[This post is co-authored with Jennifer Day and Chris Karzmark, both PhD students at UCSC in Cognitive Psychology.]

At first glance, gaming and VR seem like a natural pairing, especially with their shared emphasis on action-oriented and immersive content. But gamer adoption has been slow and enthusiasm among developers is also waning. In this post, we’ll take a look at some survey data on the gaming motivations behind VR adoption. In a follow-up post, we’ll compare the concerns and frustrations among non-adopters and adopters.

The Gamer Motivation Profile

The Gamer Motivation Profile is 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 400,000 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

The VR Data Set

Alongside the Gamer Motivation Profile, we run a series of optional surveys that gamers can take. In a survey we ran between November 2016 and February 2019, we focused on VR adoption and collected responses from 2,375 gamers. For gamers who were adopters, we asked about their satisfaction and their frustrations. For gamers who were not adopters, we asked about their purchase intent (in the next 6 months) and their concerns.

VR adoption was defined as owning one of the current high-end VR devices.

We had a total of 2,375 responses (73% male, 23% female, and 3% non-binary gender). The median age was 25 (mean = 27.2, SD = 9.19). As with the responses to the Gamer Motivation Profile as a whole, these gamers mostly consider themselves to be core gamers (70% core, 22% hardcore, 7% casual).

VR adoption was defined as owning one of the current high-end VR devices (i.e., Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, PS VR, or HTC Vive). In the sample, 31% were VR adopters (and the remaining 69% were non-adopters).

Excitement and Destruction are Best Predictors of VR Adoption

Gamers who are VR adopters care more about Excitement (fast-paced, action-oriented, thrills, and surprises) and Destruction (guns, explosives, chaos, and mayhem) than non-adopters. This is the kind of gameplay that is often found in first-person shooters, and implies that many gamers who adopt VR favor more action-oriented gameplay. Intriguingly, interest in Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) isn’t a good predictor of VR adoption, although we might have expected it to be given the VR emphasis on immersion (but see the next point).

Fantasy and Discovery Increase Satisfaction Among Adopters

While the appeal of Fantasy (being someone else, somewhere else) doesn’t differentiate adopters from non-adopters, it turns out Fantasy does increases satisfaction among adopters. The same is true for Discovery (experimentation, tinkering, and exploring).

What gets people through the door is not the same as what keeps them happy once they are inside.

An analogy might be what gets people through the door is not the same as what keeps them happy once they are inside. And the pattern we see here might be driven by a variety of things, such as: 1) a mismatch between expected content and published content, 2) unexpected high appeal of immersive quality/content (more so than adopters anticipated), or 3) unexpected interface/presentation problems with fast-paced action games in VR (such as with refresh rates or field of view).

Older Gamers Are More Likely To Be Adopters

VR adoption rates vary across age cohorts in an interesting U-shaped pattern. Gamers between 18-25 are least likely adopters. Given the considerable cost of adopting VR, one reasonable hypothesis is that gamers 26+ are more likely to be adopters due to an increase in disposable income. And gamers 13-17 may have relatively elevated adoptions rates due to shared ownership via the family.

But this points to an interesting tension in terms of market adoption. Excitement is one of the motivations that drops the quickest with age (r = -.25, from our sample of 400,000+ gamers), and Destruction also declines (r = -.12). Thus, as increased disposable income among older gamers ought to drive higher adoption of VR, the key appeal of VR gaming is actually decreasing among these precise gamers, effectively constraining the market among the gamers who can afford VR.

What We Expect of VR is Not Set in Stone

What people expect from VR and the motivational appeal of VR is likely not set in stone, but a fluid amalgam of historical/current marketing, published VR games/content, and assumptions of what VR is supposed to be good at. The findings hint at the possibility of broadening the appeal of VR among older gamers by emphasizing other kinds of content and making clear to gamers that this content exists on VR (aside from the expected action-oriented games).

The motivational appeal of VR depends on what people assume VR is supposed to be good at.

What Are Your Experiences with VR?

We are planning to follow up with another post from the data set focusing on the open-ended responses that adopters and non-adopters provided when asked about their concerns (non-adopters) and points of dissatisfaction (adopters). But in the meantime, if you a VR adopter, what has your experience been so far?

About Our Co-Authors

Jennifer Day is a PhD student in the cognitive psychology department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is interested in how people communicate with and perceive each other through digital media, especially in newer forms like virtual and augmented reality. Her primary research focus is how the perception of faces and the development of expertise is altered by newer forms of digital face representations such as avatars, NPCs and digitally augmented face images. Jennifer enjoys video games and comics, and is both an expert in faces and a proud owner of a face.

Chris Karzmark is a fifth year PhD candidate at UC Santa Cruz. He received his BA at UC Berkeley. His overall research emphasis is on how our concrete, embodied experiences shape our mental models of abstract concepts. In his thesis, research, he is studying how our reliance of external memory aids relates to our mental models of our own memory. In his game research, he studies how particular games can shape players’ mental models, and how players interpret the intentions of such games. For fun, he’s in 7 tabletop campaigns right now, 4 of which he’s DMing, and he has logged almost 5000 hours just between Europa Universalis 4 and Crusader Kings 2.