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Gamer Motivations

March 4, 2011

Dear Reader,

Having thought a lot about Spinks’s post over at Spinksville, I thought we’d converse today about the different motivations gamers have for playing MMOs.  I feel like a lot of the animosity that sometimes pops up both within the game and within the community stems from our different motivations, and being able to talk about these differences may help to put aside some of our disagreements.

I have no doubt that my list will not be exhaustive, so please feel free to add more in your comments, but I’m going to focus on the four that I believe to be the most common.  Also, unlike Sven’s post on the four faces of gamers, I’m not going to be evaluating anyone as more or less skilled or having more or less time (and doing so very well and humorously if you haven’t read his post).  I’m attempting to look solely at the motivations behind MMO gamers.

I’ll start this off by saying that I believe the core motivation of all of these groups is to have “fun,” but that they seek fun in different ways.  How we choose to have fun is a very personal part of us, and it stands to reason that we would become defensive if people challenged our right to decide what we enjoy.  That emotional defensiveness might be part of what leads to the bile we sometimes see in games and blogs, but the fun-seeking is what I believe ties us all together at the core.  While I understand that this belief is not an opinion shared by all, that’s fine, too; there’s a category for those as well.

The Completionist

We’ll start here because I believe this is the category into which I fall.  I like to finish things.  Completionists make it their goal to see new content and, hopefully, down it.  We enjoy filling out the maps, getting achievements, and playing lots of different alts.  However, instead of just being lumped into what’s commonly termed as a “Casual Gamer,” completionists want to raid.  We want to see the bosses, learn the mechanics, and down the bosses so that we can move on.  We expect others to be prepared to raid – both with gear, consumables, and knowledge, but we also understand that raiding can be very difficult and that some bosses have a high learning curve.  We’re slow to anger, but when we get angry, it’s often a slow-build up to an explosion because we begin to feel that the boss isn’t just taking a long time to master, but may never be mastered due to player X, who is thus threatening our ability to “complete.”

The Competitor

Not terribly dissimilar from the previous category, the Competitor seeks fun through conflict.  I don’t mean guild or real-world conflict (though that may also be true), but through the battle to be the best.  Whether it’s highest gear score, most achievements, top dps, or best battleground rating, the competitor doesn’t want to settle for second.  These players are extremely motivated to succeed and can be invaluable resources for the latest information on class mechanics, boss fights, Best in Slot gear, or BG strats.  The other side of their coin, though, is that they expect others to be as knowledgeable.  They may provide uninvited advice which can put off differently-motivated players, but I assure you, from their perspective, they’re only trying to help (I’m being genuine here, not sarcastic, just to be clear).  They can be quick to anger, but equally quick to forgive when people who’ve made an error get it right.  They can be excellent motivators as well, dragging everyone in their raid up to their level, making their success everyone else’s.

The Fashionista

These players want the best gear, period.  However, they differ from the competitors because it’s not about competition, it’s about having the best gear.  It makes no difference to them if others have equally good gear, they just want to ensure that they’re cloaked in the top loot, too.  These players know the drops from all the bosses, know which dungeons (or raids) to go to for the best upgrade to particular slots, and know the drop percentages of rare loot.  They curse the need/greed system because it’s cost them many, many times, but they also love the need/greed system because it’s been directly responsible for outfitting them.  Depending on the quality of player, they’ll have very strong feelings about guild loot systems, the best players preferring merit-based loot, the worst players preferring rolls.  These players only get angry if they feel their hard-earned loot is going to the wrong person, but that means they’re excellent motivators because they want to ensure downed bosses, and they’ll do anything to keep the raid focused and ready to keep pulling.

The Social Butterfly

These players approach the game for purely social reasons.  Sometimes the social reasons are admirable, that they want to play with their friends or be a part of a community.  Sometimes the social reasons are heartbreaking, that they don’t have a lot of friends where they live, so they seek them through the game.  Other times the social reasons are abominable, that they want to interrupt, irritate, or upset as many people as possible for attention-getting reasons.  These players won’t sacrifice their friends for progress and will support doing any activity as long as it’s part of a group.  They are highly diversified and considered helpful because whenever there’s a spot to fill, they’re willing to go.  They gab a lot in vent or in chat, but the “good” ones are enjoyed and appreciated by their friends (the trolls, on the other hand, are reviled and should be fed piece by piece to angry seagulls).  These players rarely anger, but could get upset if a guild rifts or factionalizes and their ability to socialize freely is jeopardized.

At any rate, those are the four that come to the top of my head for now.  Each one has scales of quality and morality.  Each category produces saints and jerks, pros and noobs.  In the end, though, we’re all just seeking fun, and when we remember that, when we remember we’re all just looking to have a good time, it can bring relief to gaming stress .

So next time you’re about to pound the keyboard or rage in vent, pause a moment – just a second – and think: How can I phrase this that is most likely to keep the most people having fun?  If you come up with a good answer, you’re bound to have many supporters in your audience.



5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 4, 2011 1:15 pm

    Have you heard of the Bartle archetypes? In 1996, Richard Bartle came up with these four archetypes for game players: Killer, Achiever, Explorer, and Socializer.

    They’re somewhat close to your categories, though in someways, your categories cut across the Bartle archetypes. And I don’t think you give enough weight to conflict between players.

    • March 4, 2011 1:39 pm

      I haven’t, but I’m going to go read them right now (and darn Bartle for beating me to something by 15 years!) (;

      Once again, I can only speak from my personal experience, but I’ve found that it’s very effective to appeal to the broad idea of “fun” when trying to negotiate a rocky social situation that’s interfering with game play.

      I know quite well there’s many more than four surface-level motivations from playing, and I’m well aware that conflicts can arise from far more than a superficial conflict of motivation. That said, I still find it effective to try to find the commonality between the disputers, and fun often does the job.

      I’ve had many, many issues between people while running raids, and for what it’s worth to make a totally unverifiable claim on a blog like this, I’ve had a lot of success at mediating said disputes. I was probably a better mediator than anything else as a raid leader, as I frequently delegated tasks beyond that to players who were better players than I. Take it for what it’s worth, though. You’ve been at this blogging business a lot longer than I have, so I’d be more than interested to hear your thoughts on the matter in greater detail.

      Thanks again for the input, and thanks for adding me to your blogroll (I noticed!).

  2. jamin1993 permalink
    March 6, 2011 11:24 am

    Interesting post.

    Quite a nice perspective to have when playing the game. Personally, as a person with very strong morals, I take on parts from all the ‘stereotypes’.

    I think the main problem, and I can say I have been guilty of it, is when your drawn into how your ‘supposed’ to have fun. As long as it isn’t conflicting with others interests, continue with what YOU enjoy.

    – Jamin

  3. sp1ky permalink
    March 7, 2011 11:00 pm

    I think the problem is that there’s only one level of diffculty in WoW. I think a possible solution is to have different realms be marked according to difficulty, so that hardcore players can join the hard realms, and casual players can join the normal/easy realms.

    Players on normal realms should be able to do all the content, but it should be much easier than the hard realms. Of course, the loot and rewards should be scaled back, so that hardcore players feel like they get more for being more dedicated.

  4. March 8, 2011 9:14 am

    I would say that I’m a Competitor with Fashionista tendencies.


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