The Demographics of Game Choices

Many MMOs allow players to choose sides or affinities. Sometimes, like in City of Heroes/Villains, players can choose between a clearly good or evil side. In other games, like World of Warcraft, the good/evil divide is a little less clear cut. Of course, these choices don't always revolve around good and evil. For example, they may involve choosing a race, or choosing between technology and nature. Here I'll present some data on different hypothetical choices that a game may ask a player to make when creating a character or during character development. What we'll see over and over again is that whenever a game asks players to make a choice, players seldom evenly distribute themselves. Instead, other factors, such as age, tend to be correlated with those choices. This in turn creates demographic differences between sides/affinities in games.

For example, let's start with the good and evil split. The graph below shows both an age and gender difference. Younger players prefer to be on the evil side, and this tendency decreases as age increases. There is also a relatively more mild gender difference in the mid-ranges where male players are more likely to be on the evil side than female players. What's interesting here is that the distribution roughly matches the 2:1 Alliance-to-Horde ratio in WoW.


Another choice that almost all MMOs ask players to make is to choose a race. To simplify matters, I choose 3 races - Elves, Humans, and Undead. Overall, there were almost no age differences, and the only striking difference that emerged was that female players were more likely to prefer playing Elves whereas male players tended to be more evenly distributed.


Another kind of choice that has less often been made explicit in MMOs is choosing a source of power. For example, a pet could be magic-based (e.g., elemental), nature-based (e.g., wolf), or technology-based (e.g., mechanical droid). Demographic differences with these three hypothetical choices were interesting.

Male players were about 3 to 4 times more likely to prefer a technology source than female players, and female players were about twice as likely to prefer a nature source as male players. Preference for a magical was roughly comparable between male and female players. There was also an interesting age trend among the male players. Preference for technological sources decreased as a function of age.


And finally, another functional divide in most MMOs is between dealing damage and healing damage. In this particular question, I focused on spell-casting and whether players would prefer a damage spell or a healing spell. Here, the gender difference is quite clear. Female players prefer healing spells over damage spells. There is also a mild age difference. Older players tend to prefer healing.

Added Note (03/25/2007): I wanted to add briefly how complicated these gender findings can be, and how they might be a reflection of other variables. For example, we also know that female players are more likely to be playing with their romantic partners. And it makes sense that a player's preferences might be shaped by their game-play history. Is it possible that men "encourage" their romantic partners to play healing/support classes to help their own playing styles? Or for example, women are more likely to be playing in the same room with someone else playing. Might this contextual difference lend itself to preferring more social modes of play? So I would caution against interpreting the graphs in this article as being purely driven by gender (i.e., women are biologically hard-wired to prefer passive, supporting roles), but rather, as the complicated outcome of gender, cultural, and contextual differences.