5 Things We Learned About The Appeal of Competition From Over 239,000 Gamers

By |2016-10-17T20:02:32+00:00August 11th, 2016|Analytics, Video Games|13 Comments

The data we’ve collected from over 239,000 gamers via the Gamer Motivation Profile allows us to explore how gaming motivations do and do not change with gender and age with incredible detail. Back when we had a sample size of around 140,000, we blogged about the Competition and Strategy motivations. With the larger sample size, we have much better precision especially for older gamers, and we’re going to revisit and do a deep dive into the Competition motivation.

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1) The Appeal of Competition Declines The Most with Age

Across the 12 motivations in our model, the appeal of Competition declines the most with age. In our framework, Competition is the appeal of competing with other players, whether in duels, matches, or team-vs-team scenarios.

Competition Graph

Though the curves are not strictly linear, the correlation coefficients provide a sense of the effect size. For male gamers, the correlation coefficient is r=-.30, and for female gamers it’s r=-.19.

2) The Decline in Competition is Most Rapid Between Ages 13 and 35

Instead of decreasing gradually or linearly with age, the decline in the appeal of Competition drops the most between ages 13 and 35. After age 35, this decline slows down before hitting a trough. Women hit this trough much earlier than the men, by about 15 years. At age 35, we see the women entering the trough, but the men don’t level out till around age 50. That’s right around when the gender difference in Competition largely disappears.

After age 35, this decline slows down before hitting a trough.

What the graph shows is that in terms of designing for Competition, there is a surprisingly large and similar gamer cohort of both genders between ages 40 and 60 compared with any other point before age 40.

3) The Gender Gap Peaks at Age 22

Let’s now focus on the gap between the two lines, and plot out the difference year by year. While the gender gap may appear stable before age 35, this isn’t actually the case. As the graph below shows, the gender gap doesn’t peak until age 22.

Gender Gap Graph

Given that the gender gap closes with age, the most natural narrative would have been that the gender gap is largest among the youngest gamers. So why isn’t this the case? Let’s dig deeper.

4) The Sharpest Drop in Competition Is Among Female Gamers Aged 13-20

We can look at the gender difference in another way. We can calculate the slopes of the two curves at each age. This lets us visualize how steep the two curves are year by year. In the graph below, we’re graphing the slope of the curves for men and women. A more negative slope means a sharper drop.

Slope Graph

The steepest decline in Competition occurs in women between ages 13-20. This section of the curve sees a sharper drop in Competition than any other point in the rest of the graph.

This sharp drop might be due to specific aspects of gaming culture.

There are two broad classes of explanations for this. On the one hand, this may just be how dispositions change due to biochemistry as men and women move through adolescence. On the other hand, this may be due to specific aspects of gaming culture. For example, some online gaming communities, especially competitive ones, can be hostile towards female gamers, even (or especially) when they are highly competent players. For young female gamers, these experiences may impact their enjoyment of competitive game genres (or cause more competitive female gamers to leave the gaming community altogether).

5) The Elephant in the Room is Age

In the game industry and gaming community, we spend a lot of time talking about gender differences and what games for women mean. And we tend to think that the appeal of certain gaming motivations, especially Competition, is highly gendered. While this is true, the appeal of Competition is far more strongly driven by age than gender.

We can see this when we compare the largest gap between men and women (at age 22) with the gap between the youngest and oldest men.

Comparison Graph

Statistically, we can quantify this difference with a measure of effect size. In this case, age actually explains more than double the variance in Competition than gender. What’s striking about this is that when people talk about how different gamers prefer different kinds of games, you hardly ever hear anyone talking about age.

A Quick Note About Cohort vs. Generational Differences

There’s always a risk of extrapolating longitudinally from cross-section age data. After all, there may be generational cohort effects that are separate from the effects of aging. Across the 12 motivations in our model, more than half have linear trends and almost all have monotonic curves, which is more indicative of stable age trends than the more chaotic generational changes in gaming.

