Conducttr Blog

This post continues from an earlier post here. Hence that’s why the figure numbers don’t start at 1.

Many ARGs and other transmedia experiences run for a set period of time and then become abandoned. It’s fair to say that most have been designed to run while the money’s there to support it. But effectively they become abandoned because they lose their appeal – there’s no new content, no new challenges, no new fun, no new social opportunities.

This applies equally to any community as it does to ARGs. And some experiences fail to gain traction at all.

The problem in all cases is that the worlds haven’t been designed to be self-sustaining. By self-sustaining I mean that the audience is allowed (given the tools and permissions) to create its own entertainment – generating new content or assuming the roles originally assumed by the designers.

To design a self-sustaining world requires that we understand the audience ecosystem of different types of people motivated in different ways. The world needs a mix of these people to make the experience work.

In his excellent book Designing Virtual Worlds Richard Bartle describes his analysis of MUD player types in which he asked the question “what do people want from a multi-user dungeon?” He concluded that there were four player types:

  • Achievers – like to achieve defined goals such as leveling up, gaining points etc
  • Socializers – like hanging out with other people (either as themselves or role-playing a character)
  • Explorers – like discovering new parts of the world
  • Killers (also known as Griefers) – like to dominate and upset others!

Bartle found that each type needed another type in order to sustain their fun and engagement. If you buy his book – which I recommend you do – then you can see how these groups inter-relate to each other.

Bartle also created what he calls a Player Interest Graph, which is shown in Figure 4 .

Figure 4 Player Interest Graph (by Richard Bartle)

I was reminded of this diagram recently when I discovered Jane McGonigal’s paper on the Engagement Economy. In her paper you’ll find a reference to Nick Yee’s document on Motivations of Play in Online Games which has similar findings to Bartle’s work.

Also in McGonigal’s paper is a reference to Nicole Lazzaro’s Emotional Goals of Players. In Lazzaro’s paper she identifies four keys to unlocking emotion in games (illustrated in Figure 5):

  • Hard Fun – players who like the opportunities for challenge, strategy, and problem solving. Their comments focus on the game’s challenge and strategic thinking and problem solving.
  • Easy Fun – players who enjoy intrigue and curiosity. Players become immersed in games when it absorbs their complete attention, or when it takes them on an exciting adventure.
  • Serious Fun – players who get enjoyment from their internal experiences in reaction to the visceral, behavior, cognitive, and social properties.
  • People Fun – players who enjoy using games as mechanisms for social experiences and enjoy the social experiences of competition, teamwork, as well as opportunity for social bonding and personal recognition that comes from playing with others.

Figure 5 Four Keys to Unlock Emotion in Games

Again, it’s possible to see echoes of similar findings to Bartle’s work and I decided to map Yee’s and Lazzaro’s work to Bartle’s Player Interest Graph as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6 Goals by Audience Interest

If these are the benefits being sought by audiences, then it’s now possible to convert this into a content map that shows what content is most likely to appeal to particular groups of the audience. This is shown in Figure 7.

The importance of this is that we can now check our content to see if we’re pulling too hard in one direction; for example, too much content aimed at Explorers and not enough content for Achievers or Socializers.

Always remember that I think of transmedia content as being recursive – meaning that although the ARG is shown here as fundamentally a game, in designing the ARG you would take a more granular approach and look at the specific content of the ARG and how it appeals to each player type.

To summarize then, in designing your content strategy, look to provide something for each of the four audience types and do so in a way that offers opportunity for attention, evaluation, affection, advocacy and contribution.

Figure 7 Content by Audience Type

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  • A couple (overly) critical (but hopefully constructive) comments…

    First, I cannot agree with the idea that “it’s fair to say [ARGs] have been designed to run while the money’s there to support it”. The length of an ARG depends on a number of things and, in my experience, the majority tend to be along the line “how long will it take us to tell *this* story”, “how long can we keep the audience actively involved without risking player fatigue”, and “will this fit with the client’s schedule”. Money is a consideration in a number of other aspects, but I have never seen it as a primary driver of length.

