What Men and Women Consider Hardcore Gaming Are Not The Same

By |2018-08-02T12:44:23+00:00August 1st, 2018|Analytics, Video Games|25 Comments

In our talk at GDC 2018, we explored what gamer motivations would look like if we defined “casual/core/hardcore” gamers using different assumptions—e.g., by self-identification with labels vs. by gaming frequency vs. by specific game titles they play. In this blog post, we’ll focus on the slice by self-identification with labels, but we’re hoping to cover at least one additional slice in a future post.

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 350,000 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. You can get a more detailed description of our gamer sample here.

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

How We Asked Gamers About Their Gamer Type

In the survey, here’s how we asked gamers about their self-identification with gamer type labels:

Note that there isn’t a standardized definition of these terms in the gaming community, and without some guidelines around what these terms mean, the results would have been difficult to interpret. This was the rationale behind providing a loose definition that blended frequency with dedication for each label. We’re definitely not claiming these are the only possible definitions, or that our definitions are great, but it provides a working foundation from which to make sense of the findings.

In our full dataset, 68% identify as core, 21% as hardcore, and the remaining 10% as casual. 79% identify as male, 19% identify as female, and the remaining ~1.5% identify as non-binary/other.

The ESA’s 2018 report (US-centric data) estimates that 45% of gamers in the US are female. The delta between ESA’s 45% and our 19% is important, but how it impacts the findings depends on your interpretation of the cause of that delta. The ESA worked with Ipsos to survey 4,000 US households, but they are quite brief about their sampling methods and who got counted as a gamer.

What we do know is their sample has a large proportion of casual gamers. In their 2015 report, their most frequent gamers are most likely to be playing social games (31%) and puzzle games (30%). Note that this is their “most frequent” gamers. We can assume that their less frequent gamers are even more likely to play casual titles.

Our sample is biased towards core gamers–people who would click on something labeled a Gamer Motivation Profile. But when we’re drilling down to a specific game (like Diablo III in the Action RPG genre) or a specific cohort (like people who identify as Hardcore gamers), the 45% in the ESA sample is not a meaningful benchmark because a large portion of that sample was likely not playing a AAA game or would consider themselves Hardcore to begin with.

And note that despite the delta, the underlying trends in our data are consistent with the ESA’s report. For example, when we break down our data by genre, the genre with the highest proportion of female gamers (70% in Match 3 games) is also one of the top 2 genres in the ESA report with the higher female %.

Hardcore Gamers are looking for Fast-Paced, Skill-Based Challenges

In this chart below, the y-axis is showing the percentile rank of each motivation. That 50th-%tile line represents the average among the 350,000+ gamers who have completed the Gamer Motivation Profile. So for example, the 74th-%tile in Competition among Hardcore gamers means that the average Hardcore gamer scores higher on Competition than 74% of the gamers in the full data set.

Hardcore gamers are most different from Casual gamers in terms of Competition (duels, matches, leaderboard rankings), Challenge (practice, skill improvement, high difficulty), and Excitement (fast-paced, thrills, surprises)—they are looking for fast-paced, skill-based matches against other players. Casual gamers, on the other hand, are looking for calm, non-adversarial games that are easy to learn and play.

Appeal of Completion and Fantasy are Most Consistent Across Gamer Types

Completion (collecting collectibles, completing all the missions) and Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) vary the least among the gamer types. In this sense, these two motivations are orthogonal to what is considered Casual vs. Hardcore. Or put another way, these are the things that both Casual and Hardcore gamers can often agree upon, which is something we don’t usually consider because we tend to focus on how different Casual gamers must be from Hardcore gamers.

Completion and Fantasy are the two motivations that both Casual and Hardcore gamers can often agree upon.

And it also provides a basic recipe for how to enable coexistence. You create a common area based on task-completion in a moderately-immersive world, and then you provide separate optional lanes for fast-paced, competitive content and calm, solo content. Note how this model is very much the route that most MMOs have taken.

Playing a Game Seriously Means Different Things to Men and Women

When we focus on just the Hardcore gamers (10% of female gamers and 24% of male gamers in our sample) and break down the data by gender, we see that the overall emphasis on Competition/Challenge/Excitement is driven by the male gamers—these 3 motivations are the primary drivers among male Hardcore gamers. Female Hardcore gamers, while scoring above average in these 3 motivations are more strongly driven by Design (expressing individuality, customization) and Completion.

