7 Things We Learned About Primary Gaming Motivations From Over 250,000 Gamers

By |2016-12-15T14:11:31+00:00December 15th, 2016|Analytics, Video Games|17 Comments

In the Gamer Motivation Profile (for video games), we measure 12 distinct motivations for each gamer. One way to get a concise picture of all the data we’ve collected is to focus on primary motivations—the motivation that each gamer scores highest on and is most important to them. In this post, we’ll step through what we learned when we compared the primary motivations of different demographic segments.

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 250,000 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.

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

Each motivation score we calculate is normalized against the full dataset—i.e., how other gamers responded to those same questions. Thus, a perfectly average score is 50th percentile, while an 80th percentile means you scored higher than 80% of the gamers in our data. For the current analysis, we assigned each gamer’s highest ranked motivation as their primary motivation.

1) The Most Common Primary Motivations for Men are Competition and Destruction.

For all the charts in this blog post, we list all 12 motivations in descending order, from most common to least common primary motivation. Thus, in each chart, all the numbers add up to 100%.

For men, Competition (duels, matches, high on rankings) and Destruction (guns, explosives, chaos, mayhem) are the most common primary motivations, while Discovery (explore, tinker, experiment) and Power (powerful character, gear, stats) are the least common.

2) The Most Common Primary Motivations for Women are Completion and Fantasy.

For women, Completion (get all stars/collectibles, complete all missions) and Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) are the most common primary motivations, while Excitement (fast-paced, action, surprises, thrills) and Challenge (practice, high difficulty missions) are the least common.

These gender differences seem to align with stereotypes, but as we’ve pointed out before, age differences are often just as large if not more so. We’ll touch on age later in this post.

3) Women are More Polarized in Terms of What They Care About in Gaming.

The two graphs for male and female gamers have the same scale on the vertical axis (0%-20%). Note that the distribution among the men is more even, whereas it’s steeper among women.

There are two ways we can further quantify this difference. Among men, the difference between the most common and least common primary motivation has a factor of 2.5 (i.e., 14.1% / 5.6%). For women, the factor is more than double at 5.7 (i.e., 17.0% / 3.0%).

This means that men’s motivations are more spread out and harder to cover, whereas it’s easier to cover more ground among female gamers. So for example, the top 3 motivations for men account for just a little over a third of the male gamers (at 36.2%), whereas the top 3 for women cover almost half of female gamers (at 47.7%).

Men’s gaming motivations are more spread out and harder to cover, whereas it’s easier to cover more ground among female gamers.

While this pattern of polarization is clear, what’s not clear is why this difference exists. It may be an artifact of how games are marketed to women, a self-fulfilling prophecy among game devs, or a genuine difference in how men and women approach gaming and play in general.

4) For Non-Binary Gender Gamers, Fantasy and Design are Most Common Primary Motivations. And Their Preferences are Even More Polarized.

Among our respondents, about 1.1% identify as non-binary gender. In our current data set, we have data from 2,819 non-binary gender gamers.

Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) and Design (expressing individuality, customization) were their most common primary motivations, while Power (powerful character, equipment, stats) and Excitement (fast-paced, action, surprises, thrills) were least common.

The polarization here is more extreme than what we saw before. The difference between the most common and least common primary motivation is a factor of 8.5 (i.e., 22.0% / 2.6%). And the top 3 motivations cover 50.2% of all non-binary gender gamers.

Given that non-binary gender is a catch-all category that covers a large set of gender identity labels, the most surprising thing about this chart is how highly consistent their collective gaming motivation profile turned out to be.

5) For Young Gamers, Competition is Most Popular, and It’s Almost 50% More Frequent Than the Next Most Popular Motivation (Destruction).

For the youngest age segment in our sample (ages 13-25), Competition and Destruction were the most common primary motivations, while Discovery and Power were the least common.

The drop between the top and second most common motivation here is the largest drop among all the graphs presented in this blog post (as a proportion of their frequencies).

6) Among 36+ Gamers, Competition Drops from 1st to 9th Place. Fantasy and Completion are Most Common.

For the older gamers in our sample, the most common primary motivations were Fantasy and Completion, while the least common were Excitement and Challenge.

The huge drop in the popularity of Competition is something we’ve covered in an earlier blog post. Among the 12 motivations in our model, the appeal of Competition declines the most rapidly with age.

