Revisiting the Strategy Genre Map: Age, Audience Homogeneity, and the Lasso Effect

By | 2016-10-17T20:02:32+00:00 March 23rd, 2016|Analytics, Video Games|12 Comments

We’re revisiting the Strategy genre map with some additional data overlays. If you’re a regular reader of our blog and familiar with our motivation data and how we generate these genre maps, feel free to skip the next 2 sections.

Data from the Gamer Motivation Profile

The Gamer Motivation Profile allows gamers to take a 5-minute survey to get a personalized report of their gaming motivations, and see how they compare with other gamers. Over 220,000 gamers worldwide have taken this survey. The 12 motivations that are measured in our model were identified via statistical analysis of how gaming motivations cluster together (based on data from 30,000 gamers).

Want to see how you compare with other gamers? Take a 5-minute survey and get your own Gamer Motivation Profile.

In the Gamer Motivation Profile, we also ask gamers to list some games they’ve enjoyed playing. This allows us to generate motivation profiles not only for individual gamers, but also for game titles. We do this by aggregating the motivation profiles from the gamers who listed that game as a game they enjoy.

From Gamers to Game Titles

Our working assumption is that the core audience a game manages to attract provides the best proxy score for the game as a whole. A game with a good elaborate narrative will generally attract gamers who are interested in elaborate narratives. And a game might try to do many things at once, but its core audience will reveal whether only certain aspects of the game were playable and appealing. Certainly, the top 1% most hardcore gamers of any game (on any dimension) will play it in a dramatically different way from everyone else, but we would argue that a game’s core audience is most representative of what a game is about.

The core audience a game manages to attract provides the best proxy score for the game as a whole.

For our Strategy genre map, we started with Civilization and StarCraft as the seeds, and then we used our data to identify the games most frequently mentioned by players who enjoyed one of these two franchises. The result was a list of game franchises (e.g., Europa Universalis) and game titles (e.g, League of Legends).

The Revised Strategy Genre Map

We first plotted out this Strategy genre map back in January. The data underlying the current map is different in 2 ways. First, we now have data from over 220,000 gamers (compared with 140,000 in January). And second, we’re plotting data from our full data set (compared with the January map that only included North America and EU gamers).

Strategy Genre Map (Better Labels)

Along the x-axis is Strategy (the appeal of thinking, planning ahead, and making complex decisions). And along the y-axis is Excitement (the appeal of fast-paced gameplay with lots of thrills and surprises). Here’s a handy reference chart for all 12 motivations we measure in our model.

Keep in mind that we’ve “zoomed in” on the Strategy corner of a much larger game space. In other words, there is a lot of empty space that has been cropped out on the lower end of Strategy. The positioning of games on this map is all relative to the Strategy genre.

Keep in mind that we’ve “zoomed in” on the Strategy corner of a much larger game space.

Compared with our earlier map, the positioning of games is largely consistent. We see the 4X and Grand Strategy games in the lower right corner of the map, the old-school RTS games in the middle of the map, and the fast-paced MOBAs in the upper left corner. In case you’re wondering why Counter-Strike is in this map at all, it got dragged in via StarCraft as one of the seeds. We decided to keep it because it’s a good anchor for that upper left corner of the map.

The Cognitive Threshold in Strategy Games

We’ve previously described and discussed the implied cognitive threshold in this genre map, so we won’t go over it again here except only to show the estimated threshold on this revised map.

Strategy Genre Map (Overlay)

The Faster-Paced the Game, The Younger the Audience

Onwards with the data overlays. We’re going to take this Strategy genre map, and overlay a variety of different variables on top of it. First up is age. For each game audience, we also have their demographic data via the surveys. In the chart below, we’re overlaying the median age of each game’s audience as the color of each dot.