Opportunities Are Hiding in Plain Sight

In the game industry, we often fixate on untested assumptions—whether this is entrenched game genres that might be combining completely orthogonal motivations as well as assumptions of how people play games differently. In both cases, we may have trouble identifying the questions we ought to be asking and finding the opportunities that are hiding in plain sight.

Tell us what you think: How have your gaming motivations and preferences changed as you’ve gotten older?

For Game Producers & Marketers: Explore Our In-Depth Motivation Insight Report

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. Isend August 11, 2016 at 12:15 pm - Reply

    In my 20s, I gamed with men at LAN parties; I was most often the only female there. This meant I ended up dead, by comparison, more than any of my cohorts. That was ok.

    Then I got into MMOs a few years later (Yes, I took some time off to raise my daughters). I did the PvP thing for a while … but there was this whole WORLD with rich and complex STORY … and I was smitten. This was around 30.

    I’m 47 now. Daughters are raised, and I’m finding myself actually enjoying RP — which I never had the time or patience for. My game play has certainly changed, in some ways; but in others it’s stayed the same, but varied from “today’s” twitch/toxic players.

    You see, when I got into MMOs, community was a huge part of the gameplay experience. Group play, doing things WITH people, having respect in the community. These were huge. Now, with the “big numbers” drive, and the ultra-competitive play, toxicity is at an all-time high. Further, if you take WoW as an example — things that used to contribute to communities are now being marginalized. For instance, crafting. You developed a name as a particular type of crafter; for instance, a Blacksmith who could do Thorium armor. Now? Now it’s marginalized, everyone learns the same thing, and who cares because crafted gear is the suck, anyway.

    I long for story-driven, intense PvE community-based offerings again. I long for a game that celebrates the play, not the achievement. I find I miss that.

    So that’s how my gameplay has changed :-)

    • Ophabia August 11, 2016 at 3:39 pm - Reply

      Have you see Pantheon? From what we’ve seen so far they are focusing on game mechanics that reinforce community not tear it apart.


    • somnomania October 31, 2016 at 2:45 pm - Reply

      Agreed about WoW professions; their only purpose seems to be giving players a use for the materials they find. Also I guess the craftable toys/pets/mounts have value, but gear certainly doesn’t. For the most part it’s just a numbers race, to get to the newest skill cap so you can stop thinking about it.That applies to the game as a whole, too; most people seem to only care about getting geared up to maximize dps and be as good at the end-game raids and dungeons as possible.

      I play WoW (and other MMOs) as solo as possible, however. I don’t play to interact with others, although I do want to get back into RPing. It doesn’t help that a couple of the class-specific blogs I follow for WoW have comments full of people sharing their experiences with getting booted from LFD groups because they’re not in the “right” spec, and getting pigeonholed into a spec they don’t like and don’t have fun playing just because it has 10 more dps than the other specs. So you’re absolutely right about the toxicity, it’s terrible

  2. Elsa August 11, 2016 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    As a 54 year old female, I enjoy both online cooperative and competitive gameplay. I play a lot of competitive FPS games and I play with and against the same men that younger women play with and against.

    Rather than hostility towards female gamers being the reason for the drop in interest in competitive gameplay for women between the ages of 13 and 20, could there not be a multitude of other reasons. Personally speaking, there were no video games when I was that age, but I do recall that this was the age I began to be interested in boys. Diet, hair, shopping, clothing, gossip… it all became far more important than anything else. It was a time of female bonding with other girls my age… but the main topic of discussion was men. Given the continuing popularity of boy bands – is it possible that not much has changed? I don’t know, and certainly any studies pointing this out would be accused of propogating gender stereotypes.

