Study: As gamers age, their competitive instincts wane

People are playing until older, but they're not interested in contests

In a study that's unlikely to surprise many people over the age of 30, analytics firm Quantic Foundry has found that, although we're gaming until a later age than ever before, our interest in competitive play drops off sharply as we mature.

The report comes from a study of over 140,000 respondees who were asked to rate their motivations in pursuing an ongoing gaming habit. All twelve of the areas measured (destruction, excitement, competition, community, challenge, completion, strategy, power, fantasy, story, design and discovery) were found to decline over time, it's the desire to prove ourselves against our peers which suffers most, whilst the appeal of strategic play is the most enduring.

The study also found that, although the competitive instinct is highest amongst young men, the divide between genders all but disappears around the age of 35.

With the average age of gamers increasing daily, understanding the motivations of cash-rich, time poor older players becomes ever more important for designers, marketers and service providers. Still, even a proper understanding of today's older players isn't necessarily an indicator of how today's 18 year olds will be playing in 20 years time.

Whilst the study is an interesting window into the habits of people who grew up with the Spectrum, SNES and SEGA, author Nick Yee acknowledges that the experiences which those players had growing up are very different from those of children today - a factor which will affect which aspects of their hobby they enjoy most now. In other words, the danger is that the study could in fact show what people who were born in 1980 value, rather than what a 35 year old born in any year finds important.

"These findings are based on cross-sectional data, and we comment on this potential risk in the second-to-last paragraph," says Yee in response to a question on Quantic Foundry's blog. "The generational cohort effects are difficult to quantify and control for unfortunately. And the larger problem is that even if we did actual longitudinal tracking of the same gamers over time, we would still only have one cohort in the oldest bucket and no one else to compare them with.

"On the other hand, if the effects were entirely driven by cohort game styles, it's strange that the trends across the 12 motivations are almost always linear and not more chaotic due to the rise and wane of different game genres, etc. The stable linear trends across the four decades of data seem to be better explained by age.

"To fully address the confound, we'll have to wait till several generational cohorts pass through the 35+ threshold, and examine the stability of these trends. Since that kind of research takes decades, the cross-sectional data, imperfect as it is, gives us the best clues as to how gaming motivations change with age."

Latest comments (5)

Roberto Dillon Associate Professor, James Cook University3 years ago
"All twelve of the areas measured were found to decline over time"

This is a bit strange: if we keep playing as we grow older, some areas should replace those that become less meaningful, otherwise we would just stop playing if motivation disappears entirely or is greatly reduced. The Gamer motivation model used here is clearly related to other well established models used to study players and their motivations (e.g. 8 Kinds of fun, 4 Fun keys, Bartle's types, 6-11 Framework) but, maybe, there is something more that is missing?
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
That IS a bit strange. I tend to play more to explore and see what's up in that code and don't give a rat's ass about speedrunning or competitive play. I know some gamers who get into all that can visualize hitboxes and such, but I tend to be the turtle stopping and smelling the roses when I'm not blowing something up.
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Alfonso Sexto Lead Tester, Ubisoft Germany3 years ago
Hmm... Maybe depends on the game?

Speaking for myself: 35 y/o and used to be a big fighting game enthusiast when I was 20. But currently barely play any fighting game other than Mortal Kombat and mostly offline since I just don't have the time to master the combos and tactics of every character (Work, social meetings, Girlfriend) Still play competitive shooters since those have a faster learning curve.

Just an opinion.
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Matthew Martinez Consultant, BCG3 years ago
With regard to an overall decline in motivation, it would be my estimate that the responses were explicitly coded (i.e "How would you rate yourself on XX based on a scale of 1-5, 1 being most motivated, less motivated) or implicitly coded (I am the type of gamer who... "Likes to complete everything, will complete enough but focus on the story, is not concerned with completion"). This could mean that in general the older respondents gave lower average scores across the board than younger respondents. More importantly, I think it's an indicator that over time the commitment to gaming wanes. As others have suggested this could potentially be due to other influencing factors such as free time (rather than general lack of interest). Further evidence to support this could be highlighted by the fact that as individuals approach retirement age, potentially gaining more free time, their motivation again begins to increase. You might also recognize an inverse relationship with the average consumers salary over time ( It could be conjectured that as the average consumers earning potential increases, so do their work related responsibilities, and time constraints. As time passes and they prepare for retirement, they get some of that time back and choose to invest it into something they had always loved, but couldn't find time for, gaming.
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Ralph Tricoche Studying MA, CUNY3 years ago
This is no surprise to me. Personally, this is exactly how I feel. Over time I want my games to challenge me personally, help me think and grow. But competing against others has waned down to nothing. Its absolutely not even on my checklist.
I don't mind a friendly reminder, kind of how Just Cause 3 does it. My score versus the world. Lets me know there are others out there playing the game as well. But direct competition, is not important to me in the least.
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