    Second, I disagree with the idea that a well-balanced design is only necessary for self-sustaining projects (ARGs or otherwise). Even if your project is only designed to run for 2 or 6 months (as most of mine tend to be – I find 6-8 weeks to be ideal for most ARGs). it should have a well-balanced design that considers a number of player types and motivations. For an early draft at my ideas of player types in ARGs, check out the “Understanding your Audience” section of the ARG SIG White Paper. It included 7 “player roles” which were somewhat inspired by a combination of Bartle’s & Yee’s work.

    And speaking of Bartle & Yee… you are slightly misrepresenting their work to support your thesis. You are ignoring Bartle’s 3rd dimension (implicit/explicit) which creates 8 types instead of 4. Also, Yee did not come to similar findings as Bartle. In fact, his study was somewhat (if not completely) based on the idea that he found Bartle’s approach limiting and wanted to see if he could find empirical evidence to either prove or disprove it – he disproved it. He found evidence for 10 “Factors’ and could not find evidence to support Bartle’s explorer type (your bottom right) as it’s own identity/factor. You can find more of his research at nickyee.com/daedalus

    So while I see what you want to do or are trying to do with Figure 7 (and can very much get behind such an undertaking), I’m not sure you’ve got a solid base for it and that shows in the actual diagram.

    The entire chart is about the audience. On one side, you’ve got players, on the other side you’ve got world. You chose to use the competitive “vs” to represent action and so you have “audience vs. audience”, “audience vs. world”. I don’t agree with the competitive spirit, but I can see and understand the symmetry. But that breaks down for the bottom half where you suddenly change the verb and keep the object the same in both quadrants – even though it’s the object that is changing. It doesn’t really make sense. Perhaps “audience engaging with audience” and “audience engaging with world” But engaging with – that’s acting. So shouldn’t that be on the top? That makes more sense than using a competition metaphor because not all action is competitive. But what does that give us for the bottom two? I’m not sure.

    Your activities don’t really fit, either. For example, I was quite surprised to see ARG in both top quadrants. There are a number of players (the majority?) that would claim (or even insist) that ARGs are far less about activity than they are about interactions with the story/universe and other players. Also “online games” – I play a number of online games, including an MMO, which contain little to no activity with other players. They are fairly solidly about your interaction with the world they are presenting.

    Admittedly, some of my struggle may come from the fact that you started off with Bartle’s player types and continue to use his axes. It’s difficult for me to ascribe the content that you have in the quadrants to Bartle’s original four types. For example, Diamonds/Achievers (the top right quadrant) will make extensive uses of wikis and discussion forums because they want to top the leader boards or find all the objects or dress for success so they often wait to do things until the Spades/Explorers have had a chance to figure out the who/what/where/whys of the universe so they don’t waste their time. By using a well-known (in the game world) graph but changing it up in this manner, I’m going through a bit of cognitive dissonance and the whole thing just falls apart.

    So, you’ve got a good idea of what you want to do here and what you want to say (yay! it’s good stuff!), but I think you need to make it more of your own and put a bit more thought and consideration into the audience types & activities for transmedia projects – Bartle will straight up tell you that his types represent people who play in virtual worlds for fun, which may or may not equate to the audience you’re looking at.

  • Brooke

    A couple (overly?) critical (but hopefully constructive) comments…

    First, I cannot agree with the idea that “it’s fair to say that most [ARGs] have been designed to run while the money’s there to support it”. The length of an ARG depends on a number of things and, in my experience, the majority tend to be along the line “how long will it take us to tell this story”, “how long can we keep the audience actively involved without risking player fatigue”, and “will this fit with the client’s schedule”. Money is a consideration in a number of other aspects, but I have never seen it as a primary driver of length.

    Second, I disagree with the idea that a well-balanced design is only necessary for self-sustaining projects (ARGs or otherwise). Even if your project is only designed to run for 2 or 6 months (as most of mine tend to be – I find 8 weeks to be ideal for most ARGs). it should have a well-balanced design that considers a number of player types and motivations. For an early draft at my ideas of player types in ARGs, check out the “Understanding your Audience” section of the ARG SIG White Paper. It included 7 “player roles” which were somewhat inspired by a combination of Bartle’s & Yee’s work.

