I wrote an article for this year's WyrdCon academic book, and it just got published online.http://wyrdcon.com/2011/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/100-copies-AcademicBook.pdf
My article is called "Analyzing Player Motives to Inform LARP Design". In it I identify 16 player motives that can be observed through indicative behaviors and offer suggestions about how to satisfy those motives.
A big part of the goal is to get more granular and detailed than the 3-4 play styles that are generally discussed in design theory. I don't find them nearly specific enough to be useful, especially when designing for large groups with mixed interests.
As a quick reference, this is the list of motives I presented, though I ask that those interested in giving feedback please take the time to read through the article rather than only responding to this list and to the discussion in the thread.
1. Audience - Experience a satisfying narrative.
2. Catharsis - Experience emotions through the character.
3. Comprehension - Figure things out. Solve problems and puzzles.
4. Competition - Win at something, or at least enjoy the act of competing.
5. Crafting - Create non-ephemeral things (costumes, props, documents, etc.).
6. Education – Take away new knowledge or understanding as a player.
7. Embodiment –Make decisions based on character background, knowledge, and motivation.
8. Exercise - Enjoy physical activity and movement.
9. Exploration - Experience the fictional setting.
10. Exhibition - Show off (costumes, props, acting chops, mad skillz, etc.) and get kudos.
11. Fellowship - Enjoy time with friends (also includes flirting and such).
12. Flow – Enjoy losing oneself in the moment.
13. Leadership - Be important to the player community.
14. Protagonist - Be important to the story and impact the game world.
15. Spectacle - Experience the awesome stuff (pretty costumes, elaborate sets, funny NPCs, etc.)
16. Versatility – Collect important things (spells, lore, favors, etc.) and have the right thing at the right time.
So, Story Games folks, do the concepts in this article seem helpful? Do the categorizations and the suggestions seem valid? Have I missed hugely important things that seem obvious to you?
I know that some of the motives, obviously, focus heavily on larping and some on live combat larp specifically. I don't expect tabletop folks to get much out of the discussion of the Exercise motive, for example. But I think a lot of the concepts can be a helpful aid to clear analysis and design discussion across both tabletop and live roleplay.
Plus, I think that the more granular analysis aids in recognizing the legitimacy of various motives, even when they may not be high on one person's list. When you're just looking at 3-4 play styles, it's easy to say "that's the one that's most like me, so the other ones are all full of stuff I'm not interested in". But when you have a list of 16 things, each individual is going to have a very different list of the things they prioritize higher than others - plus, it's easier to recognize that sometimes you prioritize one way while other times you prioritize differently.
(Edited the title to take out "LARP", in hopes that fewer people ignore it that way)