So for men, playing a game seriously means being able to beat other players at it. For women, playing a game seriously is more likely to mean having completed and done everything there is to do in a game, and to leave traces of your personal flair in the game while doing it. For Hardcore female gamers, playing a game seriously is more akin to patiently creating and curating a work of art. And it’s a powerfully evocative alternative to how we typically conceptualize what a “hardcore gamer” is.

Is Hardcore Breadth or Depth?

This gender comparison between Hardcore and Casual gamers also highlights the difference in coverage of different motivations: Male Hardcore gamers are below average in Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) and Story (elaborate plot and interesting characters), whereas female Hardcore gamers are consistently above average across all gaming motivations.

Female Hardcore gamers are consistently above average across all gaming motivations.

Thus, for men, being Hardcore is more about specializing into competitive gaming, whereas for women, being Hardcore is more about developing a broad interest in all aspects of gaming.

For Men, Casual Means Blowing Things Up

Let’s flip this around and look only at Casual gamers (21% of female gamers and 9% of male gamers in our sample). Gamers who identify as Casual are less enthusiastic about every gaming motivation across the board. So this is why almost all the bars are below the median line.

Casual male gamers score highest on Destruction (guns, explosives, chaos). For them, casual gaming means blowing things up and leaving behind a trail of chaos and mayhem. Note how the things important to Hardcore male gamers—Competition, Challenge, and Excitement—are now deemphasized among Casual male gamers.

For women on the other hand, casual gaming looks a lot like the markers for Hardcore female gamers. We see Design and Completion along with Fantasy. Casual female gamers like being teleported to another world with task completion and customization opportunities.

Many Potential Lenses

Our goal in this post was not to define what “Casual/Core/Hardcore” mean—that’s a much bigger discussion around the intersection of gamer preferences and game mechanics/complexity. We were more interested in exploring what “hardcore” and “playing seriously” means for gamers who ascribe to different gamer type labels (as one of many possible ways of slicing the data).

The two main takeaways are that 1) Hardcore female gamers have different motivational drivers than Hardcore male gamers, and 2) Hardcore is more about breadth for female gamers and more about specialization for male gamers.

It was precisely the most frequent and loyal gamers who got stereotyped as being “casuals”.

The gaming community tends to define Hardcore using the male gamer lens, so there’s inevitably a tautologous conclusion that male gamers are more likely to be Hardcore. But this leads to distortions in making sense of actual gaming behavior. For example, in a study of 7,000+ EverQuest 2 players that my colleagues and I conducted, we found that female MMO gamers spent more hours playing per week and were less likely to consider quitting.  But ironically, it was precisely the most frequent and loyal gamers who got stereotyped as being “casuals”.

What’s clear is that we need to be constantly exploring different lenses for understanding player categories and identifying potential fault-lines between our assumptions and gamer data.

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.

25 Comments

  1. Garth August 1, 2018 at 1:52 pm - Reply

    Nick, you may have covered this in previous work, but the aspect of this data that really stands out to me is that casual gamers don’t really seem to like gaming all that much. And hardcore gamers love every facet.

    I suppose this isn’t headline news, but it’s actually rather surprising to me. I compare this with my personal experience of people’s enjoyment of board games: there seem to be plenty of casual players who LOVE simple, social games like Cards Against Humanity and Pictionary but would never play, e.g., a more complex German board game. And yet these casual players think of themselves as “game lovers.” They set up game nights! They’re no less passionate than the hardcore board gamers, but they like very different games.

    • Nick Yee August 1, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

      Overall dampened enthusiasm for sure, but even among casual gamers, there’s a clear gradient between things they tend to care more and less about. And together, these motivations articulate specific gaming preferences that can be catered to.

      More importantly, every tick along the motivation spectrum points to a valid game mechanic/experience. So low on Excitement means a preference for calmer, turn-based games. But a turn-based game isn’t any less “gamey” than a real-time game. Similarly, a solo game is just as valid a gaming experience as a coop/competitive game. And gamers who score low on Strategy are the ones who prefer to be spontaneous and just jump into the fray.

      So there is this duality/polarity to the motivations that sometimes gets lost because we tend to say low/high. But they definitely point to valid game experiences/mechanics.

  2. No Name For You August 1, 2018 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    What Garth says resonates with me- I’ve long suspected that ‘casual gamers’ are really just ‘people who might play games once in a while but basically aren’t into it’, and this data seems to back it up. Seems like this has pretty big implications on how much casual gamers should be marketed to.

