Many of us are familiar with the classic Johnny/Timmy/Spike archetypes shared by Mark Rosewater in his now-famous article for Wizards of the Coast. While these archetypes work great for Magic, every company is a bit different. One of the exciting truths about being game designers is that we get to choose who we serve and who we build our games to attract.
Most of Level 99 Games’ fans fall into one of these archetypes, or are split across two of them. Aside from the three main archetypes, there is one additional meta-archetype, for a total of four. To describe them, I’ve used familiar characters from Millennium Blades, who were designed with these motivations in mind. Unlike the Rosewater archetypes, our archetypes are less about what players engage with in the games, and instead focus on why they engage with the games in the first place. And of course, we have a bit more ground to cover, since we’re designing entire game experiences and not just cards and expansions.
Our three major archetypes are based around our three-part philosophy of Design, Development, and Discovery. The fourth archetype is based on Community, which ties all the others together.
All of our archetypes have a few things in common. They’re all creative gamers who don’t want to just have a game, but to really own it and make it a part of their lifestyles. A game isn’t complete for them until they engage with it ‘off the table’. We’ve tailored our games specifically to be what they’re looking for–games with replayability, variety, and deep lore.
Take a look, and see where you fall on the spectrum!
Deques - Designer
Deques plays a game to make something. He plays to win, but winning isn’t the end goal. Instead, building a deck, piloting a character, or executing a combo that expresses his personality is his main goal.
Deques channels his creativity to extend a game. Being able to build a scenario or a fighter to show friends is Deques’s favorite aspect of a game. He’s most at home in games where he can control the entire experience, and invite his friends to play in his “custom setup” or “homebrew mode.” These situations, where he can play the host and guide his friends through a ‘design’ of his own making stimulate his creativity and invite him to play the designer with a custom toolset. He may even create custom expansions or extra content for his favorite games and share them on the web for others to download and try for themselves.
To appeal to Deques, a game needs to have a wide variety of viable, playable options or setups. There need to be multiple ways to win, or at least, the possibility to go in heavily on some strategies and neglect others. Asymmetric sides, and especially modular parts to a game’s setup and rules, appeal to Deques’s aesthetics.
Within our line, Deques’s favorite games would be Millennium Blades and Argent. He’s the kind of player who might design his own BattleCON fighter or Argent scenario. He loves the extra modes in BattleCON (though not as much the core gameplay), and enjoys setting up the timeline in Temporal Odyssey, or building a cube in Pixel Tactics.
Shur - Developer
As a competitive player, Shur plays games to win, but winning isn’t her ultimate goal. For Shur, winning is the proof that she’s achieved her actual goal: Mastery. The developer player wants to dig into the systems and understand them completely in order to experience high-level competition. This competition isn’t a struggle for supremacy–it’s a testing of theory, understanding, and tactical skills.
Shur considers the game’s balance as a code to unravel, and she leverages her creativity to crack that code. She is the kind of player who prints her own reference cards for game content, writes long strategy articles, or analyzes matchups and card relationships. She may even create a database or spreadsheet to analyze cards statistically and study optimal plays. She isn’t afraid of sharing these things with others who seek mastery–she welcomes the challenge and hopes that more people will embrace the search.
To appeal to Shur, a game needs strong balance and a variety of viable play strategies. If mastery is achieved too easily, the game will bore her. If it is gated by random elements or other factors beyond her control, the game will lose her interest. A game needs simple systems that are easy to see and latch on to in order to pique her initial interest. It needs to keep revealing more depth under extended scrutiny to hold it. A game needs to continuously present content or challenges to test and expand her skills. Luckily in competitive games, the supply of challenges comes in the form of new rivals, which are effectively endless as long as the game boasts a strong community. However, Shur doesn’t really care if a game is competitive or cooperative as long as it challenges her to master and exploit its systems.
Within our line, Shur’s favorite games would be Exceed, BattleCON, Pixel Tactics, and Temporal Odyssey. In these games, players start with ‘fair’ fixed resources, and it is the choices they make, their skills, which determine the course of the game. It is possible to ‘get good’ at all of these games, and it requires her to acquire and improve her skills, not acquire more cards.
