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Unmasking the Avatar: The Demographics of MMO Player Motivations, In-Game Preferences, and Attrition
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Unmasking the Avatar: The Demographics of MMO Player Motivations, In-Game Preferences, and Attrition

September 21, 2004 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

Appeal of Game Elements

The following section is devoted to how gender and age are related to the appeal of specific game elements. Respondents were asked to rate the importance of the following game elements on an 8-point scale:

  • A good combat system
  • A good crafting system
  • Varied and interesting landscape
  • Varied and interesting quests
  • Highly customizable character creation

The following table summarizes gender and age differences. The percentages shown are percentages of players who ranked that element in the 2 highest points on the 8-point scale. The range shows the two percentages of the 12-18 age group and the over 35 age group to give a rough sense of how strong the trend is.


For both male and female players, the appeal of character customization decreases significantly with age. The appeal of the combat system decreases with age for male players, and remains stable and low for female players. Crafting systems have stable and moderate appeal for male players, while for female players, their appeal increases significantly with age. Interesting landscapes hold most appeal for young female players and decline with age, while they hold stable and moderate appeal for male players. And finally, quest systems have stable and moderate appeal for male players while they increase in appeal with age for female players.

It's a Matter of Perspective

There were also interesting findings with regards to preference for first person perspective (1PP) and third person perspective (3PP). Respondents were asked to indicate which they preferred or had no preference. For clarity, those respondents who held no preference are excluded from the charts in this section.


While there were differences between games (i.e. more EQ players preferred 1PP, and more DAOC players preferred 3PP), the gender difference was always present in every game. Exploring the data by age groups also revealed a similar pattern.


Because female players tend to be older than male players, it is possible that the above two graphs may be showing the same underlying factor. To show that age and gender are in fact impacting preference for perspective independently, the 1PP case is shown below split by gender and age groups. Women always prefer 1PP across all age groups.


Past data had suggested that gender differences are driven by different motivations for participation. In very broad strokes, female players are more drawn to relationship-oriented activities, while male players are more drawn to achievement-oriented activities6.

The perception and use of an avatar -- as the primary means of agency in online environments -- might be expected to be shaped by the motivations for participating in the environment. In particular, goal-oriented users may be more likely to treat avatars as tools/pawns to achieve goals, thereby encouraging a preference for 3PP that objectifies and externalizes the avatar. In contrast, relationship-oriented users may be more likely to treat avatars as representations of themselves in a social environment, thereby encouraging identification and treating the avatar as the self through 1PP. This would also be supported by the age differences, given that younger players tend to be more achievement-driven. In other words, I argue that more fundamental motivational differences are driving the gender and age differences.

To test this line of reasoning more directly, users who preferred 1PP vs 3PP were compared on their motivations for playing. Users who preferred 3PP scored higher on Achievement (t = 5.5, p < .001) and Competition (t = 8.5, p < .001), and lower on Serious Socializing (t = -8.0, p < .001) than users who preferred 1PP, which supports the hypothesis.

To tease apart the relative importance of age, gender and the motivations, a logistic regression was performed using 1PP/3PP as the categorical predicted variable. The Serious Socializing motivation emerged as the most significant predictor (t = 7.7, p < .001), followed by age (t = 6.2, p < .001), Grief (t = -5.0, p < .001) and then gender (t = 2.38, p = .002).

Thus, it appears that the observed gender difference is being driven by underlying motivational differences, between users who play to form and sustain relationships and users who objectify the environment and other users for personal gain. In either way, what is clear is that motivational differences are linked with preferences for perspectives in these environments.

While causality can't be directly inferred from this data set, the opposite claim that default (or fixed) perspective shapes motivations for playing doesn't easily explain the observed gender differences.

Fatigue and Attrition

One stable finding has been that female players are more loyal to MMORPGs than male players.



In a more detailed analysis, the following survey questions were used to explore player fatigue:
1) Are you bored with the game?
2) How likely are you to quit the game in the next month?

For both, the response choices were 5 points on a unipolar scale. The correlation between the two responses was .69 (p < .001). The two were summed to create a player fatigue index for each respondent. Male players (M = 4.20, SD = 2.01) scored significantly higher on this index than female players (M = 3.60, SD = 1.85), t(2348) = 5.18, p < . 001. Younger players scored higher than older players (r = -.14, p < .001). In other words, younger and male players have higher rates of attrition than older and female players.

Because female players tend to be older than male players, an ANCOVA was performed, controlling for age, to make sure that the age difference wasn't driving the gender difference. The ANCOVA showed that gender was significant independent of age, F(1,2330) = 14.2, p < .001.

Correlations with motivation factors were mild. Fatigue is negatively correlated with Casual Socialization (r = -.14) and Serious Socialization (r = -.09), and positively correlated with Competition (r = .07) and Achievement (r = .05). In other words, game loyalty is largely the side-effect of loyalty to social networks in the community.


Players are not all the same, and understanding how they are different allows better estimations of how a particular game design will attract a particular player base, and how altering an existing game design may cause different rates of attrition among different segments of the player base. Gender and age influence how players enter the market, why they play, what matters the most to them in the game, and also how quickly they get bored with a game. But it goes both ways, specific game mechanics and designs attract a specific segment of the demographic.

Understanding how basic demographic attributes interface with motivations for playing and in-game preferences prompts us to wonder whether personality attributes may provide another interesting perspective. For example, do introverts want different things out of a game than extroverts? Do they have different play-styles? In fact, the reverse question is even more intriguing -- If we had extensive logs of preferences and decisions that a player made in the game, given suitable permission from them, could we perform detailed and unobtrusive personality assessments of individual players? What can avatars tell us about the people behind the digital mask?



1. The basic demographics of MMORPG players provided in this article are a summary of data presented in: Yee, N. The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively Multi-User Online Graphical Environments (Under review).

2. Research in survey methodology has shown that construct-specificity improves inventory reliability, and that 5-point scales provide best reliability for unipolar scales.

3. A principal component analysis using an oblique Promax rotation was used. All factors had eigenvalues greater than 1.

4. For a more elaborate discussion of behavioral conditioning in MMORPGs, refer to :

5. For a more elaborate discussion of a model of addiction that accounts for intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, refer to:

6. See for more elaborate discussion of this trend.


Article Start Previous Page 2 of 2

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