Wednesday, October 21, 2015

against "timmy, johnny, and spike"

pt i: introduction

For a long time, being A Johnny was an important part of my Magical identity. As I got older, my Spike side showed itself more, as I got over my disinclination to play decks made by other people. My desire to build cool decks faded compared to a desire to play cool decks, regardless of whether I had made them.

But it was a long time after that before I started questioning the underlying model of the Timmy, Johnny, and Spike psychographics. They’re not useful for understanding the game.[1]

[1] They are, however, useful for erotic Mark Rosewater fanfiction.

This essay is going to have a lot of quoting Mr. Mark Rosewater, because it’s fundamentally about his ideas, so bear with me, for we are entering the land of Block Quotes.

Let’s hand it over to 2002 Rosewater to introduce the concept:

After numerous years, we’ve come to the conclusion that there are three basic types of Magic players. The fancy term for these categories is "psychographic profiles." A psychographic profile separates players into categories based on their psychological make-up. What motivates that player to play? What kind of cards do they like? What kind of things encourages that player to keep on playing?

You’ll note, here, that Rosewater doesn’t define what, exactly, a psychographic is. This can be forgiven, since it’s a slippery concept and definitions are almost always contestable and inexact, but I’ll cite the first one that came up in a Google search, because that’s the kind of research I’m comfortable with:

The study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.

Psychographics, as the name implies, are the psychological equivalent of demographics. Demographics are the objective measures of a customer base, things like age, gender, race, and location. Psychographics are internal things that can be measured only inexactly.

Let’s go to 2012 Rosewater, via his podcast, to tell us how he came upon the concept:

So let’s start by saying “What are psychographics? And where do they come from?” Because one of the things I always said is that when I got to R&D, that R&D was very based on math. That most of the people who were working on it—Richard, Skaff, and Jim, all those people were math people. They had studied math. And that the game had a lot of math influence on the way it was created.  And I kind of brought psychology to the picture. One of my lines is that I kind of shifted R&D’s thought processes from math to psychology. And so let’s talk about sort of what psychographics mean and how they impact what we do.

Now, part of being in the school was until you declared a major and stuff, you had to take stuff from all three parts of the school. So I had to take classes in journalism. I had to take classes in advertising. And in advertising, I learned about a thing called a psychographic. What is a psychographic? Well, the idea is, if I’m going to sell you something, I need to understand why you need the thing.

As far as layperson explanations of psychographics go, that last sentence is actually a pretty good one. He’ll deviate from it, as we’ll see, but the foundation is there.

The issues start to arise when we look at from where he gains the concept: he learned about it in one college class in 1985. In the origin story of Timmy, he talks about the creation of Verdant Force, which occured somewhere around 1996. The full TJS model was invented after that. Meaning: he’s taking a concept he remembers from over a decade earlier and importing it into Magic.

What I’m dancing around here is that Mark Rosewater has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

pt ii: the psychographics that aren’t

Rosewater didn’t really bring “psychology” into making Magic; at least, not the science known as psychology. I say this because psychographics are not a concept that is native to the field of psychology. This should be clear even to Mr. Rosewater: he didn’t learn about them in a psychology class, they’re from an advertising class. More aptly, they are an advertising concept with attempts at being somewhat psychology-based.

Also, psychographics cannot ever be the full picture of an audience. Their initial utility is not to provide the entire picture of customers; they were invented to go along with demographics. Wizards is obviously never going to release real demographic information, so anything that Rosewater or anyone else says about Magic’s psychographics is inherently incomplete. I’d be fascinated to read someone from the company write openly about Magic’s demographics, but I doubt they want to admit that Magic’s sales are mostly North America, almost entirely white, and almost entirely male.

This next argument is a big one: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike are not actually psychographics.

Psychographic profiles are portraits of the buyers of the good; Rosewater invisibly tries to shift this to “player psychographics.” Since psychographics are, as he correctly states, descriptions of “why you need the thing,” that thing being sealed Magic product, descriptions of how people use the thing and which subsets of the thing they most like are different than why they are buying the thing. As soon as “psychographic” attempts to describe anything other than the groups of people buying the product, it is not a psychographic.

The point of a psychographic is to try to understand the psychological motivation behind why a person enjoys what they enjoy.”

[2] He also starts referring to Timmy and Johnny intermittently and interchangeably as Tammy and Jenny, which makes reading his newest thoughts on the psychographics more headache-inducing and reread-necessitating than the second half of 100 Bullets.

This is not the point of a psychographic. He is just wrong. The point is why they buy what they buy; psychographics can easily be used for things that people can’t really be said to “enjoy,” like toilet cleaner, fiber supplements, or Joy Division.