    • Polaris August 1, 2018 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      I would argue that hardcore gamers do not “love every facet” of the games they play. The hardcore gamers that I know tend to not love the non-competitive, “fluff” elements of the game that attract and keep the so-called casuals. But if there is a way to make fluff content competitive, then they may pay attention to those features and get good at them in order to compete.

      Likewise, I disagree with the statement about casual gamers being those who play once in a while but aren’t into it. As Nick said at the end of the article, there are very different lenses through which to review and interpret the data. “But ironically, it was precisely the most frequent and loyal gamers who got stereotyped as being “casuals”.”

      The article is very good and eye-opening.

      • Luke August 1, 2018 at 6:14 pm

        Hey Polaris, I think that what’s happening here is that there are two different categories being discussed here which are both being classified as ‘casual’, so people don’t necessarily mean the same thing when they say casual.

        The first category is what someone outside of the ‘core’ gamer spectrum would identify as ‘casual’ and makes more intuitive sense: those who play games occasionally or ‘casually’ and don’t feel the need to be terribly invested in the game. They might like to play a flash game on occasion but don’t otherwise play action-oriented games and don’t feel the need to master them in the way a speed-runner might.
        Because they don’t want to make too much of commitment of time, money or skill (for whatever reason), they may move on from one game to another without really going in depth to it which tends to cause friction with those gamers who feel you haven’t really played a game if you aren’t prepared to explore everything it has to offer. (I’ll leave the nature of the conflict between ‘hardcores vs.casuals’ elsewhere, because I’m not knowledgeable enough about the game development industry to have an informed opinion on whether game design really is being modified to accommodate ‘casuals’ more than committed gamers.)

        The second category is the source of most of the confusion on this matter: Those gamers who prefer to play games of the genres that tend to get grouped and labeled together as ‘casual’. These would be your Hidden Object, Match 3, Time Management Games and a few other genres. And of course, there are those who play MMOs for the community or the opportunity to play as specific, personalized characters without having to get knee deep in the game-play of the game their playing.
        Hardcore gamers label these genres as casual because of their simplified game-play which don’t really offer the depth (or often the tension) that these gamers are looking for. But other players play these games very seriously: these might want to master finishing Candy Crush stages in the shortest amount of time/smallest number of moves, want to play all the Hidden Object Games they can [for reasons I can only hypothesize about], etc.
        It’s these gamers that come off as being anomalous to those who don’t understand why anyone would devote their time to mastery of games with less complexity of game-play.

        Now I’d suggest that the first category is probably pretty evenly split gender-wise but that the second category might be the one with a significant gender imbalance.
        I’d also suggest that ‘hardcore’ gamers have the opposite problem: I play games super seriously as a way of life, which makes me come off as ‘hardcore’ to my non-gaming family, but I play a breadth of genres for different experiences whereas ‘hardcore’ gamers devote themselves to a limited range of genres (frequently competitive, action-based ones) for the sake of mastery (which from a competitive lens often means, ‘I can beat you in a FPS or a MOBA match).
        Because I don’t do this, I don’t feel comfortable classifying myself as hardcore even though I’m just as serious and committed to gaming as any hardcore player. This may be a very ‘male-centric’ interpretation of hardcore, but it’s the one most gamers would be familiar with and probably the one most female gamers would rely on too for self-identification.
        All due respect to Nick but while I get that the intent here wasn’t to pin down and ‘define’ what ‘hardcore’ and ‘casual’ mean, you did sort-of try to define them in your survey based on commitment to gaming, even if you acknowledged here that they were only tentative definitions to build on later. I don’t really think you could have written the rest of the post without doing so but by avoiding pinning down a more firm definition early on, you didn’t really avoid being tautologous about what motivations are ‘hardcore’.

        Anyway, that’s my two cents worth (okay, probably more like two dollars, but eh). What are everyone else’s thoughts on the matter?

      • Andras Borbiro August 2, 2018 at 12:35 am

        I agree with Luke (August 1, 2018 at 6:14 pm). Regardless of whether the survey’s intent contained giving an approximate circumscription of the categories or not, it was done (implied) nonetheless.

        I (male, 32yrs) have categorised myself as hardcore gamer in the past, but since growing up I feel that very few games can offer me the complexity and depth I now need (instead catering to the most important male hardcore gamer requirements seen in the survey results), I now no longer do so. However, I am also not casual in the sense that some of you mentioned above (and the survey implied) because I do have very strong preferences (story, fantasy, discovery mainly), but which are not catered to well nowadays. And I like to discuss gaming much longer and deeper than other “casuals”. This suggests to me that there is a proportion of gamers with a demand that lacks a supply.

