Current Issue: Vol. 7-1 (03/09/2009)



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Characters and "Main Character"

To identify which of these factors players used to identify their main character, I used a classification tree analysis (a standard machine learning technique). The analysis showed that the logic sequence is best capture by the following branching:

- Is there a character that you spend 75% or more of your playing time towards?

- If yes, then that character is the main character.
- If no, then is one of your characters significantly higher level than all other characters?

- If yes, then that character is the main character.
- If no, then the player can't identify a main character.

The data show that asking players to identify a main character is something almost all players can do, but that players may use different rules to pick their main character. At the same time, the data show that asking players to pick their highest level character or the character they spend the most time on specifically may result in cases where the character isn't the one that the player would have identified as the main. In a world where every player has multiple identities, the concept of "you" can get very tricky.


Posted on October 9, 2008 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (0)


I find most of your conclusions in this article to accurately represent my experience with myself and others I game with. I would however suggest one other possible option in defining a "Main Character." With me it often coincides with the first character I've created in that particular game. At the least usually one of the very first given the chance of finding a certain characters class/archetype not suitable to my playstyle after some experimentation. For instance my current "Main Character" I'd say was one of the first 2 or 3 characters I created in the non Beta portion of the game I play. I enjoyed playing her and she is max level. But I had other more favorable characters and concepts that either the gameplay mechanics diverted me away from to her early on. I also have many other newer characters I have not only played more of in total but have discovered an archetype in the game I enjoy leaps and bounds above the archetype of my "Main Character" and find myself nearly exclusively playing. But I still routinely play this original "Main Character" out of attachment, friendships, story lines and completion oriented goals when new content is added.

Posted by: Adam Wilmot on October 9, 2008 11:43 PM

First of all, I really like your research. Nice to see something that can confirm or reject all of those stereotypes circling around MMORPGs.

However, I think I've found a slight inconsistency of text with the graph in this article:
"Female players were more likely than male players to devote their time to one character." - I see something opposite on the graph, is it just me or have something been mixed up?

Posted by: Andrzej Ruszczewski on October 10, 2008 1:58 AM

Andrzej - Thanks for catching that error. The graph is correct in this case. I've gone and changed the text correspondingly.

So the baffling thing is that women tend to be more likely to have a max level character, but they are less likely than men to devote their play time to one character. This could be due to two things, both which have data to support them:

1) Women spend more time playing than men.
2) Men are more likely to quit than women.

Posted by: Nick Yee on October 10, 2008 2:18 AM

I'd be interested in seeing how this varies for different MMO's. I'd assume that games with a large end-game focus such as WoW would have more people focusing on a single character, whereas games like Co(H/V) that aren't focused on raiding or other end-game activities and have far more options at character creation would encourage alting, but it would be interesting to see how large the difference is.

Posted by: Janne Lampela on October 10, 2008 5:12 AM

One thing I've discovered in EQ (prob true of any of the older MMO's) is that if one is in a raid guild, one may have a "main" who is the raiding toon.

However, one may spend "most" of one's time (that is, all one's non-raiding time)on an alt who is more fun because the toon/class is newer, fresher, etc. OR because the toon/class is more solo'able or more able to get exp groups.

I've not done so, but my RL signif other (male barbie shaman) made a female gnome necro, leveled her up to max, and is now seriously contemplating a "main change" in guild terms to make the necro his main in all ways. Another guildmate shaman has recently done the same w/ a warrior, and a cleric switched to a wizard. An enchanter switched to a monk.

In other words, the switches have been huge, not just druid to cleric or warrior to SK.

Posted by: Mari Bonomi on October 10, 2008 7:30 AM

This is a very interesting topic. I can't think about it with reflecting on my own patterns. In WoW and other MMO's another big differentiator is gear level. I suppose gear level is comparable to character level in that sense.

Posted by: Mike on October 10, 2008 11:30 AM

Another factor in identifying your "main": My main is the toon I've had the longest, so though I enjoy playing her more and identify more closer with her than my other toons, I don't play her much any more because she doesn't need the air time. She is all geared up, until something else changes in the game. My alts get more air time because I'm still trying to get them to that same state.