Rosewater went into their origin stories (of the psychographics, not Joy Division), and their utility in describing certain facets of cards and their relationship to the players that would use them. This isn’t how psychographics actually are supposed to get created, which is dedicated research and moving forward from what the numbers say. Instead, TJS were created as vague profiles (with Johnny just to fill the void and make it a nice number three) by non-marketing-employed people.

While Rosewater will undoubtedly claim that market research has granted statistical validity to this psychographic model, it’s still working in the wrong direction. It was invented first, as a sort of thought exercise for designers, and everything that’s come after has been fleshing out and working backwards to try to justify it. If these concepts are based on marketing, and marketing is based on psychology, and psychology is science, then somewhere along the chain, we have lost all scientific validity. Science does not start out with a hypothesis that is assumed to be true, with anecdotes and data obtained to attempt to make the hypothesis seem truer.

Since I’m making the case that TJS aren’t really psychographic profiles, what would real ones be? I don’t know, because I haven’t done market research into who buys Magic cards. That puts me on equal footing to the inventors of the TJS model, because hard data didn’t influence the creation of that either.[3]

[3] If pressed to make guesses about what the results would be: the biggest group by a mile would probably be people buying product and opening it in order to sell singles (or otherwise make money off of it). This isn’t just huge retailers like StarCityGames and Card Kingdom, but also one-person eBay shops and people that think they can turn a profit buying product at retail price and then selling the cards. After that would be the casual pack busters that just like buying product to add to their collection, drafters, and people buying it as a gift for Magic players that they know. Please note that these are all reasons people buy packs, not what they do with the cards once bought.

pt iii: the personality test

Okay, one might say, so Timmy, Johnny, and Spike aren’t actually psychographics in the sense of how psychographics are created and used in advertising. So what? Isn’t this all solved if we just rename them “player profiles?” This would, as Rosewater wishes, exclude Vorthos and Mel.[4]

[4] It doesn’t take the most tinfoil hat among us to theorize that a main reason Rosewater wants to exclude Vorthos from the psychographics is that he didn’t invent Vorthos. 

What we have at this point is something closer to a personality quiz. Now, we’re on to something closer to the Meyers-Briggs test, but with all the scientific validity removed.

As any student of psychology (or self-identified “skeptic” who gets in very long internet arguments) will note, though, Meyers-Briggs isn’t on the soundest scientific footing itself. It was created not evidence-first and working backward, but on some vague theorizing from Jung and adapted by other people as a test to categorize people.

Timmy/Johnny/Spike has caught on as the predominant personality test for Magic players, along with color pie alignments.[5] Rather than merely being internal Wizards pseudo-marketing terms, once Rosewater explained them to the playerbase, people started self-identifying as one or more types. This was explicitly encouraged: when the articles debuted, the text itself was hidden behind a page that prompted a Magic personality test, with players asked to choose their favorite cards and reasons for playing.

[5] Color pie alignments are way more interesting, anyway, since they go so much deeper into motivation and are fairly balanced. They’re a million times better than Harry Potter houses, that’s for sure. By the way: mono-blue; Ravenclaw.

Even if these psychographics aren’t real psychographics, and their definitions have shifted over time… what’s the problem with using them as a fun quiz? If I’m a Spike, the thinking goes, it’s cool that someone has articulated that and explained how I’m a Spike.

One issue with this is the attempted psychological justification for why Magic players play in different ways, and care about different aspects of the game. As I said in the introduction, I’d certainly be classified as a Spike by this system. I can’t go to an evening cube draft without seriously attempting to win in the most efficient way, even if I’m hideously drunk at the time.[6]

[6] I was at a cube draft where a few proxies from the then-unreleased Battle for Zendikar were in the cube. I opened a pack and saw staring back at me, as the art on a proxy, the Facebook profile picture of my significant other. I was in the correct color to draft it. However, there was another card in the same pack with the same color, type, and mana cost that I thought was slightly better. So I drafted that instead.

Rosewater’s model explains that the reason I play Magic is to prove something. That’s just not why I play. My motivation doesn’t come from “showing what I’m capable of,” and I am certainly not going to have a bad time if I win nine out of ten games when I was capable of winning ten. I just simply think that Magic is the most fun when both players are drafting and playing in a way that reflects a sincere desire to win. I even play dumb games like Pokemon X in the same way, and I’m certainly not going to show off to a crowd of people my elite Battle Maison lineup. It’s just more fun, in my view, to try my best and be genuinely challenged.