Cardine - Discoverer
Cardine is fascinated to discover the worlds within games and unravel the secret stories that are contained in these worlds. Winning or losing is less important to Cardine than the other two types, because she plays a game to experience the world. When two fighters clash, she wants to know what circumstances must have brought them together.
Cardine channels her creativity to dig deeper into the world. She speculates on lore, draws fan art, writes fiction, and delves into the scenarios and situations hinted at in the game’s lore. She wants to know about the world and its little details because the story draws her in and she wants to become even more immersed in that fantasy. That’s not to say that she isn’t interested in the games themselves–the gameplay is the original window to explore the world, and she keeps returning to it for inspiration.
To appeal to Cardine, a game needs to have a deep lore, but one that is not revealed too explicitly, and which includes room for interpretation and speculation. The game needs to give her the tools to play out that lore. It has to then support that journey with flavor text, art, and flexibility of choice and strategy. Ideally, playing through the game in this way should create for her a unique experience, and should reveal to her something new about the game’s world.
Being able to get into the character of the game when playing is important to Cardine. When she plays an aggressive faction in a game, she feels a need to play them aggressively–even when it’s not the smartest move. Conversely, she’ll be upset if the ‘right’ way to play a particular fighter, card, or faction is out of step with its expressed lore.
Cardine doesn’t have favorite games, but instead, favorite worlds. In our lineup, the World of Indines and its persistent story excites her. The expanding, whimsical world of Millennium Blades engages her. The prospect of a new, deep world in Seventh Cross fills her with anticipation.
Morrey - Organizer
Morrey is a little different than the other archetypes in the way he interacts with games. As someone who is an experienced hand at games he has–in a sense–completed his own journey. Now, he is more concerned with bringing people together and enjoying their company and patronage. He enjoys watching other players improve their skills, explore their creativity, and delve into the lore of games. His passion is to bring a community together and enable others.
Morrey’s creativity is expressed in how he brings friends together. He may be the host of a game night, the owner of a store, the organizer of an event, or the judge of a tournament. In any case, he likes to see players come together and play. He experiences their triumphs, growth, and discovery vicariously. He’s excited to provide special rewards to those who participate, and endeavors to make each experience unique and rewarding. He may undertake it as his own task to create reference sheets for players, custom box inserts, player dashboards, or game organizers to enable easier play and better presentation.
To appeal to Morrey, a game needs to have qualities that inspire his players. When he organizes an event, players need to get interested in the game that they’re going to play. For this reason, the game needs to be exciting in its box, and inviting when set up on the table. It needs to be ergonomic–with clear, teachable rules and a simple setup and breakdown. A special promo or a new expansion are useful insofar as they excite his guests, but he would rather have organizer trays and a great unboxing experience than more content. And of course, anything that’s custom-made by the game’s creators for his event is a big win.
Morrey’s favorite games in our line are Millennium Blades and Argent, because he can turn these into a real event for his home game night. I suspect that he’s going to really enjoy Empyreal: Spells & Steam and Seventh Cross as well.
From a business side, he appreciates Exceed, BattleCON, Pixel Tactics, and Temporal Odyssey because he can bring the competitive players in his circles together in his shop and get extra content from the organized play program. Exceed is especially nice, since he can give out free demo decks to invite new players directly into the event.
There are plenty of ‘whys’ that aren’t expressed here. There are players that really play just to win. There are players that play to learn new skills or trivia. Some play just to meet people and engage in social activity. Some buy games more like art collectors than players. These motivations certainly exist–but they aren’t our targets.
Our focus is on making games and creating a welcoming experience for the creative gamer, as expressed in these four archetypes. There are a lot of game publishers out there serving other archetypes, and it’s not necessary for us to be all things to all players.
Likewise, many players outside of our four target archetypes will appreciate our games–when you design good games and good products, people will gravitate to them for a variety of reasons. This list just serves to give us a sense of direction when we need to make choices between two features or two products.
In creating and sharing these personas, I hope to give our team better guidance to understand who they’re making games for, how to speak to these fans, and how to anticipate reactions to the decisions we make in design, development, content creation, and marketing. Hopefully they’ve also resonated with you to some degree. Who do you see yourself as when you sit down to the table?