Strategy Genre Map (Median Age)

Younger audiences have a lighter blue dot. Older audiences have a darker blue dot. In our data, fast-paced competitive games like Counter-Strike, League of Legends, and DotA have the youngest audiences. On the other hand, turn-based or pause-able games like SimCity, Transport Tycoon, and Civilization have the oldest audiences.

One overall trend is that the lighter dots tend to be in the upper portion of the map, and the dots tend to darken as you move downwards. It turns out that within this Strategy genre space, a game’s Excitement score is strongly negatively correlated with its median age (r = -.70). Europa Universalis is a noticeable outlier. Given its low Excitement score, it ought to have a much older audience, but its median age is slightly below average.

A game’s Excitement score is strongly negatively correlated with its median age.

One potential confound is the generational cohort effect on this map. Some of the games with older audiences are also older franchises. On the other hand, games like Counter-Strike also have a long franchise history, but its median age wasn’t impacted by any apparent generational cohort effect.

Gender Did Not Align with Either Axis

Our next overlay is the % of each audience that identified as male. We did provide a non-binary response option in the survey, but only ~1% of respondents checked the non-binary option, and thus even in games with a sample size of ~1000, the variance is too high to be reliable.

Strategy Genre Map (Male Percentage)

In this set of games, the average % male was right around 90%. Dots that are blue have a higher % of male gamers than this genre average. Dots that are green have a higher % of female gamers than the genre average.

One note on RollerCoaster Tycoon. It was an outlier in terms of % male (at 72%). To avoid having this one dot skew the color gradient, we excluded it from the gradient (and thus, it’s gray in the chart).

We didn’t see any obvious trends with this data overlay. The games with the highest % of male gamers (Football Manager, Total War, and Europa Universalis) are in roughly the same area as the games with the highest % of female gamers (RollerCoaster Tycoon, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Cities: Skylines). One possible explanation is that the spread we’re seeing is more an artifact of marketing/game culture rather than inherent motivational appeal of these games.

World of Tanks Has Remarkably Broad Age Appeal

In addition to median age, we also looked at the standard deviation of age for each game audience. This provides a sense of the age range that a game is able to appeal to.

Strategy Genre Map (SD Age)

Dots that are lighter blue appeal to a narrower age range, while darker blue dots appeal to a broader age range. The clear outlier in this chart is World of Tanks. Given the area of the map it is located in, we would have expected a youngish audience with a relatively narrow age appeal. Instead, it has the broadest age appeal of any game in our genre map (with a standard deviation of 10.3).

The clear outlier in this chart is World of Tanks.

The Lasso Effect of Deep Strategy

The standard deviation of age provides a sense of how homogenous a game audience is in terms of age. We can also use standard deviation to get a sense of how homogenous a game audience is in terms of their motivation profiles. To do this, we calculated the average standard deviation across the 12 motivations for each game audience.

Strategy Genre Map (SD Mot)

Dots that are lighter blue have a narrower motivation profile (i.e., a more homogenous audience), while dots that are darker blue have a broader motivation profile (i.e., a more varied audience).

There are 2 major trends in this map. First, games along the rising diagonal (where the pacing of the game matches its strategic complexity) tend to have more varied audiences. And second, games that score high on Strategy tend to have far more homogenous audiences and attract gamers with very similar motivation profiles.

Games that score high on Strategy have far more homogenous audiences.

Notice that high Excitement doesn’t have this “lasso” effect. Games with high Excitement don’t limit motivation profiles to the extent that high Strategy does. This implies that beyond a certain Strategic complexity, games begin to only appeal to a very specific kind of gamer (that don’t vary much even on other motivation factors).

The game with the most homogenous audience was Kerbal Space Program. I was surprised at this (Nic Ducheneaut was not surprised). I always assumed there was a sizeable cohort of gamers who played KSP as an open sandbox, but the data suggests that a strategic campaign approach is the dominant playstyle for KSP.

Did You Spot Something in These Maps That We Didn’t?

Nic and I spent some time yesterday looking over these maps in the office, but leave us a comment if you spot any interesting patterns or trends that we may not have picked up on.