        A remark: the games of David Cage seem to fill this to a great extent. Many non-hardcore gamers, women also, seem to respond to them strongly as well!

        And one other thing: it would seem that some of the motivations can be misleading. For example, COMPLETION is a very important need in life, but for me it means getting to know what happens to side characters, to tribes or cities or factions or families etc. appearing in the game. For others (it seems….), it seems to mean collecting all 100 types of swords or bird feathers or car types, performing more-often-than-not tedius tasks (kill a hundred wolf) for getting meaningless rewards… Of course I am being ironic, but it do seems that completion has a deeper and broader meaning (usually thought of as characteristic for women), and a much more shallow and, unfortunately, more frequent meaning.

  3. Julia August 1, 2018 at 11:33 pm - Reply

    What trips me up about this is that the definition of ‘hardcore’ basically says that you can’t be a hardcore gamer if you don’t have money for high-end equipment. Maybe ‘strive to have high-end equipment’ would have opened the door a bit wider? The ‘and’ kinda makes it seem that the equipment is a prerequisite to calling yourself a hardcore gamer.

    • Gerry Quinn August 2, 2018 at 9:45 am - Reply

      Indeed, you could be very hardcore at a card game, for example, while having a very average PC.

  4. BarleySinger August 2, 2018 at 8:06 am - Reply

    This study is highly suspect. Their gender category doesn’t match any of the studies showing who actually is into video games in this era.

    They state :

    >79% identify as male, 19% identify as female,
    > and the remaining ~1.5% identify as non-binary/other.

    Except that these days, the average gamer is a female in her mid thirties, not a male in his teens or early 20s. The fact that they missed their basic statistical spread on gender so badly indicates that they were recruiting participants in a way that heavily appealed to males & not to females. The only way you can get results that badly off is to use an inherently biased approach in their study design (if they even had a design).

    • Gerry Quinn August 2, 2018 at 9:48 am - Reply

      Sez who?

    • Nick Yee August 2, 2018 at 11:55 am - Reply

      The ESA’s 2018 report (US-centric data) estimates that 45% of gamers in the US are female:
      http://www.theesa.com/about-esa/essential-facts-computer-video-game-industry/

      The delta between ESA’s 45% and our 19% is important, but how it impacts the findings depends on your interpretation of the cause of that delta. The ESA worked with Ipsos to survey 4,000 US households, but they are quite brief about their sampling methods and who got counted as a gamer.

      What we do know is their sample has a large proportion of casual gamers. In their 2015 report, their most frequent gamers are most likely to be playing social games (31%) and puzzle games (30%). Note that this is their “most frequent” gamers. We can assume that their less frequent gamers are even more likely to play casual titles.

      Our sample is biased towards core gamers–people who would click on something labeled a Gamer Motivation Profile. But when we’re drilling down to a specific game (like Diablo III in the Action RPG genre) or a specific cohort (like people who identify as Hardcore gamers), the 45% in the ESA sample is not a meaningful benchmark because a large portion of that sample was likely not playing a AAA game or would consider themselves Hardcore to begin with.

      And note that despite the delta, the underlying trends in our data are consistent with the ESA’s report. For example, when we break down our data by genre (https://quanticfoundry.com/2017/01/19/female-gamers-by-genre/), the genre with the highest proportion of female gamers (70% in Match 3 games) is also one of the top 2 genres in the ESA report with the higher female %.

  5. just a thought August 21, 2018 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    A very interesting article! Thanks for your work on this.
    In your surveys, i noticed that tabletop RPGs are almost completely excluded as options, despite the fact that tabletop roleplayers are gamers. Were you intending the implication that only videogamers count, or was this an accident of language? If it was, could the language be adjusted, going forward, to switch the term “gamer” for “video gamer”, so it’s clear that the study is only intended to research a specific kind of gaming?

    • Nick Yee August 21, 2018 at 6:02 pm - Reply

      We actually have two separate profile apps–one for video games, and one for board games, and we maintain these as two separate data sets. So some blog posts pertain to the video game data set, and other blog posts pertain to the board game data set. In the tag list right under the title (I know it’s not super obvious), the context is mentioned as a tag.

      With Tabletop RPGs, we cordoned them off from the Board Games profile app not because they doesn’t count as gaming but because we recognize it’s not the same thing as board games, and lumping them together would be a disservice to them both.

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