Chinese Gamers are More Competitive and Completionist, More Homogeneous in Gaming Motivations Than US Gamers

By |2018-11-27T17:22:36+00:00November 27th, 2018|Analytics, Video Games|8 Comments

Since the beginning of the year, Quantic Foundry and Niko Partners have been working together on a series of survey-based projects. Niko Partners is a market research and consulting firm covering the games markets in Asia.

In one of these projects, we used the Gamer Motivation Model as part of a larger study to create a player segmentation of Chinese gamers. This serendipitously allowed us to compare US and Chinese gamers, and explore how gaming motivations vary across cultures.

The Two Data Sets

The Quantic Foundry (QF) data comes (as usual) from the Gamer Motivation Profile, a 5-minute survey that allows gamers 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 survey is in English and thus respondents are predominantly from North America and the Western EU. 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

The Niko Partners (NP) data comes from an online survey (in Simplified Chinese) of 2,000 representative digital gamers in China (from a survey panel provider), balanced across more than 40 cities in tiers 1 through 5. In that study, a gamer is someone who has played more than 60 minutes of games in the past 30 days.

For this analysis, we sampled only US respondents from the QF data set (n = 176,806). In the US data, 23% of respondents identified as female, 74% identified as male, and 2% identified as non-binary gender. In the China data (n = 2,000), 44% identified as female, and 56% identified as male. The median age of the US sample is 26 (with an interquartile range of 9). The median age of the China sample is 30 (with an interquartile range of 10).

In terms of platforms used for gaming, 93% of the China sample has gamed on a smartphone in the past 30 days, 54% have gamed on a PC, and 25% have gamed on a console. In the US sample, 79% regularly game on PC, 63% on console, and 39% on smartphone.

Overall, Niko’s data is more representative of Chinese gamers, while Quantic’s data skews towards a core (younger male PC/console) US gamer demographic. We’ll revisit this bias towards the end of the article after reviewing the findings.

Although many games have been or are now popular across both the Chinese and US markets (e.g., PUBG and World of Warcraft), the Chinese gaming market has been able to develop in a semi-isolated manner due to a variety of government regulations that constrained the spread of Western games—the ban (until recently) on Western consoles, the cultural review of content, and the Great Firewall. Netcafe culture (due to the relative historical difficulty of owning a computer by the average citizen) has also facilitated more online multiplayer games. This has allowed a local gaming industry to evolve that taps into Chinese-based lore (e.g., Journey to the West, wuxia) and a different set of sensibilities and emphasis on different mechanics/genres (e.g., lots of browser-based MMOs).

Chinese Gamers are More Driven by Completion and Competition

The Gamer Motivation Profile is benchmarked against QF’s existing data set (based largely on gamers in the West). In the chart below, the 50th%-tile line indicates the perfect average of each motivation in QF’s full data set. This is why the US data (a large portion of QF’s data set) hews closely to the average. The error bars in the chart are based on 95% confidence intervals.

Motivations, like IQ and personality traits, are man-made constructs that are entirely relative measures. They have no natural 0-point values. They only exist in comparison between people. And thus, the most meaningful way to visualize them is to benchmark them against the known group average. For example, it doesn’t make sense to plot IQ starting from 0 because 1) it diminishes the visual differences between people of normal IQ (around 100), and 2) 0 is not the minimum IQ value since it is possible to have negative IQ.

The average percentile of a group can never be 100 or 0. Consider that the average height of a basketball team is always less than the height of its tallest player. So 0 and 100 percentiles are not meaningful floor/ceiling values because they are impossible group averages. If you are stats-savvy enough to wonder about normalized values: consider if we were plotting these in z-scores instead (with a mean of 0 as the origin point, i.e., the equivalent of 50th%-tile assuming normal distribution), what would we use as the y-axis limits in that case since the 0-point is already being used as the origin line?

The average Chinese gamer cares more about Competition than 75% of US gamers.

Let’s take the 75th%-tile that Chinese gamers score on Competition—the appeal of duels, arena matches, and leaderboard rankings. That 75th%-tile means that the average Chinese gamer is more interested in Competition than 75% of gamers in QF’s data. Given that the US data is so close to the average, this also essentially means that the average Chinese gamer cares more about Competition than 75% of US gamers.

There are statistical tautologies involving population averages that may be unintuitive to non-stats folks. The following statements are all true, by statistical necessity:

  • The average US gamer cares more about Competition than 50% of US gamers.
  • The average US gamer cares less about Competition than 50% of US gamers.
  • Half of the US population has below average IQ.
  • Half of the US population is above average in height.

