GameStop and Bartle Player Types

GameStop and Bartle Player Types

I've written in the past that I'm very interested in Game Design as a lens for Product Design and a trend we will see really catch on in the coming years. Now that it's mostly over I thought it would be fun to look at the GameStop trade under such a lens - since a big chunk of the meta-narrative was that people were playing a game.

Bartle Types are a popular way to segment players according to how they behave in a virtual world. It was first introduced by Richard Bartle about behaviors observed in Multi User Dungeons (MUDs) in the 1990's. Critics have said it's a bit too simple and falls apart outside of MUDs, and other heuristics have been offered up since, but I like Bartle Types for their simplicity so let's roll with that.

There are four Bartle Types and they map across a 2x2 matrix with one dimension around whether the player is acting or interacting and the other dimension is whether this (inter)action is upon the World or Other Players. The diagram is below:

Let's dive into the Bartle Types and examine who in the GameStonk trade maps where.

The Killers - The Late Squeezers, Sharks, and Grifters

Killers are players who act on other players in the game. More than anything they want to beat other players. Killers have a bad name, a bad rep, but they don't have to be awful. Many games or game modes are designed specifically for them. In games that are not designed for killers, they can be really fucking annoying. Social Platforms for example are not games designed for killers, so they end up becoming trolls.

I was torn on who in the GameStonk story to include as Killers. They are the most interesting segment in this analysis. Recency bias could initially lead you to include u/DeepFuckingValue, and u/RoaringKitty in here, but in reality their initial theses were broader and not targeting specific players, even if short interest was part of the thesis. The Killers in this story were the late arrivers - the traders, politicians, institutions who showed up when they saw blood in the water.

On the trading side, when it was apparent that the Gamma Squeeze was on, and a few big funds were on the wrong side of it, many players entered the trade to play the unwind of the other players. Thats Killer shit right there. Some of these players were on WSB, but others were professional assassins. In fact the players who are not being discussed enough are the Hedge Funds who swarmed this trade like sharks.

On Wednesday and Thursday a new group of Killers showed up. These I call the Grifters. They saw an organized pool of capital, potential customers, or potential voters or donors and tried to stir them up, capture them, or drive them to a competing product. This is best seen through how everyone reacted to Robinhood's trading limits on Thursday but was going on well before it.

The Achievers - u/DeepFuckingValue, u/RoaringKitty, Robinhood, Melvin Capital

Achievers act upon the world. They want to beat the game, and very much operate within the rules based world they are playing with. They are the ones who are getting Platinums on PS4 or the high score on the Pacman machine at the dive bar.

In the GameStonk trade, on set of Achievers were u/DeepFuckingValue and u/RoaringKitty. They set out to win the trade and obsessively updated everyone on the progress daily. They didn't set out to go after Melvin Capital or Robinhood per se they just wanted to make money.

You can also look at Robinhood and Melvin Capital under the same lens. Robinhood wants to win the game of retail brokerage and signed up all their users up for Margin accounts in order to reduce the friction. They may still win this game, but last week saw a hole this strategy. Similar to Melvin Capital in their quest to dominate the Hedge Fund world.

The Explorers - YOLO Traders and Your Friend Who Texted You

Explorers interact with the game world. They get a ton of intrinsic value for just discovering things within the world and are not necessarily concerned with extrinstic motivators such as points, badges, or scores. They enjoy the ride.

In terms of GameStonk there is no better example of an Explorer than a YOLO trader. Saying "Fuck it. Let's see what happens" is textbook Explorer behavior. They got into GameStop because it was interesting and seemed like fun. Same goes for your friend who texted you about it or that person on Twitter who couldn't look away from the story. Maybe they weren't in the trade but they got emotionally involved in following it. This group and the Socializers are what really made this story interesting.

The Socializers - r/WSB, FinTwit, Stocktwits, Discords, etc

Socializers just want to interact with other players in the virtual world. They are there for the community, camaraderie, and connection. Farmville, Animal Crossing, and many Mobile Games are Socializer friendly. The Social Platforms themselves are obviously big games for them.

Obviously the r/wallstreetbets community are the Socializers in the GameStonk trade and this could be expanded to any social platform that caters to players who were involved and seeking likeminded people to talk about it with.

One Last Thought

The obsession over GameStop was odd to say the least. In terms of trading, Killers and Achievers are historically fairly dominant player types. In the last few years it's been the emergence of Explorers and Socializers that have made things more interesting as I think they represent the biggest potential group of people who haven't really converted to Investing in any aspect beyond their 401k plan - whether that be Vanguard or Robinhood.

Before r/wallstreetbets, r/investing was the default subreddit and it basically all amounted to posts that were like "Do you think $XYZ is a buy here" with a deep comment thread ripping into the OP about why Vanguard indexing is the only way to go. This is generally good advice, but not optimal behavior to draw more people into the game. It made for a really boring community, and ushered in an opportunity for WSB to exist. Explorers are going to Explore, Socializers are going to Socialize and the investing industry needs to find ways to engage them without them getting torn apart by the Killers.