    Is it possible that our current culture encourages a boys vs girls mentality and that women are being raised to fear men? I was raised with 60’s and 70’s feminism where we were equal to men, that we could be anything we wanted to be, where we could do anything. The world was open to us, but we had to be strong. We had to be blunt like men were. We were welcomed into male domains… as long as we didn’t complain too much or try to change things too fast or too much. We changed the laws to be treated as equals and felt we were equals.

    It seems that the culture has changed and feminism has changed. Survey after survey shows that women are victims. Women are not welcome in boys clubs and will be driven out by men. Women will be taken advantage of, assaulted, microaggressed against and oppressed. Could this be impacting how women perceive their interactions with men… particularly younger women?

    I honestly don’t know… but is it possible that the older women who still enjoy competitive gameplay have different cultural values affecting them, than younger women?

    I rarely get harassed in online gaming, but I’m also very chatty on mic and I love talking about games. I think my passion for games and talking strategy, being outgoing… and unafraid… it possibly negates any harassment that might be shown towards other women. I don’t know.

    Interesting info… and hopefully devs take note. I love that Overwatch just got an older female sniper as a new character and it would be nice to see this in more games (though thankfully I play a lot of games that allow for custom avatars where I can add a few wrinkles or gray hair… all my Destiny characters have gray hair!).

    • Nick Yee August 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Great points and definitely food for thought! What we’re seeing is likely the result of a combination of factors, rather than any single factor. Thanks for sharing, Elsa.

    • Ophabia August 11, 2016 at 7:07 pm - Reply

      In my own experience, I haven’t seen a lot of aggression towards myself or other female players because they’re female. Highly competitive environments bring out aggression in general. If you don’t have any game mechanics that reward people for positive social interactions, then many people will just do/say whatever they feel like. Gender can be easier to distinguish than other things if you’re in VoIP chat but I’d venture to say that people let raciest and bigoted thing fly in these environments just as much or more than sexist things. To be honest, I experience more sexism at work than I do in games but I’m in IT.

      I’m personally not all that interested in competitive game play simply because I don’t base my success at a task on external things. So I’m not drawn to it. I weigh my performance and achievements against internal goals I have for myself. So compliments and insults don’t really affect me that much. It’s about results. My husband is the opposite. He bases his success almost completely on external feedback and is also drawn to competitive game play. I can play single player games for hours but he quickly gets bored of them. We both enjoy cooperative game play though.

    • Retsnom September 15, 2016 at 3:38 pm - Reply

      Interesting points and I agree with many of them. I will turn 50 in a month or so, been playing since Pong, have carpal tunnel and arthritis in my right hand wrist. I have been running a competitive/casual gaming clan, Killers in Lethal Alliance for 11+ years. The clan started in Age of Chivalry through Chivalry Medieval Warfare. Back in the day it was all about staying up all night drinking-smoking-eating junk food and playing games all night and rocking other teams. Overall I can see the decline in competitiveness in me personally but mostly due to just not wanting to babysit a few of the hormone filled teenagers in the clan. While the Chiv community is in decline and now smaller, even when it was at it’s peak the annoying and silly drama that happens in the upper tier of skilled comp players, most of which have been under 18 and currently are filled with PC SJW angst. This generation, to be stereotypical, also has many problems with short attention spans, need instant gratification, beyond entitled, easily offended, hyper sensitive, and worse off have bought into the whole idea of political correctness and thrive on being social justice warriors or that they have to be bubble wrapped and protected in some ideal virtual safe space.

      Originally our clan only recruited players 21 or older with a few exceptions for mature older teens. Many times over the years we could have as many as 100+ members but typically kept the active players to around 20+. As the clan got older, there were less older members as they had kids, got married, college and careers. This is what I believe is the cause for the rapid decline when looking at age. Put simply, responsibility and life gets in the way.