    And speaking of Bartle & Yee… you are slightly misrepresenting their work to support your thesis. You are ignoring Bartle’s 3rd dimension (implicit/explicit) which creates 8 types instead of 4. Also, Yee did not come to similar findings as Bartle. In fact, his study was somewhat (if not completely) based on the idea that he found Bartle’s approach limiting and wanted to see if he could find empirical evidence to either prove or disprove it – he disproved it. He found evidence for 10 “Factors’ and could not find evidence to support Bartle’s explorer type (your bottom right) as it’s own identity/factor. You can find more of his research at nickyee.com/daedalus

    So while I see what you want to do or are trying to do with Figure 7 (and can very much get behind such an undertaking), I’m not sure you’ve got a solid base for it and that shows in the actual diagram.

    The entire chart is about the audience. On one side, you’ve got players, on the other side you’ve got world. You chose to use the competitive “vs” to represent action and so you have “audience vs. audience”, “audience vs. world”. I don’t agree with the competitive spirit, but I can see and understand the symmetry. But that breaks down for the bottom half where you suddenly change the verb and keep the object the same in both quadrants – even though it’s the object that is changing. It doesn’t really make sense. Perhaps “audience engaging with audience” and “audience engaging with world” But engaging with – that’s acting. So shouldn’t that be on the top? That makes more sense than using a competition metaphor because not all action is competitive. But what does that give us for the bottom two? I’m not sure.

    Your activities don’t really fit, either. For example, I was quite surprised to see ARG in both top quadrants. There are a number of players (the majority?) that would claim (or even insist) that ARGs are far less about activity than they are about interactions with the story/universe and other players. Also “online games” – I play a number of online games, including an MMO, which contain little to no activity with other players. They are fairly solidly about your interaction with the world they are presenting.

    Admittedly, some of my struggle may come from the fact that you started off with Bartle’s player types and continue to use his axes. It’s difficult for me to ascribe the content that you have in the quadrants to Bartle’s original four types. For example, Diamonds/Achievers (the top right quadrant) will make extensive uses of wikis and discussion forums because they want to top the leader boards or find all the objects or dress for success so they often wait to do things until the Spades/Explorers have had a chance to figure out the who/what/where/whys of the universe so they don’t waste their time. By using a well-known (in the game world) graph but changing it up in this manner, I’m going through a bit of cognitive dissonance and the whole thing just falls apart.

    So, you’ve got a good idea of what you want to do here and what you want to say (yay! it’s good stuff!), but I think you need to make it more of your own and put a bit more thought and consideration into the audience types & activities for transmedia projects – Bartle will straight up tell you that his types represent people who play in virtual worlds for fun, which may or may not equate to the audience you’re looking at.

  • Hey Brooke,
    Thank you very much indeed for your detailed comments – most definitely constructive and welcome.
    It looks for the most part that I could have chosen my words a little better and provided some better explanation.
    In my defense I can say that I wasn’t trying to add something new to the gaming world but rather introduce a new audience (filmmakers and writers) to some gaming ideas/concepts that I think can help with a content strategy – deciding how much content to provide and of what type.
    I’m was also looking across what I might call a “portfolio of content” for a transmedia project rather than specifically or exclusive an ARG. Nevertheless maybe there’s some woolly thinking that I need to fix… I need to revisit when I have time and check in more detail against your comments.

    I guess the problem with Bartle and others is that they come loaded with baggage if you’re familiar with it/them. The reason I like the Player Interest Graph is that even if it may have been superseded with new research is that it’s very easy to remember – and for my purposes works well.
    I wasn’t familiar with your whitepaper Brooke but I’ll now check it out.

  • Hey Brooke,
    I finally got to your excellent white paper! Here’s the link for anyone that might like to read it. http://wiki.igda.org/index.php/Alternate_Reality_Games_SIG/Whitepaper

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