What use is a personality test that sets out to explain my motivations for why I do what I do, but completely misses the mark? Am I a Timmy because I want to build decks for a dozen different formats, even if I’m trying my best to make optimal decks for all of them? The Timmy description is about “playing to have fun,” which sounds like me; I want to play the game that’s the most fun to play when approached with a competitive mindset. But that competitive nature completely goes against everything Timmy is about.

I don’t think these are nitpicks, or finding minute flaws with the descriptions of the archetypes. I think that the archetypes are arbitrarily made, nonsensically delineated, and describe players inadequately. Concepts like competitiveness, willingness to embrace new formats, wanting to do something huge in a game, valuing friendship and experiences over loss and victory, and desire to be unique are neither binary nor restricted to one player archetype. And no, the hybrid psychographics do not make up for this.

We are who we are, whether we’re playing Magic or doing anything else. One doesn’t become an entirely new person when they enter a card shop, just as people are still themselves when they’re at home or at work. Sure, it might bring out different aspects depending on what you’re doing, but there’s just no need for a Magic-specific personality test. Being a Spike at Magic means just as little as being a Spike in D&D or a Chaotic-Neutral Magic player or a White/Red OKCupid user[7] or a Dark/Grass musician.

[7] This budding relationship ended after three dates with the revelation that they had “a master” in another state.

pt iv: the re-definitions of timmy, johnny, and spike

Writing this essay against the concept of the psychographics is difficult, because each of them has changed over time since they were first invented; Rosewater issued clarifications and changes to his model that served to muddy the picture. The biggest change was from the 2002 to the 2006 version of these profiles. Let’s start with Timmy’s origin (2002 Rosewater quoting himself from the period around Tempest’s design):

“Imagine a kid goes into a game store. Let’s just call him… 'Timmy.' Now, Timmy doesn’t have a lot of money. So, he buys one pack of Bogavhati (Tempest’s codename). He rips it open and starts tearing through the cards to find the rare. And then he sees it. It’s a big green creature. Seven power. Seven toughness. It’s huge. Huge! He’s eyes keep moving. He glances up at the casting cost: 5GGG, blah, blah, blah. Boring. Move on. Timmy looks at the rules text. There’s a bunch of words. Timmy reads. Every turn Timmy gets another creature. Another entire creature. It’s small, but in ten turns, he’ll have twenty creatures. A 7/7 creature with twenty 1/1s. How does his opponent stop that? It can’t be stopped! Timmy finally exhales. He has found the Holy Grail.”[8]

Timmy is what we in R&D call the "power gamer." Timmy likes to win big. He doesn’t want to eke out a last minute victory. Timmy wants to smash his opponents. He likes his cards to be impressive, and he enjoys playing big creatures and big spells.

[8] Compare this quotation with what he recounts in the 2012 podcast, attempting to quote the exact same invention of Timmy:

“Well, you know, I think there’s a player out there. I’m going to call him Timmy. And you know what? When Timmy opens this pack, his eyes are going to bulge out, and he’s going to get really excited. And you know what? Timmy will be happy to put this in his deck. And when Timmy gets to cast it, he’ll be ecstatic. And when he gets to attack with it, he’ll be more ecstatic! And that this card isn’t for the tournament player, this card’s for Timmy.”

This tells me that Rosewater has internalized his revisionism; he sees the current incarnation of Timmy as the way it’s always been. This change in quotation reminds me of Rosewater’s famous article about the fallibility of memory, with the wonderfully executed concept that it was a “lost column” complete with out-of-date card art (and suitably Eastasia/Eurasia updates to the archive listings). 

Compare that with Timmy’s description in 2006:

Timmy wants to experience something. Timmy plays Magic because he enjoys the feeling he gets when he plays. What that feeling is will vary from Timmy to Timmy, but what all Timmies have in common is that they enjoy the visceral experience of playing.

One of the great myths about Timmy is that he is young and inexperienced. I think this comes from the fact that a non-Timmy (particularly a Spike) looking at a Timmy play reads his choices as those of inexperience.

One of the stereotypes of Timmy is that he (or she; for the rest of this column just add “or she” whenever you see “he”) loves playing big creatures and big spells as he smashes his way to victory (my last column on Timmy really reinforced this image). This isn't true for all Timmies[...]

Mr. Rosewater does his readers a disservice when he talks about a “stereotype” passively existing for this profile that he, himself, created. He says that his last column “reinforced” the image, when there wasn’t any image before that column existed; he explicitly said that Timmies are power gamers, period. As far as the stereotype that they’re young and inexperienced, this seems innate to the profile from its inception: the name Timmy purposefully invokes childishness. Rosewater specifically calls him a kid that doesn’t have much money.

