in their player base. Apparently teenage male hackers aren’t drawn to harass a site full of Moms. Go figure 🙂

Inspired by Bartle,  I took my experience building and playing successful – and NOT so successful – social games and services, and identified four key patterns: Explore, Create, Compete, and Collaborate.Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 12.08.56 PM

 I find it useful to map these out as Social Actions, or Verbs – because as product builders, we can enable these actions by offering specific features and systems. Here are some common Verbs that cluster into these quadrants.


For the purpose of mapping these verbs to personality systems, and better understanding player motivation, let’s look at each Verb as a Player Type.

Explorers are motivated by gaining knowledge, exploring boundaries, finding loopholes, and knowing the rules that govern a space. Explorers love to poke at systems and discover their ins-and-outs. They enjoy accumulating and showing off  knowledge. Explorers value accurate info, clever design, and  relationship-building via knowledge exchange. They can enjoy exploring with others, but often it’s a satisfying solitary endeavor.

Creators are motivated by opportunities for self-expression. Creators love tools and systems that let them personalize their experience, make their mark,  and express their uniqueness. The best Creators will fully use any available tools to make things that others admire and emulate. Creators value original thought, creativity, hard work, and personal style. They  enjoy customizing backgrounds, fonts and avatars.  They seek status, recognition and influence through creative skill

Competitors are motivated by testing their skills and seeing how they stack up. They find external ranking systems and zero-sum game mechanics appealing because those structures mirror their internal dialogue and POV. Competitors love to develop their skills, showcase their prowess, and know where they stand within a group. They value mastery, learning, and relationship-building via friendly competition.

Collaborators are motivated by working with others towards a greater goal.  They love to “win together” and measure success as collective impact. Collaborators enjoy participating in groups and teams, forming partnerships, and playing coop games. They value teamwork, shared learning, and relationship-building via shared tasks.

And there you have it: a simple, practical system describing common motivational patterns in social and casual games. I’ve used this system productively with many clients for product strategy, feature planning, and user experience de-bugging. That said, no model offers the ultimate solution – so think of this Matrix as a starting point for understanding and analyzing what motivates your players. Try using it to design experiences that will delight and engage your players by targeting these core motivations. Don’t be afraid to tweak this model to make it apply more specifically to your audience and application – I do it the time. 🙂

In my next post I’ll show you how to apply this model “in the wild,” and give you specific guidelines for applying the Social Action Matrix to your own project. I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.