Posted by: Kim on October 10, 2008 2:51 PM

I enjoyed all of the research you have published here, as they make me reflect on what I really enjoy in MMO's. In EQ, my main switches based on the Guild it is in; i.e., the more active, helpful and friendly the Guild, the more time I spend on that character; then if that Guild disbands or changes, I tend to focus on another character in a different Guild; so I guess that I am in the minority for rotating amoung characters with no maxed out characters. Although I solo a lot (late at night), Guilds and grouping are the main reasons I enjoy EQ.

Posted by: Miami Joe on October 11, 2008 8:49 AM

By the logic above I would qualify as not being identify my main, which I disagree with. I have two max level characters my main and first 70, who I only spend a day playing now to maintain the characters gear level(i.e. weekly raid event). Where as my alt level 70 I have spent a lot of time playing to obtain raid level gear for; doing heroic instances and pvp etc. I certainly do play those 2 characters significantly more than the 10 or so mid level alts I have. My room mate is the same - his main already has raid gear for the weekly raid, his alts or close but not there yet.

Posted by: rednight on October 20, 2008 3:24 PM

I have an identifiable main character, but I have accomplished everything that I want to do with him for now. I use him to do dailies and collect gold for distribution to my alts. I try to keep myself fresh by alternating between my two alts who are in the mid level range, because I was at the burnout stage on my main. I see myself spending a week of gametime on one alt and then alternating to the other to keep them near the same level. I also have 2 lower level experimental alts on the same server, but I might not play them for months, and I usually do that just for a break from my top 3.

Posted by: Joe Hughson on October 20, 2008 9:40 PM

What about the concept of multiple mains? In a game with multiple realms, is it possible to have a main on each realm?

In addition to time played and level, I would wonder if a person would consider the character to which they have the strongest emotional attachment or feel a personal identification with as their main.

I wonder if putting the person in a position where they had to permanently kill off all characters but one, if the one that they would not kill would be their main.


Posted by: David B. on October 29, 2008 3:08 PM

I'd probably agree with Mari that for some people raiding is a factor when deciding your 'main' character. In WoW my main character is the one that is taken as default to guild raids (as opposed to me bringing an 'alt' because we are lacking a certain class).

From a guild progression point of view (at least for my guild) it makes sense to have people choose one 'main' character for raid purposes so that you have a better chance of increasing the raids overall gear level in each raid (and so making further raids possibly), rather than having people switch and gearing up more than one character per person before being able to progress to harder raids.

So my 'main' is the one that I raid with in my guild and if I wanted to change which character I raided with most then I would need to apply to change my main.

But, this isn't necessarily the one I play the most, or the only one at max level.

Posted by: Kel on November 11, 2008 3:37 AM

It's interesting how this relates to EVE. There's no max level, so that question doesn't work. You can't train skills on more that one character simultaneously, so people who like to use multiple characters often have to pay for multiple accounts.

Your "main" in EVE is usually the one you use most, while your "alts" are just accessory characters for various odd jobs. One alt I use is only for contacting people anonymously, and the other is just to run placeholder corporations.

Posted by: Almo on January 15, 2009 11:12 AM

In WoW, typically your guild (unless it is very very casual) expects you to designate one character as your main and others as alts. It's the one you level to the new max first after an expac, and focus most on gearing up. The main is the one you take on progress raids (if it's a raiding guild) and is the posting identity you assume in the guild forums.

People seem to switch mains most often when switching guilds. Sometimes a guild one desires to be in needs one of your alts' classes more than your mains' and so you switch. Another time people seem to switch mains a lot is when one of the xpacs come out.

In WoW, it also seems like occasionally people switch mains when patches to the game causes a character to become much weaker or "nerfed" relative to other classes than previously or the play dynamic changes so that the role of their class changes into something they no longer enjoy as much in raids or pvp. They either change mains or quit playing.

Wow is the only MMORPG I've played, so I can't say if this is the norm for other games that have been in existence for years, but many of the classes have changed greatly since the original launch, and a couple of the "hybrid" classes are now at least as powerful in specialized niches as "pure" classes and yet have more versatility. These classes are much more popular as raiding "mains" than they once were.

Posted by: Erica on March 8, 2009 7:36 PM
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