7) Completion is the Most Low-Risk, High-Reward Motivation.

One finding that surprised us was how consistently high Completion (get all stars/collectibles, complete all missions) placed across all the charts. Whether we’re comparing gender or age segments, Completion is always in the top 3. In this sense, Completion is a very low-risk, high-reward motivation.

Whether we’re comparing gender or age segments, Completion is always in the top 3.

It helps explain why games that emphasize Completion, such as Pokemon Go, can be so broadly appealing across different demographic segments, especially when these games also steer away from motivations that are more volatile and polarizing, such as Competition.

Stay Up To Date with Our Findings

Join our newsletter to stay up to date with our data-driven insights into video gamers and board gamers. When new findings are released, you’ll be the first to know.

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. Powers December 15, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

    “While this pattern of polarization is clear, what’s not clear is why this difference exists. It may be an artifact of how games are marketed to women, a self-fulfilling prophecy among game devs, or a genuine difference in how men and women approach gaming and play in general.”

    It could also simply be an artifact of the motivations you’ve selected in your analyses. If, for example, the data sample that was used to identify the primary motivations was weighted toward men, it would be expected that male-oriented motivations would be more identifiable in the data.

    If you were to break out the motivations differently, you might find that the women have just as much variation in preference as men.

  2. Spookk December 15, 2016 at 11:49 am - Reply

    Interesting. I’d like to see the age brackets by gender also. I would also like to see motivations correlated by age/gender and game time played per week/month. My wife and I played EQ1 back in the stone age, Nick, so we have followed you for some time – always interesting to look at your work; thanks for sharing yet again :)

  3. Edgar December 19, 2016 at 11:32 pm - Reply

    Great stuff guys. Congrats on the great work. Do you have results for younger kids? i.e. 5-7 year olds?

  4. nosek December 20, 2016 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Guys, would you kindly display the sample size for each category? We’ve got it only for the Non-Binary Gender category (which is 2,819 samples)

    Some observations you describe in the article (like more/less polarized distribution between categories) may result from the sample size differences,

    • Nick Yee December 20, 2016 at 4:05 pm - Reply

      For men, the sample size is 207,050. For women, it’s 47,273. For 13-25, the sample size is 134,562; and for 36+, it’s 30,367.

      The polarization isn’t a function of the sample size. For example, the smallest group here is the 36+ age group, but they have less polarization than the women. Let me know if I’m missing something though.

      • Tanyusha January 19, 2017 at 12:05 pm

        Ah, thanks for clearing this part up “The polarization isn’t a function of the sample size. For example, the smallest group here is the 36+ age group, but they have less polarization than the women.”

  5. Mike December 20, 2016 at 11:52 pm - Reply

    I found this a very interesting read, thank you for sharing your work. I also took the survey, but without signing up. I have a few suggestions for possible improvements. The “completion” motivation is a bit ambiguous in my opinion: There is a huge difference between completing (1) a story- and character driven game, where completion means getting all the puzzles in the story-line and possibly backstory / motivation of the main characters, (2) a fast-paced action game, where completion means dominating / beating / killing / destroying all opponents, and (3) a hard strategy / puzzle game, where you finally – perhaps after several months or years – understand how to solve the final riddle, thereby mastering the game. The motivation and emotional reward for “completing” these types of games are entirely different, and maybe you can find a way to split them up.

    • Nick Yee December 21, 2016 at 12:03 am - Reply

      Our model is meant to be configural, whether describing a gamer or gameplay. So in your examples:

      1) This is Story + Completion
      2) This is some combination of Excitement / Destruction / Completion
      3) This is likely Strategy + Challenge, but not necessarily Completion (as we define it in our model)

      Our philosophy is that it’s better to articulate the ingredients rather than the end product. It’s more manageable to list baking ingredients than to enumerate all the things you can bake in an oven.

  6. [nulset] January 21, 2017 at 7:13 am - Reply

    You have “Destruction” listed as a motivator, but I’m wondering why “Creation” wasn’t offered. Additionally, with “Power” being rated so low across all demographics, I wonder if those polled weren’t sure what the word was specifically implying as a motivator.