Basically: Rosewater invented the profile of the child who’s not very experienced, and then only later does he shift the definition from a person who knows very little about Magic to someone who likes raw power from his cards, and from that to someone who wants to “experience” something.

If we accept the introductory story as what a Timmy really is, then it’s very possible that this player wouldn’t even fit under the current profile of Timmy: what I see here is a player who wants to smash his opponents with his unstoppable, overpowered card; he simply doesn’t know enough about the game to understand that his eight-mana creature that gives him another creature every turn is, in fact, quite stoppable.

This is not a trivial distinction. There is a big difference between the newer player (who might be a small child) whose best attempt at winning games of Magic is with Verdant Force, versus a player who doesn’t want to win games of Magic as much as they just want to play their Verdant Force. One of these definitions looks at Timmy’s profile as a phase, something that all players go through, and the latter as something innate to the player.

Personally, I find the initial conception of Timmy as the most relatable. Not because the later definitions don’t describe certain people, but because I certainly remember being there, tearing my hair out that my friend’s Thorn Elemental was the best card ever printed, hunting through cards before stumbling upon Bribery. I could very easily have been the Timmy that spent his allowance on packs, and I would have been delighted at that time to get a Verdant Force.

I’d summarize the definitions of Timmy as:

Creation myth (circa 1996): Timmy as young player who thinks big cards are unstoppable.

2002 TJS: Timmy as power gamer.

2006 TJS: Timmy as player who wants to experience something.

By the time we get to 2006, some of the examples of Timmy are so far away from the 1996 or 2002 concepts as to be completely unrecognizable.

Due to its modular design and fanatical following, Magic has many different deck types and formats. Diversity Gamer Timmy wants to experience it all. Fun for him is this constant exploration. Each time he plays, he wants to try something different than what he did before. Yes, he occasionally returns to things he's done before, but only as a breather before he leaps once again into the great unknown.

This sort of change is perhaps even more obvious in the evolution of Spike. 2002:

You see for years, R&D just called them Timmy, Johnny, and "the tournament player." But at some point we explained the three profiles to the Magic brand team. They felt the tournament player needed a name, so they named him. Why "Spike?" The best I’ve been able to figure out is they felt Spike sounded like a serious, play-to-win-type name.

Spike is the competitive player. Spike plays to win. Spike enjoys winning. To accomplish this, Spike will play whatever the best deck is. Spike will copy decks off the Internet. Spike will borrow other players’ decks. To Spike, the thrill of Magic is the adrenalin rush of competition. Spike enjoys the stimulation of outplaying the opponent and the glory of victory.


...and yes, there are Spikes outside of the tournament environment…
The last thing I want to stress before I move on is that Spikes are neither limited to organized play nor are necessarily good. There are Spikes who play casually.


Now, you can be a Spike in collecting. You can be a Spike in story. You can be a Spike in whatever aspect you want, the key is you need to dominate in that area and show “Look what I can do. Look how I’m able to excel in this area.” Now, for most Spikes, that is understanding the game.
The definition of “tournament player” has shifted so much that it’s been redefined to include players who don’t play tournaments[9] and might not even play Magic. But doesn’t that contradict the idea that these are “player psychographics,” then? If Vorthos and Mel are excluded because of how they appreciate the game, then why isn’t Spike excluded because he appreciates Magic in a competitive way?

[9] Granted, one could make a “you can take the player out of the tournament…” type argument to say that they’re still tournament-type players even if they play casually, and anyone who’s ever been around people that are very serious about cube draft has seen this, but this archetype is, in my experience, exclusively people who were regulars of the PTQ/GP circuit but fell out of the lifestyle. 

pt v: conclusion
There is, of course, no way for a community to instantly un-learn a concept or the resulting terms from it. I’m not going to be outraged when people refer to a decision as having a Timmy moment, or if they think of themselves as Spikes.
What I would ask, though, is some skepticism on the part of the community toward this model. It’ll be tough, since it’s fairly entrenched already, but when Rosewater talks broadly about “Jennies will love this card,”[10] please don’t take it as a certainty that Johnnies even exist, let alone whether they’ll like that card.

[10] See what I mean?

You are not beholden to these archetypes. If you think of yourself as a competitive person, as I do, then please use that to describe yourself. Magic has so many wonderful ways to describe what we like about the game, and the ways we play it. Vague models like these profiles are malleable, full of sub-archetypes that overlap with one another, hybrids, and people that oscillate wildly between multiple pillars because the model doesn’t actually do anything effectively.

