The Primary Motivations of Board Gamers: 7 Takeaways

By |2017-04-27T22:25:31+00:00April 27th, 2017|Analytics, Board Games|21 Comments

We finally had time to dive into our board game data. As some of you know, we created a Board Game Motivation Profile from the ground up (using the same method as the Gamer Motivation Profile), and over 90,000 board gamers have taken part in it.

In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the primary motivations of board gamers—the motivation that each gamer scores highest on (and is most important to them), and slice those findings by age and gender.

Data From the Board Game Motivation Profile

The Board Game 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 board gamers. Over 90,000 board gamers have taken this survey. The 11 motivations that are measured in our model were identified via statistical analysis of how gaming motivations cluster together.

Do you play board games? Take a 5-minute survey to get your Board Game Motivation Profile and see how you compare with other board gamers.

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 that you scored higher than 80% of board gamers in the data. For the current analysis, we assigned each gamer’s highest ranked motivation as their primary motivation.

1) Men’s Primary Motivations Are Highly Varied

In all the charts we present in this post, we list the 11 motivations in descending order, from most common to least common primary motivation. Thus, in each chart, the numbers add up to 100%.

For men, the most common primary motivation is Need To Win (the importance of winning, soundly beating an opponent) followed by Discovery (learning about new games / systems / mechanics). While these two motivations together would imply that male gamers are constantly looking for new ways to beat you, it bears pointing out that these two motivations account for only about 23% of all male gamers. In fact, most of the bars in the chart are within a few percentage points of each other.

The least common primary motivations are Social Fun (lighthearted social interaction, simply having a good time with others) and Aesthetics (beautiful artwork and components that reflect the theme).

When we were putting the pilot inventory together for board games, we realized that it didn’t make sense to ask about Competition because almost all board games are multiplayer and competitive (in contrast with the large number of video games that can be played solo). It would be like asking accountants whether they like math. Instead, we broke down Competition into several contextually-relevant components, such as Need To Win, Conflict, Social Manipulation, and Cooperation.

2) Women’s Primary Motivations: Board Games as Social Catalysts

For women, Accessibility (easy to learn, easy to teach newcomers) and Social Fun (lighthearted social interaction, simply having a good time with others) are the most common primary motivations. Together, these two motivations suggest that female gamers are more likely to see board games as important props and catalysts in a larger social interaction—the game is a tool that facilitates having a good time with others.

The least common primary motivations are Conflict (hostile player interactions, high conflict mechanics) and Discovery (learning about new games / systems / mechanics).

3) FYI: Women & Men Equally Likely to Want to Kick Your Ass

As a proportion of their frequencies, the biggest gender difference is in Conflict (3.5 times more men than women had this as a primary motivation).

Even though Need To Win is the most common primary motivation for men, it is also the motivation where male and female board gamers are the most similar (13% vs. 12% respectively). So in terms of primary motivations, women are just as likely as men to want to kick your ass. It’s just that women care about some other motivations even more than winning.

4) Non-Binary Gender Gamers Want To Be Immersed In Alternate Worlds

Among our respondents, 1.1% identify as non-binary gender. In our current data set, we have data from 1,011 non-binary gender board gamers.

Accessibility and Immersion (elaborate lore and characters, immersed in alternate world) are the most common primary motivations among non-binary gender gamers. Conflict and Discovery are the least common primary motivations.

This pattern is similar to what we saw in the video game data. There, Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) was the most common primary motivation among non-binary gender gamers.

5) Younger Gamers Prefer Easy Wins

For gamers ages 13-25, the most common primary motivations are Need To Win and Accessibility. This combination suggests an interest in game mechanics that are easy to learn and get into, so they can focus on defeating their opponents.

Their least common primary motivations are Discovery and Cooperation (being on team, working towards common goal).

6) For Older Gamers, Discovery Tops The List.

For older gamers (ages 36+), the most common primary motivations are Discovery and Accessibility. This combination points to the appeal of board games as a relaxing discovery process for older gamers.

