What motivates gamers? How do these motivations correlate to personality traits? What impact do age and gender have? At Quantic Foundry, we combine social science with data science to answer these questions. As you’ll discover, the findings aren’t what you’d expect.
Introducing the research model
Using factor analysis, a technique used in psychology research, we were able to identify how variables of gamer motivations cluster together, and what their underlying structures are. We extracted gamer motivations presented in academic and industry literature, and generated about 50 questions for a survey, such as ‘how much do you enjoy games with elaborate storylines?’, and ‘how important is it for you to play a game at the highest difficulty setting?’.
Starting with a panel of 600 gamers to create a good enough model, we then created an online app. Gamers could come, take a five minute survey, and get a personalized report of their gaming motivations, relative to the gamers in our sample.
We optimized the process, changing items until a robust model emerged. The first version of this tool was released in June 2015 and in the first wave we surveyed about 30,000 gamers. As of 2019, over 400,000 gamers have taken our profile test, mainly from North America and western Europe, as well as sizeable samples from South-East Asia and South America.
The 12 motivations, 6 pairs, and 3 clusters
Collecting this data enabled us to identify 12 unique motivations, which we then split up into six pairs according to how correlated the unique motivations were to each other. We then assigned overall category labels to the pairs like Action or Creativity.
Meanwhile, the map below visualizes the relationship between each motivation, using multidimensional scaling. It shows there are three clusters of gamers, which were consistent in all the geos we tested, split as follows: bottom left is Immersion-Creativity, bottom right is Action-Social, and Mastery-Achievement is shown at the top.
The distances between each motivation are based on their correlation with each other. As you can see, there are two motivations that are on the edge, almost forming bridges between the clusters. ‘Discovery’ is the bridge between Immersion-Creativity and Mastery-Achievement, and ‘Power’ bridges Mastery-Achievement and Action-Social. From a developer’s standpoint then, leveraging these ‘bridge motivations’ in their gameplay could widen their audience by appealing to two ‘clusters’ of gamers.
The personality link
Fascinatingly, we found that the 3 main clusters of game motivations correlate to well-known personality traits in psychological research.
- The Action-Social cluster of motivations is an expression of extraversion in a gameplay context. In other words, people who score high on extraversion also tend to be thrill-seekers in games they play, and enjoy competition and social interaction.
- Openness and curiosity strongly correlate with the Immersion-Creativity cluster.
- Conscientiousness, organization, and self-discipline match the long-term thinking of the Mastery-Achievement group.
Escaping the paradigm
The widespread narrative that gaming is escapist, that it enables people to pretend to be something they’re not, is the antithesis of the picture painted by our data. Instead, games can be seen as a kind of identity management tool; gamers gravitate towards the gameplay that aligns with their core personality traits. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say video games help us become more of who we really are.
Breaking down the data into demographics also provided some interesting findings. At first, we found that gender differences align with stereotypes: the primary motivations for women were more likely to be fantasy, design, and completion, whereas for men, destruction, competition, strategy, and challenge were the most likely. However, after digging deeper, we discovered that age differences were far more influential than gender.
We focused on the motivation that had the greatest gender difference — competition — to highlight the impact of age. As the graph shows, gender difference fades with age: past age 45, there’s virtually no difference between male and female gamers’ desire for competition. Perhaps most interesting is the size of the gap between the youngest and oldest men.
Quantifying this difference, here age actually accounts for twice the variance than gender does, and in terms of their scores for competition motivation, there’s an 87% gender overlap, suggesting the impact of gender on competition is less than one might expect. In the gaming industry, there’s much debate about the differences between men and women, and what games for women might look like, but in fact, these findings show we should divert our attention to age.