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Why Do People Play Online Social Games?

2012 October 10

ResearchBlogging.orgIn a recent article in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, Lee, Lee and Choi[1] investigate why people are attracted to online social games.  They identify 6 dimensions describing motivation to play such games: social interaction, self-presentation, fantasy/role playing, passing time/escapism, entertainment, and challenge/competition.  Interestingly, social gamers do not report that they play such games to be social with others, and the primary reasons that non-gamers report avoiding such games is because they find social media notifications annoying and the games to be poor quality.  So wheras we now better understand why people don’t play online social games, we are not much closer to understanding why they do play them.

To make the conclusions they did, the authors created 36 items in eight categories based upon a literature review and a small-scale qualitative study conducted on Facebook.  They then asked these questions to 324 college students via an online survey.  Using factor analysis, they then identified 6 factors among these items.  These were not equally endorsed, however.  From most common to least common, participants rated the dimensions at these mean levels (items within the scale follow):

  1. Passing time/escapism (Mean = 4.58 out of 7)
    Because playing it gives me something to occupy my time
    When I have nothing better to do
    When I am bored
    Because playing it passes the time away
    So I can get away from what I am doing
    So I can forget about school, work or other things
  2. Entertainment (Mean = 4.01 out of 7)
    Because playing it amuses me
    Because playing it is enjoyable
    Because playing it entertains me
    Because playing it is exciting
    Because playing it is thrilling
  3. Challenge/competition (Mean = 3.11 out of 7)
    Because I enjoy competing with other players
    To complete a level or win the game
    Because I find it very rewarding to get to the next level
    To prove to my friends that I am the best
  4. Fantasy/role-playing (Mean = 2.18 out of 7)
    Because playing it allows me to pretend I am someone/somewhere else
    Because I enjoy the excitement of assuming an alter ego in this game
    Because I enjoy trying out new roles and personalities with my character
    Because I like to do something that I could not normally do in real life through this game.
    Because I enjoy being immersed in a fantasy world
    Because I enjoy role-playing my character
  5. Self-presentation (Mean = 1.98 out of 7)
    Because I want other players to perceive me as competent
    Because I want other players to perceive me as socially desirable
    Because I want other players to perceive me as likable
    Because I want other players to perceive me as friendly
    Because I want other players to perceive me as skilled
    To make a good impression
    To tell others a little bit about myself
  6. Social interaction (Mean = 1.62 out of 7)
    To get support from others
    To find people like me
    To find something to talk about
    To feel important
    To feel like I belong to a group
    To maintain a relationship I value
    To find new people
    Because I wonder what other people said

The “entertainment” label strikes me as a little strange.  Based upon the item content, I’d call it something like “affect” – I suspect respondents answering positively in this dimension would also endorse: “I play games because playing games makes me feel good.”

In any case, this breakdown and associated means have some compelling implications for social game design.  The top reason for playing games is escapism and boredom, but on average, participants only rated this barely above “neither agree or disagree” as to the reason they play games.  Entertainment rated near-neutral, and other categories were endorsed much less often.  At the bottom end, participants on average strongly disagreed with the idea that they played games to interact with others. In other words: people don’t play social games to be social. 

Instead, the only motivational social component to social games appears to be the method used to share them.  Social games become popular through viral sharing; but interestingly, an overabundance of notifications is also the number one reason given by participants not to play online social games (23% of respondents; followed by “poor game quality” at 16%).

The primary limitation of this study?  Because none of the dimensions were endorsed very strongly, it’s not clear that it actually comprehensively captures motivation to play online social games.  Since only game players were given this survey, they must play for some reason.  Analyses were not conducted to ensure that every participant rated at least one dimension strongly, which is a critical limitation to the use of this scale in future research.

Footnotes:
  1. Lee, J., Lee, M., & Choi, I.H. (2012). Social network games uncovered: Motivations and their attitudinal and behavioral outcomes Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 15 (12), 1-6 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0093 []
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  1. May 2, 2013

    Very interesting study, and the statistics are a bit puzzling. I think an individuals personality is directly related to why they play social games. Really good games can bring together all different types of players, which is what makes those games go viral in my opinion. They grab a broad audience of every demographic.

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