Like the borders between countries, there are a few things that really do separate some people from others, but often, it’s just an arbitrary line in the sand.
Magic as a hobby is so enormous, so full of history and culture independent of whatever Wizards releases next, that there’s no need for us to bow to the wisdom of the Wizards thinking and align ourselves with them. When people buy into a Wizards model of player behavior, even using it to self-categorize, it serves to make our thinking and our way of speaking just that little bit closer to how Wizards is.

But Magic players aren’t Wizards employees. Why bother trying to act like we are?


Dan Felder said...


You might want to re-read your stuff at least a little before posting. Even in your own argument about what psychographics aren't, you managed to forget your own definition you slapped in from google. Since you clearly didn't read your own article, here's the definition you imported.

"The study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research."
-Unattributed Google Quote You Included

Now let's see what this part says..

"As soon as “psychographic” attempts to describe anything other than the groups of people buying the product, it is not a psychographic."
-From This Article

Fascinating. I wonder where that came from.

While it's fun to watch someone argue the opposite of conventional wisdom, and can even be quite useful for the devil's advocate, please at least try to be internally coherent even if you can't manage external coherency.

Aaron Jacobson said...

Hey, I just wanted to say I appreciate your work. I find everything you post to be at the least entertaining, and many times truly thought provoking. I dig the critique of TJS, and the time I spent reading it along with all the posts on reddit.

Dire Penguin said...

lmao "conventional wisdom".

Thomas Fritz said...

Trying to explain to people that these profiles aren't important is like trying to explain to the general public that their zodiac sign horoscopes aren't real. But in the end, it just doesn't matter.

Robbi Ramirez said...

The only issue I would like to see addressed here is the reason these metrics exist in the first place: to enable R&D to build cards and sets with an eye toward what is going to appeal to which types of players. That's why he adapted marketing tools to this situation in the first place. They want every product they put out to have something for everyone. I'm not saying that the TJS-VM paradigm is the best way to do that, but I do think "how well does this enable R&D to build sets around pleasing the most people" is a rubric we should be evaluating these things by. Ultimately, that is their purpose.

Robbi Ramirez said...

Yes, I do realize I am talking exactly like a Wizards employee.

gregtron said...

Did you the internet turn you into an asshole or is it like an environmental exposure thing?

Unknown said...

I loooove systems that categorize people in pseudo-psychological terms, no matter how BS they are. It just pushes some button in me. So the fact that even *I* have always found TJS virtually worthless says something.

I appreciated this in-depth look at the topic. I'd be curious to hear you zoom out and look at why people are drawn to systems like TJS to begin with.

It clearly isn't just me alone on this one. As you mentioned, people even try to pick among the Harry Potter houses for identity (and I'm the only Hufflepuff in the world, since no one else wants to be). Or they choose sides in Game of Thrones, where I'm like, "Screw it, these are all terrible people. None of them should get to rule, and they're all the same anyway. I'm TeamHodor."

Why do we do this? I have a suspicion it's more prevalent among nerds, but I don't think it exists only there. (Or maybe nerds just tend to be more familiar with multiple systems, whereas someone less intellectually obsessed is content to identify as a Red Sox fan and call it good.) Anyway, in this case, I see players' identification with TJS as an extension of a larger question, and I want to hear more!

As always, in general, keep up the good work.

Unknown said...

Allow me to rephrase what I just read:

Maro: "Here is an example of a dog [Timmy]. It is small with long, fluffy white fur. [He is a power gamer]."
Maro (later): "Here is an example of a dog [Timmy]. It is large with short, golden fur. [He wants to experience something]"
Both of these descriptions of a dog [Timmy] are different, so therefore Maro doesn't know what he is talking about.

Robbi Ramirez said...

Yes, "Timmy is inexperienced and wants to play big huge stuff because he doesn't see their weaknesses" contradicts "Timmy is any player of any skill level whose priority is doing Cool Stuff."

Brainsickhater said...

I'm sorry you get so much shit, your articles are great

Eli Kaplan said...

Mark Rosewater likes to borrow from many different fields, but is not necessarily able to apply the professional standards that people in those fields use to validate and defend their premises. Showing how he is inconsistent in both his theses and his methodology doesn't mean that his premises are inherently useless, but they do allow people who do know more about the sampled fields' standards to make highly valid criticisms.

Epistemology isn't for everyone, but it is essential in critical discourse.

Unknown said...

I actually think the modern interpretation of Timmy/Johnny/Spike (Fun/Self Expression/Accomplishment) is actually an excellent way explaining why people play universally any game. However, it's pretty silly to assign these very broad motivations to certain types of people or playstyles.

Aston said...

Show us the Battle Maison team

Injygo said...

Seconding the Battle Maison request.

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