      Too keep the clan alive I was semi forced to lower the recruiting age to remain competitive. We were also the first to have females in our clan and have had quite a few over the years. Most all of them were strong and independent and could easily hold their own both in game and when someone started talking trash. We have also had some that could tear the clan apart as they manipulated and pitted younger impressionable male members against each other, thinking that they actually had a shot of hooking up. We are talking high soap opera, gamer-gate level BS of the worst female manipulation for personal gain. Good luck to her and all her future baby daddies… yeah it was that bad.

      In addition, I think there has been too much coddling of children over the years in contrast to the fact that they are allowed to play very graphically violent and bloody games. Seriously? The irony of some kid wanting to be protected and afraid of ridicule across the internet while playing some of the most horrific gory games, makes no sense to me. This is a parental issue as well as a larger societal issue in the dumbing down and weakening of society only to create generations of pussified special snowflakes and full time victims of whatever offends them So in addition, I think older players lose the joy of playing when they have to deal with the PC SJW BS.

      To address TIA below, “I soooo wish more developers would read these studies (or at least the marketing departments that boss them around =^^= ). I’ve been seeing so many games for so long that seemed to focus almost exclusively on competition and aggression that I have to admit it pushed me very heavily away from the community. Even to this day, I still get panic attacks sometimes when I try to play in an online setting, just because of how I fear I will be treated.”

      You are exactly what I am talking about. There are plenty of soft squishy games that you can play in your safe space without competition. Please stop trying to force others to your gaming preferences. Competition is what creates innovation. It is why we have such a broad selection of games to play as they compete for our attention. IF there was such a demand for they games and safe spaces that you require, trust me those demands would be filled. Your expectations are very unrealistic and you have not been taught how to properly handle the trash talking.

      “Also: thank god I’m not the only person who would rather sneak around and use a sniper rifle or bow than charge in with a sword the size of a dump truck”

      OH and most players completely despise snipers and archer classes because of their cheap easy kills, shear laziness, lack of skill, cowardliness and lack of honor with those types of classes. Nothing is worse than being outnumbered 3+v1 and you are doing an epic battle and take down all of them, only to be shot/killed by some douche class hiding out of range And you wonder why you get triggered with panic attacks…. SMDH

      • Tom December 17, 2016 at 5:53 am

        “OH and most players completely despise snipers and archer classes because of their cheap easy kills, shear laziness, lack of skill, cowardliness and lack of honor with those types of classes. Nothing is worse than being outnumbered 3+v1 and you are doing an epic battle and take down all of them, only to be shot/killed by some douche class hiding out of range ”

        Translation: use only play style that makes it easy for me to win. Do not use play style that is effective, as I risk loosing then. It is not honorable to use classes I don’t like nor those that can hurt me occasionally.

  3. Tia August 11, 2016 at 4:27 pm - Reply

    I soooo wish more developers would read these studies (or at least the marketing departments that boss them around =^^= ). I’ve been seeing so many games for so long that seemed to focus almost exclusively on competition and aggression that I have to admit it pushed me very heavily away from the community. Even to this day, I still get panic attacks sometimes when I try to play in an online setting, just because of how I fear I will be treated.
    Thank you guys for doing this research! Just seeing the numbers makes me feel a lot less pessimistic about humanity in general. (Also: thank god I’m not the only person who would rather sneak around and use a sniper rifle or bow than charge in with a sword the size of a dump truck.)

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  6. Bo April 27, 2017 at 7:57 am - Reply

    Unsurprisingly, if you treat age as logarithmic, the curves will straighten.
    Statistically-speaking, I’d love to see age treated more often as logarithmic, as it is, in a way. In one’s life, there’s as much difference between 2 and 4, 10 and 20 as between 30 and 60.
    In other words, fine granularity between 55 and 60 is way less important than between 10 and 15.

    • Nick Yee April 27, 2017 at 11:39 am - Reply

      Across the 12 motivation regressions (with the full sample, not split by gender), we found that 6 were linear, 3 were quadratic, and the remaining 3 were cubic. So the regressions don’t always flatten out. In half of the motivations, the curves are straight through the age span (that we have data for).

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