Bartle’s taxonomy of gamer types in casual games: A review of ‘Dumb Ways to Die 2; The Games’

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September 9, 2016 9:21 am

Bartle’s taxonomy of gamer types in casual games: A review of ‘Dumb Ways to Die 2; The Games’

As a child I had the full works when it came to game consoles; the Mega Drive, the PlayStation followed by the PS2, and the various Nintendo gadgets; the Wii, Gameboy Advance and the DS. Hours were spent sat in front of the TV in the living room with a controller in my hands. Some will say time well spent, others may not.

However, a recent SimpleUsability project in which Bartle’s Taxonomy was used to profile research participants led me to think how Richard Bartle’s theory could be used to improve the user experience in the new world of multi-platform, play anywhere and on any device gaming.

Bartle’s Taxonomy, in a nutshell

In a nutshell, Bartle’s Taxonomy (1996) states there are four types of gamers; achievers, hunters, explorers and socialisers. So what’s the difference between the four gamer types?

  • Achievers are players who love to be rewarded for their hard work on the game and thrive on anything that acknowledges their mastery of the game, such as levelling up, badges and point progress systems. These users essentially play the game to achieve the in-game goals.
  • Hunters on the other hand, are there to assert dominance over other users and strive to be the best. These users are said to like features such as leader boards, as they get a thrill from knocking other players off the chart through their superiority in the game.
  • Explorers use the game for discovery and try to go beyond what the game allows, such as exploring unknown areas that other users have not already found. Their motive is not about mastering the game as such, but rather using it as a tool in which they can explore.
  • Socialisers use the game as a platform for meeting players to talk about the game, rather than focusing on the game itself. These users may be inclined to share what they’re up to on the game, to allow for a talking point with other players.

Putting the theory into practice

A while ago I was browsing the app store on my mobile for new games and found ‘Dumb Ways to Die 2; The Games’.

This quirky game is played by keeping the small alien-like characters alive, preventing them from dying in trivial ways. The player selects an arena to play in, and then has to complete a series of timed mini games, which get faster the longer you survive. For example, mini games include jumping over a hungry shark by tapping the screen at the right moment, or tilting the phone to avoid objects or brushing a sharks tooth in the correct motion to avoid being eaten.

The player has three chances in each arena to prevent the characters from dying. Once you’ve lost your three lives, the game is over and your score is tallied, depending on how many deaths you’ve managed to avoid.

After getting slightly hooked on this comic yet addictive game, I noticed a nice set of features on the game that would appeal to different gamer types, according to Bartle’s taxonomy.

For each of the four gamer types, I’ve noted the relevant features which would hold appeal and how they could be developed to improve the user experience design.

Achievers:Dumb Ways To Die

  • In order to play the game users have to visit different sections (referred to as arenas) on the map. Once they have played an arena, users are awarded with a badge which is then displayed above the arena to show they have completed it – an immediate indicator of success and achievement.
  • However, the badges are the same colour regardless of score which could demotivate users to achieve the highest score. By having a medal system, where users are rewarded with either gold, silver or bronze badge, depending on their score, there’s a simultaneous incentive to keep striving whilst recognising their achievement.
  • Dumb Ways To DieOnce an arena has been completed, users receive a notification, for example ‘You’re in the Top 20%’ recognising mastery and encouraging users to get into a higher percentage bracket next time.
  • ‘Dumbest of the Dumb’ allows users to play a further set of mini games, unlocking all characters once reaching a set score. The set score increases as more characters are unlocked, making it harder to unlock them. These characters will act as trophies, as users will have worked hard to unlock them, compared to the badges that are displayed once an arena is completed.

Considerations for user experience design

  • Iconography: Display a bronze, silver or gold medal that the user has achieved next to each arena that the player has visited to recognise their achievement and incentivise replay
  • Incentivise: Tell players what they need to score in order to reach the top 10% or beyond.


