We Are Explorers, Part 2: And also very annoying! [#Blaugust 21]

Last night I discovered that Tevis Thompson recently published another one of his rockstar insightful wall-of-text essays on the shattered soul of videogaming and I don’t even know where to start – I need to write about this but I also need more time! I find myself overwhelmed by resonance every time I read his analyzis and ye gods, there’s so much to address…so for now, I’d rather just leave you with this link over the weekend. Really, just read it – do it now! (maybe come back here after.)

For this fine blaugust 21st, I do hereby declare that of the four essential MMO playstyles, explorers are by far the hardest to satisfy and therefore a real headache for developers. We’re really quite an annoying bunch that way and since I self-identify as explorer (and all the incomplete gamer surveys I’ve ever taken would agree there), I shall explain why I think so. In a way, am letting developers off with this but not really. Also for the record, I do not actually believe any player to be defined by merely one interest or playstyle – I find Bartle and other gamer categorizations as insufficient as the next person. For the sake of simplicity and my fun with this argument however, let’s roll with clear-cut, straightforward gamer attitudes. Okay? Good!


Already part of Bartle’s character theory chart

It’s always struck me how both socializers and killers/pvpers have the strong social component in common. They come across as very opposed preferences but both playstyles are fundamentally driven and enabled by other people, as in PCs rather than NPCs. If we were gonna oversimply definitions to the point of being a little insulting (I’m doing it!), you could say that what socializers really require in MMOs is a colorful, interactive stage they can hang out on with other equally chatty people. As for killers, they require prey – they need a platform that allows them the freedom to organize themselves in groups and then go after everyone that’s worse than they are, challenging each others various skills. Again, these are gross oversimplifications but the takeaway is that the entire MMO world and setting is secondary to the primary, social experience (which is not to say that these playstyles know zero single-player appeal, they do – and there’s other genres than MMOs that may appeal to them).

Then there’s achievers and well, they’ve already won as far as MMOs are concerned, haven’t they? The great majority of MMORPGs since WoW which have followed the linear themepark approach, have been created with achieverdom in mind, stuff packaged into small itsy bits with clearly cut out paths and little popups of “hooray” and content patches and expansions of blarrggghhh…..(oh sorry, I got lost there for a minute). Anyway, achievers may thrive through experiences with or without other people – what I do understand about their basic mindset is that they enjoy work that’s been cut out for them, checking goals off a list, feeling gratified by achieving predetermined wins, a sense of tangible progression and completion. Therefore, achievers require steady content from the developer monster and that’s basically the world we all live in today – THANKS A LOT YO!


Okay okay, explorers! I started off by saying we’re the annoying bunch (*cough*) and we are, in the sense that our itch is very hard to scratch intentionally. Explorers need space and the freedom to roam, interesting things and randomness and umm…..intrinsic drive created through game design that must not be noticed. Simple, right? We want to be wowed at the exact moment of our choosing or well, at least never of the game’s choosing, and without any notion of the invisible puppetmaster present. The game world just needs to “be”, needs to simulate something real and after that we’re mostly interested in ambling off the beaten path and potentially finding stuff nobody else would nor intended for us to find. NEGATIVE SPACES, come on MMOs!

Freedom in games is a finely crafted illusion. Infinite depth and space can only be achieved by carefully orchestrated mystery. And randomness is mostly unthinkable.

And this is why having explorers for an audience is sort of a nightmare for any slightly ambitious world designer. Really, I feel for you – so much love and respect for those who get it right in MMOs, even just for a little while! I guess that’s also why randomly or procedurally generated maps were all the rage for some time, only the problem with that is….it’s not quite that simple. A haphazardly generated world feels redundant fast and oddly meaningless. There’s only so many times you like to take a trip into the blue in Minecraft until everything starts blending and feels the same. So yes, random but not totally random…..what can I say, we’re complicated!

P.S. Happy Friday everybody – explorerdom foreva!


  1. I’m just going to piddle on your rant a little bit because it takes the stance that explorers means people who want a big map on which to wander when Bartle has been pretty clear that his meaning includes people that explore all aspects of a game. His own rant about WildStar was that you couldn’t make an explorer profession, because the explorer he modeled would want to play (explore) all the professions, not just the one.

    But this all gives me an idea for another post, so you’ll be able to return the favor.

    1. Yessss….I know, explorers can be anyone (even achievers eww) and take interest in all the things! 😀 That said, Bartle has also clearly been onboard with a lot of what I describe as MMO explorerdom:

      ” Explorers delight in having the game expose its internal machinations to them. They try progressively esoteric actions in wild, out-of-the-way places, looking for interesting features (ie. bugs) and figuring out how things work. Scoring points may be necessary to enter some next phase of exploration, but it’s tedious, and anyone with half a brain can do it. Killing is quicker, and might be a constructive exercise in its own right, but it causes too much hassle in the long run if the deceased return to seek retribution. Socialising can be informative as a source of new ideas to try out, but most of what people say is irrelevant or old hat. The real fun comes only from discovery, and making the most complete set of maps in existence.

      …Explorers are interested in having the game surprise them, ie. in INTERACTING with the WORLD. It’s the sense of wonder which the virtual world imbues that they crave for; other players add depth to the game, but they aren’t essential components of it…” etc.


    2. One of the problems with Wildstar’s “explorers” is that it’s through the lens of achievement. When you package it up with checklists and goals, that becomes something that Achievers want, not something that explorers would really want to dig into. As Bartle said, the real explorers would want to see how all the paths worked, not just have a checklist they could follow.

      1. Yep. Which is why one of my past rants was also about why I dislike the WS explorer path. I am a scientist in WS.

  2. I need to do that test again! Last time i did it was after only playing pvp for months and i came out like some kind of lunatic in that test lol lol! Now im a totally different person and have more experience in mmos so that is not accurate anymore im afraid…. When i have time that is… omg RL bites my leg :S

    1. It does make sense to take the tests again every few years, altho personally I seem rather consistent so far hehe. 🙂

  3. I don’t think Explorers are so much annoying as hard to satisfy, or more specifically, hard to satisfy in a way most current developers understand. Achievers are the same way as they need ever dizzying heights to ascend in order to demonstrate their dominance to others, but developers understand how to create content to satisfy the achiever mindset. I’ve also argued before that modern MMOs almost exclusively cater to the Achiever motivation.

    And, I think that’s what hurts Explorers. Achievers want to efficiently understand the game, so we get sites like Thottbot, etc. that automatically scrapes the world. The perfect Explorer world would probably be a nightmare to Achievers, because there would be so much there that they could never master it all, and thus never be able to brag about that mastery.

    1. I do agree with you actually. When I wrote this, I was silently arguing that achievers take just as much work really – the difference is that AAA MMOs have basically formed around that concept and its now their front and center (so obviously there’s a lot going into this) when more open world building / simulative and creative content and mechanics are not.
      I did once write about how the second type of MMO actually requires more of its audience, more participation and effort, so maybe I had the truth there; achievement-driven MMOs don’t necessarily ask less of devs but definitely less of the player than open world sandbox MMOs would for instance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *