The super short version: We generated an initial inventory based on a literature review of existing models, tested it with 1,127 gamers, validated it with another 600 gamers, and used factor analysis to identify 5 groups of motivations.
If you’re a gamer and haven’t taken the Gamer Motivation Profile yet, consider doing so before reading about the model.
People play video games for different reasons. I love the logic puzzles in Professor Layton, but I wish there were a way to completely turn off the story. I love the depth and complexity in grand strategy games like Europa Universalis IV, but I’ll also happily grind my time away in casual games like Story of Seasons because I like the sense of constantly making progress. I liked soloing in World of Warcraft and leveling up, and would only grudgingly group up to get better gear from dungeon runs.
I think most gamers, from their own gameplay experiences and playing with others online, have some folk taxonomy of some of these gameplay preferences. And we have labels for some of these preferences: “griefers” or “min-maxers”. Over the past two decades, academic researchers and game developers have proposed many models and frameworks to codify these differences. From Bartle’s well-known Player Types to LeBlanc’s Aesthetics, from Lazzaro’s Fun Types to Sherry’s Gaming Uses & Gratifications, there is certainly no shortage of proposed models.
Academic researchers and game developers have proposed many models and frameworks to codify these differences.
Despite the large number of proposed models, there has been a relative lack of quantitative data backing up most of the proposed models. From a statistical point of view, the following issues have typically not been addressed quantitatively:
- Some models have 3 factors, while others have more than a dozen. To the degree that gameplay motivations cluster together, how many core motivation factors are there?
- How can we check whether some motivations actually cluster together or are entirely independent? Are Collaboration and Competition related? Are they part of the same motivation group or belong in different groups?
- And how do we find a reliable way of measuring these motivations to build knowledge around them?
The existing models and frameworks provide a rich set of motivations to test. We first went through the proposed models and catalogued the individual motivations listed.
Then, based on the motivation definitions or existing survey scales, we brainstormed a few items for each of the motivations. For example, for Challenge we included items like: “take the time to practice and master a game” and “play the game at the highest difficulty level”.
We generated about 50 inventory items for a pilot survey and recruited a sample of 1,127 gamers (primarily MMO gamers) to go through the inventory. Following the pilot, we then also replicated the results with 600 gamers from a more representative gamer panel. The respondents were asked to rate how important the gameplay elements and activities were to them on a 5-point scale. To address the statistical issues of grouping and similarity, we applied a statistical method known as Exploratory Factor Analysis (EFA). An EFA identifies how variables cluster together (or not) into coherent groups, and also provides a way to use the analysis to create an assessment tool for those identified motivation clusters.
An Exploratory Factor Analysis identifies how variables cluster together (or not) into coherent groups.
Our Gamer Motivations Framework
We found 5 motivation groups with 11 underlying motivations. It’s important to note that these aren’t buckets; players don’t simply fall into one of the groups. Instead, players have a score for each of the motivations, and it’s this constellation that gives us the profile of individual gamers.
Gamers with high Action scores are aggressive and like to jump in the fray and be surrounded by dramatic visuals and effects. Gamers with low Action scores prefer slower-paced games with calmer settings. Action is composed of two underlying motivations:
- Destruction: The enjoyment of chaos, mayhem, guns, and explosives.
- Excitement: The enjoyment of games that are fast-paced, intense, and provide an adrenaline rush.
Gamers with high Strategy scores like challenging gaming experiences with strategic depth and complexity. Gamers with low Strategy scores enjoy being spontaneous in games and prefer games that are accessible and forgiving when mistakes are made. Strategy is composed of two underlying motivations:
- Mastery: The preference for games of skill and enjoyment of overcoming difficult challenges.
- Planning: The enjoyment of games that require careful decision-making and strategic thinking.
Gamers with high Achievement scores are driven to accrue power, rare items, and collectibles, even if this means grinding for a while. Gamers with low Achievement scores have a relaxed attitude towards in-game achievements and don’t worry too much about their scores or progress in the game. Achievement is composed of two underlying motivations:
- Completion: The desire to complete every mission, get every collectible, and discover hidden things.
- Power: The importance of becoming powerful within the context of the game world.
Gamers with high Social scores enjoy interacting with other players, often regardless of whether they are collaborating or competing with them. Gamers with low Social scores prefer solo gaming experiences where they can be independent. Social is composed of two underlying motivations:
- Completion: The enjoyment of competition with other players (duels or matches).
- Community: The enjoyment of interacting and collaborating with other players.
Gamers with high Immersion scores want games with interesting narratives, settings, and customization options so they can be deeply immersed in the alternate worlds created by games. Gamers with low Immersion scores are more grounded in the gameplay mechanics and care less about the narrative experiences that games offer. Immersion is composed of 3 underlying motivations:
- Customization: The appeal of expression and deep customization.
- Fantasy: The desire to become someone else, somewhere else.
- Story: The importance of an elaborate storyline and interesting characters.
Some Observations & Next Steps
Several things stuck out in terms of how the motivations clustered together, and what didn’t cluster together:
- Community + Competition: In the current data, we found that collaboration and competition clustered together to form a Social cluster. In an earlier model of motivations among MMO gamers, we found that Competition clustered instead with Achievement. We think this is because the earlier model drew heavily from Bartle’s Player Types and the MUD-era of domination-oriented competition (i.e., PvP) is biased towards power-based Achievement, whereas the more contemporary team-based competition (rare in many older MMOs) is biased towards Social.
- Exploration: We didn’t find a specific Exploration cluster of motivations. Instead, items we tested related to Exploration loaded moderately on other motivations. Thus, geographical exploration loaded onto Fantasy (being somewhere else), while mechanics exploration loaded moderately onto Mastery. We plan to keep tinkering and testing items in this space.
- Diversion / Escapism: We included items for Diversion (using games to avoid boredom and pass time) as well as Escapism (using games to avoid thinking about stress and problems), and these came out as a separate group, but when assembling the framework, we felt these factors were different beasts from everything else. They were reasons for seeking out entertainment, but not specific reasons for playing video games per se. We recognize that these are meaningful psychological variables, but for the time being we’re choosing to exclude them from the motivations framework.
- Next Steps: We plan to continually refine the model and test potential additions with the ongoing surveys. We’re testing different items for Exploration to see if anything coherent emerges. We may try to see if Community should be expanded into Interaction and Collaboration. And under Achievement, we’ll test to see if there’s a Progress motivation separate from the Completion motivation.