The two least common motivations are Social Manipulation (deceiving, bluffing, persuading other players) and Conflict. Note that both were middle-of-the-pack motivations among younger gamers, and this implies a decrease in the appeal of high conflict mechanics as gamers get older.

7) Gender Accounts For More Than 3 Times The Variance in Board Gaming Motivations Than Age Does

One common criticism of exploring gender differences is that we’re fixating on gender rather than considering other variables that likely impact gaming motivations. When we explored the video game data, one way to put gender differences in a broader context is by comparing the effect size of gender differences with age differences. For example, age explains more than double the variance in Competition than gender does. As we’ve pointed out before, even though (video) gaming forums are often obsessed with gender differences, the elephant in the room is actually age.

One way to put gender differences in a broader context is by comparing the effect size of gender differences with age differences.

When we examined the board gaming data however, we saw the opposite pattern. After collating the effect sizes of gender and age across all the motivations measured, we found that gender accounts for more than 3 times the variance compared with age. This means that the difference between young and old board gamers is relatively small compared to the differences between male and female board gamers.

Stay Up To Date with Our Findings

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Yes, we do! In the profile tool, we ask gamers to provide their BGG name if they have one. We’re planning to link the motivation data to BGG metadata, but haven’t gotten to it yet. But this gives us a way to isolate and analyze BGG members specifically. In the full sample of 91,035 gamers, 21% (or 19,108 gamers) provided a BGG name. When I analyzed just the BGG members for their primary motivations, here’s what I got.

Apart from the Discovery stand-out, it’s also worth pointing out that neither Strategy nor Aesthetics made it into the top 3 in any of the charts in this blog post, but they did here in the BGG sample.

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. Matt April 27, 2017 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Point 7 seems like it could use some editing for clarity, in particular the big quote is hard to follow. The point about age in video gaming vs board gaming was hard to follow on first glance.

    “One way to we’ve put gender differences in a broader context is by comparing the effect size of gender differences with age differences.” – remove we’ve maybe?

    “For example (in video game data), age explains more than double the variance in Competition than gender does. As we’ve pointed out before, even though (video) gaming forums are often obsessed with gender differences, the elephant in the room is actually age.”

    Good stuff though!

    • Nick Yee April 27, 2017 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      Good catch on the first. Totally a typo. And good suggestion for the second. Fixed!

  2. Joe Wasserman April 27, 2017 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Re: variance explained—how much unique variance did age and sex actually explain?

    • Nick Yee April 27, 2017 at 1:21 pm - Reply

      Across the 12 motivations, the average effect size for age was r=.08 (based on the correlations), and for gender it was r=.14 (based on t-tests). The largest effect size for gender was with Conflict at r=.30, while for age it was also with Conflict but at r=.17. So the overall (averaged) effect sizes are small, but some of the individual effect sizes (especially for gender) are medium-sized effects.

      (As I was doing the math, I identified a miscalculation. The article originally said “5 times more”, but it’s actually “3 times more”. I fixed this in the text.)

      • Joe Wasserman April 27, 2017 at 1:29 pm

        Cool, thank you for the explanation! Does that mean you regressed dummy-coded variables for each primary motivator on gender and age? Would be curious to see fuller multinomial logistic results. :)

      • Nick Yee April 27, 2017 at 1:44 pm

        Ah. Sorry for not being clear! In the back end, we have the z-scores on each of the 12 motivations for all the respondents. So for age, we calculated the correlation coefficients between age and each of the motivations. For gender, we ran a series of t-tests, one for each motivation.

        You’re right that we could have run a regression using the motivations to predict gender (and similarly for age) … [let me go run that real quick] … For gender, the model is R=.45 and for age, it’s R=.28. So in terms of R^2 variance explained, gender is 2.6X more than age. So in the same ballpark as the piecemeal method.

      • Joe Wasserman April 27, 2017 at 1:50 pm

        Oh! Okay, that makes good sense. So while 1-6 discuss primary motivations, 7 has to do with z-scored motivation scores. Thanks again for the extra stats details.

