Knowing Your Users: A Important Piece of the Gamification Puzzle

by Jacob Guerra-Martinez

As educators, we know that not everyone learns the same. That is why different learning theories and styles exist. These theories allow faculty to adapt their courses to fit the various styles of their students in order to give them the best and most beneficial experience possible. The same can also be applied to game players, or users. I’ll explain in a bit why we will use the term “Users” instead of “Players”.

If you are thinking about gamifying your course, it is important that you get to know the different types of users exist, since each one expects to have a different experience and outcome from the game. This article will provide an overview of the types of users that exist, and offer insight into how they think. It’s by no means a complete list, since new roles and terminology are constantly being developed.

User Types

One of the better breakdowns I’ve seen so far is from Andrzej Marczewski, whose “User Types” article is from his book Even Ninja Monkeys Like to Play: Gamification, Game Thinking and Motivational Design. Here, Marczewski presents six types of users; four intrinsic types and two that are not so easily defined.

Intrinsic Types

According to Marczewski, the four user types that naturally fit into a gamified framework:

  • Achiever: Achievers love to master tasks. They always want to learn and constantly seek to improve their skills. They love a good challenge.
  • Socialiser: Socialisers, as the name suggests, love to relate to others. They love interactions and making connections.
  • Philanthropist: This type of user wants to help others without getting something in return. They are driven by purpose and meaning.
  • Free Spirit: This is the type of user who loves to express themselves and who prefers Autonomy.

Extrinsic Types

This group includes the Player type, who are driven by rewards. Since this is used as a type, that is why we are using the word “User”, so as to avoid confusion. Some examples of Players include:

  • Self-Seeker: These are just like the philanthropist, except they want something in return.
  • Networker: This type of user wants to connect with others to see what they can gain.
  • Consumer: This is the type of person who will retweet in order to win prizes or utilize loyalty programs for the points.
  • Exploiter: These are the people who find loopholes that work in their favor. I like the analogy that is used in the article of how people in Second Life realized that there was more to it than just chatting with people and making outrageous avatars. Instead, they found a way to earn a living through through a virtual world.


Distractors, as per Marczewski, are there to shake up the system, and have four main types:

Griefer, Destroyer, Influencer, and Improver. Griefers, Destroyers, and Influencers have behaviors that you will need to change if you want your gamified activity to work, since as their name suggests, they intend to disrupt the system. The griefer wants to negatively affect others, while the destroyer simply wants to break the system down. Influencers use their charm to get others on their side, which isn’t always a bad thing. Your best bet is to try and change their attitudes to Improvers, who want to make things better.  It’s all a matter of how you interact with them.

Why is This Important?

Knowing the different types of users is an important piece of the gamficiation puzzle. In order to successfully implement game design, you need to understand what motivates each and every person who is going to participate. Even if it isn’t a game per se, your users will need to have a reason that drives them to accomplishing the task at hand. Also remember that not everyone fits into these categories completely. Just like learning styles, users fit into different boxes, and some may carry traits from various user categories.

How Do You Begin?

All of this takes planning, especially where the four intrinsic types of users are concerned. Try to appeal to all aspects of these types by making your experience social, meaningful, but still lets them have autonomy to explore. As  Marczewski suggests (and I agree), you can then add a rewards system such as badges once that initial framework is worked out. You will also want a plan to work with your Distractors, whose feedback can play a vital role in what you create.

What kind of user do you think you would be?

If you would like to know more about gamification or want to brainstorm some ideas, contact Learning Designer Jacob Guerra-Martinez.


Marczewski, A. (2015). User Types. In Even Ninja Monkeys Like to Play: Gamification, Game Thinking and Motivational Design (1st ed., pp. 65-80). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.