    • [nulset] January 21, 2017 at 7:22 am - Reply

      Sorry to double-post, but I realize a little more context may be helpful: As a prolific gamer and someone who would fall in to the non-binary gender category, I find it surprising my primary motivating factor (and that of my spouse) wasn’t listed: Autonomy (or perhaps: “Impact,” “Power” as an alternate definition, “Interactivity,” “Influence”). The capacity to exercise control over the game interactions beyond narrow pre-determined expectations. To play the game “my way,” rather than “the only way.” I don’t believe your definition of “Design” really captures the extent of what is implied with “Autonomy.”

  7. Björn January 27, 2017 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    I’ve made the test and the test is wrong in so many ways. And this is no wonder for me, because the questions aren’t relatet to specific games. Here is an example: In Diablo I want to find powerfull items and search for possibilities to change the way my charakter looks, how to customize the skills or weapons. But in FPS games I don’t like that at all. I am the old Counterstrike or Unreal Tournament Gamer. I absolutly hate it when I have to customize weapons in a FPS. Next part with the story: For a multiplayer game, I don’t care about the story. Quake 3 Arena. Who gives a sh*t about the story? But in other games like Life is Strange I am hughly interested in a good story, because the gameplay is totaly different.
    So, to be honest: The test is worthless to the core. And I think the results are terrible wrong. Not only for me but for many other people too. What I want from Diablo is different than from Life is Strange than from The Last of Us than from Total Annihilation. Different game = different needs.

    • Anon April 3, 2017 at 8:46 am - Reply

      I completely agree and gave the same feedback about the survey.

  8. JungianNightmare February 4, 2017 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Ha, Bjorn, of course it doesnt work. Meyers Briggs and its derivitives will never ‘Work’, you are right about that.

    But that doesnt mean its worthless. It was apparently intruiging enough for you to take your time to take it, and to write a lengthy response to boot. Surely even that much has to be worth something?

    It hink considering and seperating extrinsic and intrinsic design and motivation will go a long way to fixing your results.

    In Diablo the custmization of your character is an intrinsic design, and appeals to your intrinsic motivations.Those changes in appearence are badges, mementos of adventures, victories, They are REAL, in the context of the game world, and the time you spent with it, AND add intrinsic value to you as well.

    That is a far cry from selecting a load out from a menu, memorizing which weapon is the best one, so victory is clouded as to player skill or who picked the weapon that does more damage and shoots straighter. When those weapons can be found on the map, and its up to player skill wit and ingenuity to claim, its intrinsic. When its picked out a menu, ot bought, or gotten from a gacha lottery, like modern garbage, its extrinsic design, extrinsic motivation, and its FAKE, hollow, meaningless. Key jingle game design. Like jingling keys in front of an infant for entertainment. Whats real to YOU is the raw skill of the match, who moved faster, aimed faster, truer, had superior stratefy. Not who picked a better weapon from a menu or a lottery. Intrinsic vs extrinsic.

    The same is true for thevrest of your examples.

    • Zanreo February 4, 2017 at 8:45 pm - Reply

      Yeah, some of them were hard to answer because it really depends on the game? Sometimes, “need” and “enjoyment” are different. Say, customization, in most games it’s not something I NEED and won’t take away from the experience if it’s not there, I probably won’t even think about it, but it’s usually a fun bonus if it DOES appear, even if just as a few character costumes.- but the only genre where I actually need a strong customization is “create your own character” type games. Also got a high destruction score because I answered yes to enjoying “destruction”-type gameplay elements, because those are fun when they appear – but those aren’t essential to my experience and I also like “calmer” games (and the recommended “destruction”-type games were not my kind of games at all – don’t care much for FPS and most “dark and gritty” games). Also, challenge seemed to mostly ask specifically about Super Extreme Hard challenges, clearing it on the highest difficulty ect. and while I’m typically not interested in those kinds of “extreme” challenges, I do prefer SOME challenge. Still, a lot of the results seemed pretty accurate overall, and while it can tell something and give a general idea, it won’t tell the full story – which is what I pretty much got from it.

      • Maggie May 24, 2018 at 6:38 pm

        I agree with that assessment. I love to see destruction in the right games. I don’t need it for the game when it’s unnecessary – i.e. If I were to play bejeweled (which I rarely do) I find the “destruction” utterly distracting but seeing the same in an action game adds to the excitement.

Leave A Comment