  3. Stew Woods April 27, 2017 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    Interesting stats Nick, but the title is misleading.
    Would you call someone who played video games once a month or less a “videogamer”?
    That’s nearly half the sample (44%)

    • Nick Yee April 27, 2017 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      The play constraints of video games and board games are very different though, so it wouldn’t be fair to penalize board gamers just because it’s much harder to get 4 people to show up at the same place at the same time (compared with being able to play a mobile game solo anywhere anytime).

      If many board gamers can only get a session in with their friends about once a month, then they fall well in the norm of “board gamers”.

  4. Aaron Lim April 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    I’m curious if there could be more info on the differences between competitive vs co-operative board gaming. For example, would there be a difference between “need to win against others” and “need to win against the game scenario”, or if chance is more preferable in a competitive game (as an equalizer) compared to co-operative games (seems “unfair”).

  5. Stew Woods April 27, 2017 at 6:05 pm - Reply

    I respectfully disagree. Most (if not all) board gaming hobbyists will play more regularly than once a month.
    The fact too that the bulk of your responses come from social media sites suggests casual players rather than people who I would personally term “boardgamers”.
    To me this explains the emphasis on winning over other motivations – a casual player isn’t invested in the form of the games in the way that hobbyist boardgamers are, and so will see a competitive game as a potential opportunity for demonstrating competence.
    Still, as I say, as a survey of the broader game playing population this is certainly interesting.

    • Nick Yee April 27, 2017 at 6:09 pm - Reply

      Fair points, and I definitely appreciate your taking the time to provide feedback on this issue!

  6. Derek April 28, 2017 at 3:29 am - Reply

    “Most (if not all) board gaming hobbyists will play more regularly than once a month.”

    I don’t think this is true; many of us have constraints that limit playing times or opportunities. If you asked “how many times would you *like* to play?”; then I think that might give a fairer reflection on who you could class as a “hobby” gamer.

  7. Andrew Ragland April 28, 2017 at 11:28 am - Reply

    Have you set up a similar study with role-playing gamers? I’d be very interested in seeing the results.

  8. Duane Cathey April 28, 2017 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    Nick, speaking to Stew Woods’ point, I don’t remember if the profile had a question regarding board gaming conventions or local meetups. But, you might be interested in the differences between casual board gamers, and those invested enough in the hobby to attend organized events. Even outside of large board gaming conventions, metropolitan areas often have multiple monthly, or even weekly, events available to gamers who exceed that ‘casual board gamer’ label. I know I would certainly be interested in data that compares and contrasts casual vs. committed players.

    • Nick Yee April 28, 2017 at 3:55 pm - Reply

      Check out the final toggle info section at the end of the post “Do You Have Data for BGG Gamers Specifically?”

  9. Wesley Lamont of RAEZ April 28, 2017 at 6:35 pm - Reply

    Fantastic Data and analysis, thank you Nick.
    I know from BGG demographics their users are predominantly white males with children. You mention the data is from social media so I’m presuming the male/female ratio is around 50%?

    Something else I would love to see would be that type of data split by geographic region. Did you have any data collected that would allow fir a European, Asian, western breakdown?

    • Nick Yee April 28, 2017 at 6:40 pm - Reply

      The BGG sample (21% of full sample) has a proportion of 12% female gamers. The non-BGG sample (the remaining 79% of the sample) has a proportion of 30% female gamers.

      I found this recent boardgamer poll on /r/boardgames that matches the 12% female gamers among more engaged boardgamers:

      The survey was English-only so Asia might be hard, but I think North America vs. Western EU would definitely be doable. I’ll make a note of that for a future blog post.

  10. Megan May 2, 2017 at 8:02 am - Reply

    I am curious if there was any significant information in the motivations of players based on location instead of gender or age.

  11. Roger May 9, 2017 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Love your stuff… keep up the good work!

  12. Emily July 13, 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

    I think the board vs video game / age or gender Conflict shift has at least one huge obvious factor.

    There are real people in front of your face, sitting near you, while playing a board game. Video game, not usually. It requires a very trusted group of people to be in a position to enjoy creating conflict, generally, as a lady who is probably, again, not in the majority at the table.

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