Leave a comment if you spot any other interesting trends or patterns in the map overlays.

About the Author:

Nick is the co-founder and analytics lead of Quantic Foundry. He combines social science and data science to understand gamer behavior in large-scale game data.

12 Comments

  1. Ben March 23, 2016 at 11:30 am - Reply

    I wonder if you had access to APM (Actions per minute) data for each of these games, how that would line in a 3D graph with excitement and strategy. XCOM, for example, has a lot of excitement because of the planning and cinematic components, but I imagine is relatively low in APM because it’s turned based. Just something to ponder.

    • Nick Yee March 23, 2016 at 11:53 am - Reply

      Definitely. Even though it is turn-based, XCOM has a lot of surprise elements (critical shots, cinematics) that bump it up higher in terms of Excitement than other turn-based games.

      It’d be cool to have APM data as well like you mentioned.

  2. Kaiser March 23, 2016 at 12:22 pm - Reply

    Still no EVE Online…

    • Nick Yee March 23, 2016 at 12:37 pm - Reply

      We’re working on a genre map for MMOs. EVE Online is probably a better fit there.

      • Shawn March 26, 2016 at 6:22 pm

        Can’t wait for this! Would also love to see you guys publish some stuff on VR experiences in a few months once the headsets start shipping.

  3. Powers March 23, 2016 at 1:35 pm - Reply

    I’m surprised RCT is so low on the strategy scale.

    • Nick Yee March 23, 2016 at 1:44 pm - Reply

      I think it’s because there’s likely a sizable subgroup that takes a more sandbox/design approach to RCT, where they care more about creating cool-looking rollercoasters, or dangerous rollercoasters, rather than optimizing the theme park income/flow. So these subgroups lower the overall Strategy score.

      The last chart seems to support this idea. RCT has the broadest motivation appeal among the games in the chart. I think the comparison with Kerbal is interesting. I thought Kerbal would be in the same boat, but RCT is the one that is more playable and enjoyable for people with different motivations.

  4. Report: MOBAs Skew Young, But World Of Tanks Has Broad Age Appeal – MMOBomb.com March 24, 2016 at 10:25 am - Reply

    […] Other findings from the survey indicate that the games are almost overwhelmingly skewed toward male players, which doesn’t seem too surprising, and that higher-strategy games tend to have similar audiences when all the factors Quantic Foundry surveyed for were taken into account. You can read the full report here. […]

  5. Alex April 4, 2016 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    For Warcraft what games was exactly used ? Older games from 90’s or something like mediane between all RTS Warcraft’s ?

    • Nick Yee April 4, 2016 at 2:34 pm - Reply

      Hi Alex – For this map, it’s the latter. For each of these franchises, we took all the mentions of games within the franchise and calculated the scores for that aggregate. In many of the cases, gamers referred to the franchise as a whole when listing it as a favorite (e.g., “Civ series”).

      Note that we’ve done these maps the other way, by breaking up each dot as its specific game title. For example, see what we did in the Open World maps (http://quanticfoundry.com/2016/02/24/open-world-genre-map/). Oftentimes, games in the same franchise get very similar scores (even though that data comes different sets of gamers), so sometimes the franchise-level dots provides more visual cleanliness (e.g., when the mass effect games overlap in the Open World maps).

  6. David Galiel May 1, 2016 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    How does this revision impact the 3 bands of “fun” that you previously defined, based on distance from the cognitive threshold? Is that still a useful distinction?

    • Nick Yee May 1, 2016 at 8:07 pm - Reply

      Hi David – I think so. All the games are roughly in the same place as they were before. It’s mainly RollerCoaster Tycoon that is a bit more of an outlier than before (and stretching the map a little). But the relative distance between the games and the cognitive threshold hasn’t changed much, and I think the bands of “fun” (as a proxy of the cognitive demands of a game) is still a useful concept for this space.

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