Similarly, Chinese gamers are also more interested in Completion—the appeal of collecting points/stars/trophies, completing quests/achievements/tasks. Conversely, Chinese gamers score below average across the Immersion and Creativity motivations (the last 4 motivations in the chart). They are less interested in being immersed in a compelling game world (Fantasy), interacting with an elaborate story and large cast of NPCs (Story), exploration and experimentation (Discovery), and customizing their avatar/town/spaceship (Design) relative to US gamers.

The Competition finding may seem unintuitive because in the US cultural context, we tend to stereotype Asians as being compliant and striving for social harmony. But the data strongly suggests this stereotype doesn’t hold true among Chinese gamers, and the higher interest in Competition can help to partly explain the popularity of games like PUBG in China. After all, Battle Royale is probably the furthest away you can be from “social harmony”.

Gender Differences are Much Smaller in China

In previous blog posts (see here and here), we’ve shown how male gamers (in the West) tend to be more driven by Competition, Destruction, and Challenge, whereas female games tend to be more driven by Design, Fantasy, and Completion.

Among Chinese gamers, only 3 motivations cross the threshold of statistical significance between male and female gamers.

The data from China looks very different. Of the 12 motivations, only 3 cross the threshold for statistical significance (at p < .01)—male gamers in China care more about Destruction, Discovery, and Competition. Of these 3, the differences in Competition and Discovery are substantively small (about 5 percentile points apart). Overall, the only robust difference is that female gamers in China are less interested in guns, explosions, and mayhem than male gamers. In contrast, 9 of the motivations are at least 10 percentile points apart in the US data between male and female gamers.

In the US, there’s a lot of contention around the cause of observed gender proportions in different game titles and genres, specifically as to whether these differences reflect the historical marketing/cultural framing of games for boys or deeply-rooted biological differences between men and women. The data from China suggests that even very large gender differences in gaming motivations can be almost entirely explained by cultural/marketing factors without using gender as an explanatory factor.

Age Differences Are Also Much Smaller in China

In data we’ve previously shared using QF’s full data set, we’ve shown that the appeal of Competition declines dramatically with age, and it’s the motivation that changes the most with age. The appeal of Excitement also declines a lot with age in the US. The table below presents the correlation coefficients between age and each of the 12 motivations, broken down by country.

Age-related differences in gaming motivations are much more muted among Chinese gamers.

In China, the age differences are much smaller (similar to what we saw with gender differences). None of the correlations in the China data exceeds 0.10 (what is considered a small effect in psychology research), and only 4 of the coefficients are significant at p < .01. In contrast, 7 of the coefficients exceed 0.10 in the US data, with 2 coefficients exceeding 0.25.

So while the appeal of Competition and Excitement drop rapidly among US gamers as they get older, these effects are much more muted among Chinese gamers.

Motivation Homogeneity and Making Games

When gaming motivations vary a great deal in terms of gender and age (as they do in the US), it means game design and marketing have greater difficulty in being broadly appealing to different gamers, because they will often run into breakpoints in terms of gendered or age-based appeal.

On the other hand, the homogeneity of gaming motivations among Chinese gamers suggests a higher likelihood of cross-cutting appeal of game titles. Put another way, a game designer for the Chinese market likely has to worry less about satisfying orthogonal or opposing interests among different players because most Chinese gamers tend to care about the same things (high Completion and Competition, low Discovery).

In the US, gamers who identify as core are more interested in Competition and Challenge than those who identify as casual. Given that the US sample skews towards core gamers while the China data is more representative (i.e., more balanced between core PC and casual mobile gamers), we actually would have expected the US data to skew higher on Competition and Challenge. The fact that the findings are strongly trending in the opposite direction implies we’re looking at a lower bound—i.e., if we rebalanced the US sample to consist of a larger (more representative) proportion of casual gamers, the US vs. China difference in Competition would be even bigger.

Similarly, we would have expected the more homogeneous US sample (centered on core gamers) to exhibit lower variance in terms of gender and age, but again, we found the opposite: the more heterogeneous China sample exhibited less gender and age variance.

The Questions That Remain

These findings raise a variety of interesting follow-up questions that our data cannot currently address. For example, the findings imply that the gender proportion of different game titles/genres in China ought to be far more stable than the large variation we see in games in the US. It’s also difficult for us to pinpoint the exact causes behind these observed differences (and lack of differences) in China. For example, the greater prevalence of more gender-neutral MMOs (relative to first-person shooters) may have shaped the adoption of gaming in China, leading to less gender differentiation (relative to US gamers).

