Gender Differences in Gaming Motivations Align with Stereotypes, but Small Compared To Age Differences

By |2016-10-17T20:02:35+00:00August 28th, 2015|Analytics, Video Games|10 Comments

The following findings are based on data from 107,100 gamers who have taken the Gamer Motivation Profile since late June.

Gender Differences

We’ll first focus on gamers from the US (n = 51,283). The chart below plots the gender means across the 12 gaming motivations measured by the Gamer Motivation Profile. The y-axis represents z-scores (standardized scores with a mean of 0 and a standard deviation of 1).


We found that gender differences aligned with stereotypes of male and female gamers. Female gamers are more likely to be driven by Design (expression and customization), Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else), Story (rich narrative and characters), and Completion (collecting and finishing everything). Male gamers are more likely to be driven by Competition (duels and matches), Challenge (playing on highest difficulty levels), Excitement (fast-paced and intense), and Strategy (thinking and planning).

In sufficiently large data sets (such as ours), all group comparisons become statistically significant as even tiny differences become detectable. In these cases, research scientists often use effect size measures to quantify how strongly two variables are related to each other. In our data, the strongest gender difference in Competition has an effect size of d = .33 (or an r = .16), suggesting an overlap proportion of 87% between men and women on this motivation. It bears keeping in mind that deciding whether an effect is substantively meaningful is more often a social rather than scientific question. For example, an 87% overlap suggests a small difference but may be large enough to trigger a marketing feedback loop that gradually skews the demographics of acquired customers.

Putting Age in the Picture

In our case, there is a way we can understand the effect size of gender in a more holistic context. We can compare the effect of gender against other variables in our data set. Let’s consider Competition again, the motivation with the largest gender difference. When we plot gender and age against Competition, we see a different side of the story.


If we’re only considering people under the age of 34, then yes, there is a consistent difference in Competition between male and female gamers, but if we look further out, we see that the gender difference largely disappears with age.

And if we focus on the 13-17 group, we find that the difference between the male and female gamers is in fact much smaller than the difference between the youngest and oldest male gamers. The correlation between age and Competition is r = .28. Since r-squared is the amount of variance explained, this means that age explains 3 times the observed variation in Competition compared with gender.

When we re-ran the analysis on the full data sample, we found the same trends and effects.

The ESA reported in their 2015 factsheet that the average female gamer is 8 years older than the average male gamer. This suggests that pure gender comparisons among gamers artificially inflate perceived gender differences if they do not account for the underlying effect of age.

In the gaming industry and gaming community, we talk a lot about differences between male and female gamers, and what games for women might look like. The data here suggests that what we should really be paying attention to is age. After all, younger and older gamers are far more different in terms of motivation than male and female gamers. And even in the motivation with the largest gender difference, there is still an 87% overlap between what men and women enjoy.

Other Age Correlations

Below we list the correlations of age with all 12 gaming motivations.

Motivation Corr. R
Completion -.05
Power -.15
Destruction -.10
Excitement -.28
Design -.15
Discovery -.06
Fantasy -.05
Story -.14
Community -.17
Competition -.28
Challenge -.21
Strategy -.05

Is it odd that all the correlations are negative? Yes and no. On the one hand, the direction of correlations is an arbitrary artifact of how the motivations are keyed (i.e., whether agree or disagree is coded 1 vs. 5). But on the other hand, a high score does consistently mean more interest in a particular kind of gameplay.

We think two things are happening. One is that older gamers are genuinely less motivated by certain forms of gameplay, such as highly competitive or adrenaline-filled games. But second, and perhaps more importantly, low scores also describe equally valid forms of play. Older gamers likely have less disposable time and this may reduce their interest in highly social activities that require setting time aside (e.g., raiding in MMOs). This doesn’t mean they don’t like games; this just means they want games that can fit into their schedules. Not wanting high amounts of social interaction isn’t a lack of motivation; solo independent play is an equally valid gameplay motivation. And finally, constraints on disposable time and establishing a family and career may indeed have a mild dampening effect on the relative importance of gameplay motivations overall.

Non-Binary Gender

While only a small percentage of respondents identified as non-binary (0.9% in the US sample), our large sample meant that a fair number (n = 464) participated in the survey. They primarily identified as agender, genderfluid, genderqueer, transgender, and non-binary (in that order of frequency).

To be perfectly honest, we weren’t sure how to analyze non-binary gender because it isn’t a monolithic category and the identity politics behind each term is complex—e.g., should trans and genderqueer folks be grouped together?

As a preliminary analysis, we decided to analyze all non-binary responses as a single category. We found that as a whole, the non-binary responses largely mirrored that of the female gamers. One consistent and pronounced difference though was the higher scores across all the Immersion and Creativity motivations (Design, Discovery, Fantasy, and Story).


Looking Ahead

We plan to regularly blog about findings from this large data set. In future posts, we’ll touch on regional differences and how we’re able to create audience profiles for specific game titles.