  • At the end of the mini games, users can swipe left to vieDumb Ways To Diew their score in a leader board labelled ‘World champs’. This is a motivator for users to keep playing the game to reach the top of the leader board rankings. Also users may be inspired to find ways of reaching the high-looking scores within the constraints of the game.
  • However, this may appear unattainable as a score of ‘1447’ is far from the highest score of ‘10986’, which may be demotivating to users if they feel they would never be able to reach the top.
  • Dumb Ways To DieUsers can also join a team via the ‘Weekly team Leader board’, where their score on each arena is added to their team’s total, providing another opportunity for users to aim for the top team score. This team leader board resets each week, encouraging users to revisit the game to make sure their team remains at the top of the leader board.
  • However, although hunters are said to like features such as leader boards, these users prefer to be solitary and working as a team would not necessarily appeal to some users. This feature therefore may appeal to socialisers, despite the leader board feature.

Considerations for user experience design

  • Realistic goals: Ensure leader board scores are attainable, for example consider displaying regional top scores instead of worldwide.
  • Individual play: Implement a persistent weekly leader board for individuals so that these users are not reliant on team scores.


  • Dumb Ways To DieThe game offers opportunities for users to explore as they have to navigate around the map in order to visit all the different arenas. As some arenas are initially hidden unless users scroll, this encourages users to find out what is clickable and what they can interact with.
  • Some users want to see all the features available to them. ‘Dumbest of the Dumb’ contains characters which are unlocked after they have attained a minimum score on each set of mini games. For example these users won’t be satisfied until they have collected all the characters.
  • The app also added a new arena into the game to coincide with the Olympic Games called ‘Rio Stadidumb’. The sheer number (56 in total and counting!) and variety of the mini games on offer would draw users back to the game on a regular basis as well as the anticipation of frequent updates.
  • Dumb Ways To DiePlaying the mini games does not necessarily mean users will see all eight in a compilation of mini games, as it depends on their score. For example, if users die quickly then they would only see three or four games. This draws users to play the same arena multiple times to see all the mini games in the compilation, as well as achieving a high score.

Considerations for user experience design

  • Iconography: use icons to entice users to explore the arenas by notifying them that there is new content within that they have not yet seen.
  • Affordances: Include signifiers on the map to show users that they can scroll around and move the map to focus on each arena.


  • Dumb Ways To DieAfter completing an arena, users can ‘Share your death’ on the right hand side of the page, with icons for Twitter and Facebook. Users enjoy the experience of sharing their activity on the game with other users, as this acts as a discussion point. Having the option to quickly ‘Share your death’ on two social media platforms is likely to appeal to these users and allows a quick and easy interaction with other players of the game.
  • To share the death on Twitter, a prepopulated tweet is generated with an image to show the mini game where the player lost their final life, drawing other Twitter users to click on link in the tweet and play the game themselves.Dumb Ways To Die
  • However, the share feature for some users may be disappointing as it does not allow them to share the score they have worked hard to achieve.
  • There are multiple ways for users to connect with other players via Facebook. If users swipe left once the game is over, there is a clear invitation to ‘sign in to see how you rate against your friends’ and a call to action (CTA) underneath to connect via Facebook. ‘Challenges’ on the map is another way users can connect with friends. This automatically links up to the user’s Facebook account, enabling a quick way to share with friends.

Considerations for user experience design

More options: Allowing users to share their scores as well as their death may encourage more users to play the game and subsequently share their own score

So, what have we learned from Bartle’s gamer type theory?

We’ve looked at the features on ‘Dumb Ways to Die 2: The Games’ in regards to the principles of Bartle’s gamer type theory and how the user experience could be improved. Improving the user experience is likely to engage existing users and entice new players, so would we recommend they go straight ahead and make changes?

Before doing that we might want to step back and look at how features appeal across the gamer types. Some features will appeal to more than one gamer type. For example, evidence has shown that hunters would enjoy many of the same competitive aspects as achievers, so both gamer types would find appeal in leader boards. To extend that, if the leader board was for teams, such as a ‘Weekly Team leader board’, this would appeal to socialisers as well because they like to work together with friends. Each of these gamer types may find appeal in leader boards but in a different way, with different implications for feature design.

Research is needed to observe users’ reactions to these concepts, and whether users prefer the features designed for the gamer type in which they associate themselves with. If this is the case, then developers could design with this concept in mind, consequently capturing and engaging more users instead of targeting a single audience. Moreover, this could be an interesting lead for gamification.

Beyond this, developers can consider how these gamification theories apply to experience in non-gaming sectors.