What are Cultural Differences in Gaming You’ve Seen?

If you’ve played games made in different countries, or frequently game with people from other countries, have you noticed any interesting cultural differences in terms of preferred gaming mechanics or styles of play? Tell us in the comments below.

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. Christie Haskell November 27, 2018 at 11:50 am - Reply

    There was a series of Reddit threads (that you may already be aware of) on a related subject: contrasting Korean WoW vs. NA/EU WoW that you may find interesting:

    • Nick Yee November 27, 2018 at 3:16 pm - Reply

      That’s super interesting. Thanks for the links!

  2. Jeff November 27, 2018 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    Hi Nick, interesting article. I am concerned about comparing these two survey groups who were gathered in different ways. It would be helpful to know more about how the Chinese group was contacted for participation in the Niko survey. You mention that it was an online survey, how was this publicized? This would be helpful in deciding whether this group is representative of the whole, or a survey was merely reached a niche group. In what sense can we claim that Niko’s survey is more representative, and how would we back that up?

    • Nick Yee November 27, 2018 at 5:21 pm - Reply

      Hi Jeff – The Niko respondents were from a survey panel provider based in China (i.e., folks who previously volunteered to be part of a survey panel), and this specific sample was put together by the panel to be representative of digital gamers in China (i.e., more or less representative by gender, age, and city tiers).

      [Adding “(from a survey panel provider)” in the text to clarify this.]

  3. Elena November 28, 2018 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    RE: the sample bias–the assumption that mobile games are casual games doesn’t really hold water on that side of the Pacific. Mobile MOBAs, shooters/Battle Royales, and ARPG/MMOs in particularly enjoy greater popularity among Chinese players, and include fully-fledged systems that retain most of the complexity found in their PC counterparts. So your sample might be more core than you think if you’re mostly basing that assessment on their gaming platform of choice!

    As an example, right now the top 10 free downloads on the Chinese app store include 2 shooters, 2 action games, an MMO, a MOBA, and a management sim/RPG (AC Rebellion) with a core to casual ratio of approximately 4:1, maybe 7:3, depending on which camp you put AC into. In contrast, 5 of the American games in the top ten free downloads are puzzlers (with an overall core to casual: ~1:9, maybe 1:4).

    • Nick Yee November 28, 2018 at 6:10 pm - Reply

      That’s a really good point about mobile. The Chinese respondents came from a panel provider using their generic consumer panel (i.e., not recruited into panel simply because they are gamers), so that’s the primary underlying reason why I think it is much more likely to be representative of Chinese gamers as a whole. But you’re absolutely correct that the difference in mobile usage, in and of itself, shouldn’t be used to differentiate casual vs. core, since mobile means something entirely different in China.

  4. Luke November 30, 2018 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    I probably shouldn’t be asking data scientists to speculate on things that can’t be directly measured, but since you’ve pointed it out: do you have a hypothesis on why Chinese gamers are more motivated to compete given the social stereotype of the Chinese (well, the stereotype applies to most Asian countries now that I think about it) as striving for harmony and being compliant as a result?

    • Nick Yee December 2, 2018 at 7:53 pm - Reply

      Here’s a thought that comes to mind based on my own personal experience of growing up in Hong Kong (before being in the US for high school and after).

      Collectivist cultures tend to emphasize standardized tracks and metrics on a smaller number of variables (often centered on concrete facts/figures rather than individual creativity/expression). And because everyone is being measured by the same yardstick, you always have a quantifiable position relative to everyone else. So ranking becomes a core aspect of living in these cultures, where there is often a clear quantifiable path of ranking higher. This also means that conformity and competition often go hand in hand–you have to buy into the status quo norms that is ranking everyone.

      Individualist cultures on the other hand tend to believe that human accomplishment is multi-faceted, varied, and too nuanced to be quantified in a strictly linear way. In its most extreme form, this gets parodied as the “everyone is a winner” joke. So even with things like Common Core, the underlying intent is not to rank students, but to make sure each child is (ostensibly) living up to his or her own potential. And you see this tension in the college acceptance affirmative action cases recently: most colleges judge students on a more holistic non-linear well-rounded basis, whereas the Asian plaintiffs (tend to) focus more strictly on the quantifiable grades/SAT scores.

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