Participate in our Survey Research

If you’re a gamer, take a few minutes to participate in our ongoing surveys to help us explore the psychology of gamers. Your responses help us create new profile tools and blog findings.

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.


  1. Miguel August 28, 2015 at 11:30 am - Reply

    Nice study! I think the colours from the first Figure might be wrong because the colour of the Competition, Challenge, Excitement, and Strategy genres are all blue, which is the colour for Female?

    • Nick Yee September 1, 2015 at 11:47 am - Reply

      Ah. The average is represented by the origin line (at 0). So the women’s bars are far below the average (i.e., they score lower on those motivations than the men).

  2. Infinity August 31, 2015 at 7:25 pm - Reply

    Interesting that males enjoyed community more than females or non-binary people. I wonder if that is more about the power dynamics that often occur in MMO’s favouring trolls, PVP and competitiveness in dungeons and raids. Often vilifying comments are made towards women, LGBTI and non-binary players, therefore being social isn’t necessarily a positive experience for these groups. Although maybe that’s making too much of such small numbers

    • Nick Yee September 1, 2015 at 11:31 am - Reply

      The gender difference in Community is very small (smallest among all the motivations). I think we should interpret it as indicating that men and women largely have the same preference/enjoyment of Community.

      But see also my reply to Heather below.

  3. Heather R. September 1, 2015 at 5:21 am - Reply

    Thank you for posting your research, Nick. I have been happy to participate since the first of your surveys from years ago.

    I do have a question about the motivation for community. Would it be possible to look further to determine whether this is due to the probability that most gaming communities, such as guilds, have been made for men and involve a male culture and goals?(competitive, destructive, challenging, etc,) ?

    Thank you!

    • Nick Yee September 1, 2015 at 11:46 am - Reply

      Good question. I think one way to make sense of this is from our earlier post where we identified the most popular game titles by game motivation:

      So we see a mix of MMOs, action multi-player games, and MOBAs in the list for Community.

      I think a part of it (like you suggested) is that in many of our current games, people are asked to form groups for highly instrumental reasons: raiding a dungeon or winning a match. And this also explains why Community and Competition are correlated positively (which is not intuitive at first until you consider the current ecosystem of games).

      I also took a look at the older Daedalus Project data, where we had more fine-grained social interaction factors (i.e., splitting out socializing, teamwork, and relationships:

      It’s interesting that we see the same trends there with the MMO sample. Men and women scored essentially the same on both teamwork and socializing. It’s really only in relationship building that they differ (i.e., using online games to form new and genuine relationships with others). I think it’s interesting that the gender difference in socializing (i.e., chatting with and helping others) is also very small in the Daedalus data. So it could also just be that men aren’t as anti-social as we stereotype them to be.

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  5. Yacine Kout September 1, 2015 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    Do you also plan on conducting qualitative research in order for players to voice their perspectives and stories? There may be findings that a graph can not translate.

    • Nick Yee September 3, 2015 at 5:40 pm - Reply

      There are at least two places in the surveys and Gamer Motivation Profile feedback forms where we are gathering open-ended comments and suggestions from gamers in terms of how the motivations are described and conceptualized. We’ve been using this feedback to revise the presentation and description of the motivations and will continue to do so.

  6. Harmony December 23, 2015 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    Nick – thank you!

    This was a really interesting study and I enjoyed reading your analysis – a lot of it seemed really spot on, and I like that you thought through the reasoning behind the answers rather than jumping to assumptions regarding the data.

    In the categories of “challenge” and “strategy” I would love to see a little more distinction in future surveys. I’m a member of the older gamer crowd, and while puzzle-based strategy and challenge are very attractive to me, sometimes action-based challenges can just feel stressful and tiring. For example, if I have to fight a boss over and over 20+ times to beat him, I’m going to lose interest pretty quickly, but if I hit a puzzle so hard that I can’t figure it out and have to come back two days later, I’m pretty thrilled with that.

    Like you surmised – this is, in part, because I’m older and lose patience with repetition more quickly, but also because I need to go to bed at a reasonable hour every night and don’t want to play something that gets me so amped up that it’s hard to get to sleep.

    In terms of strategy, I enjoy RPG battle planning (e.g. FFXII gambits), because the strategy is integrated into the gameplay and feels like a real-life battle situation, but if you abstract strategy from the design, fantasy, and story too much, it becomes dry to me, and starts feeling like I’m doing a second job. I also like puzzles integrated into the gameplay for the same reason (I have no interest in playing Bejeweled, for example).

    One of the things that confuses me the most in games is that you can set the gameplay difficulty level in terms of enemies/action, but not in terms of the puzzle challenge. Because games have failed to integrate this, we’ve ended up catering to the person who just finds them annoying or who wants a quick success – which leads to “dumbed down” puzzles in games like Tomb Raider, which used to have some of the best integrated puzzles in the industry.

    I hope my feedback is helpful to your research. Again, thank you for sharing this and for breaking it down in the ways that you did to show it from all perspectives. Stellar work!

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