Characters and "Main Character"

Asking gamers about many aspects of their gaming highlights the problem of multiple characters. For example, if we asked players about guild affiliation, we would like a yes/no answer from each participant, but what about players who have multiple characters, some of which are in guilds and others not? This is typically dealt with by asking players about their main character. This solution allows each player to provide a yes/no answer, but then the problem is what players mean by a "main character". If a player has one level 70 character and another has 5 level 30 characters and they both say they have a main character, do they actually mean the same thing? Researchers may then want to define "main character" more strictly by time played this month, highest level character, and so forth. In this article, we'll take a look at different aspects of player's characters, whether they can easily identify a main character, and what rules they use to do so.

On average, players have 8.7 characters on their accounts. As the graph below shows, female players tend to have more characters on their accounts than male players (9.7 vs. 8.3). There does not appear to be a stable age trend.

While this number of characters may suggest that it would be hard for players to have to pick a main character, most players have no problem doing so. Overall, 89% of respondents said that they could readily identify a main character. There was no gender difference, but younger players found this easier to do than older players (96% vs. 85%). This may be linked to a higher achievement motivation among younger players that makes it easier for them to focus on a few characters. We'll see more data later on that supports this.


In terms of level spread, the majority of respondents (70%) said that they had one character that was significantly higher in level than their other characters. There were no age or gender differences in this response. And overall, 68% of respondents had at least one max level character. There was a mild age trend where players in the 23-28 age group were most likely to have a max level character and those at the two ends were less likely to do so. Surprisingly, female players were also more likely then male players to have at least one max level character across all age groups.

In terms of time distribution among characters, most players played more than one character in the past month. Only 17% of players had only one active character in the past month. On the other hand, 76% of respondents noted that they have a character that they devoted over 75% of their playing time toward in the past month.


When asked more directly whether they tend to devote their playing time to one character or split it among many, only a handful of players (12%) said that this was their primary play pattern. The greater part of respondents noted that they were somewhere in between. About 40% of respondents noted that they tend to devote their playing time towards only one character. Male players were more likely than female players to devote their time to one character.

If we slice this data by age, we also see that it is younger players who tend to devote their playing time towards one character. This may be due to their tendency to find achievement motivations appealing (thus having a stronger drive to focus their energy in one character to level them up high) and this helps explain the earlier finding where we saw that younger players also found it easier to identify a 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.