Inside the Gamer's Mind: Analyzing Player Engagement and Motivation

Kevin Bahler
PR Manager, Blog contributor
By the end of 2023, the number of mobile gamers surpassed 3 billion people globally. Brands and advertisers recognize that tapping into mobile gaming spaces will give them access to massive audiences, but gamers are not a monolith, so the process requires nuance.

Successful and effective marketing requires targeting audiences as specifically as possible, so brand managers need to understand who gamers are, how they game, and what drives them. Brands that learn these details can maximize the impact of their marketing spend by choosing the right mobile game partners and aligning campaign messaging with the audience’s deepest fundamental desires.
How Mobile Gamers Game

Everyone’s life is unique, and so is their relationship with gaming. External factors like daily schedule and socioeconomic level, as well as internal motivations (more on that later) all affect how people engage with mobile games.

Here are a few aspects that highlight the different kinds of gamers out there:

  1. Play Duration and Frequency
Casual gamers, as the name implies, don’t take gaming too seriously. They play during downtime and short breaks. As such, they will prefer games that have no time commitments and can be picked up and put down easily.

Routine gamers see their favorite mobile game as a part of their daily life, and schedule time in their day for playing. Sometimes this is a choice because they truly enjoy the experience. Other times, this is a result of game mechanics, which offer bonuses for daily log-ins, or use a timer system that requires multiple play sessions throughout the day.

At the far extreme, hardcore gamers are likely to have gaming sessions that last for multiple hours. These are the gamers that must leave their phone plugged into the charger so that their battery doesn’t run out. They also make use of the gaming mode on their phone to avoid being interrupted by alerts from other apps. For these players gaming is their primary hobby, but if you ask them, they’ll say gaming is life.

2. Context of Play
Our mobile devices are intimately personal, but they’re also permanently online, so mobile games find themselves in several different social situations.

Solo players are gaming by themselves, whether or not the game requires an internet connection. These people may enjoy the solitude as escapism from a hectic life, or simply choose to take their time and appreciate the game at their own pace.

Social players may be looking for community and connection, and the game itself is a way to facilitate that connection over a shared, enjoyable experience. These gamers are likely to find games with robust multiplayer, and specifically cooperative (co-op) mechanics. They may have a specific group inside the game (guild/clan/alliance) that they play with regularly.

Competitive players are also social, but they are playing to win. The challenge is not about defeating the game, but conquering the other players. They choose player-vs-player (PvP) games, especially ones with ranking systems and tournaments. These gamers often care about mastering skills to earn their glory.
3. Level of Engagement
Mobile games utilize a variety of experiences to engage players, including time-restricted events, multiple game modes, and special challenges for bonus rewards. The more committed and active players engage in all available content of a game, frequently logging in multiple times a day to be able to do everything available. These players have extraordinarily high conversion rates because of their interest in maximizing their gaming experience.

Casual and hypercasual gamers represent the extreme opposite, preferring “idle games” and autoplay features that don’t require constant attention and engagement. For some of these players, they prefer to see their progress through planning and resource management far more than actively controlling the action.
4. Device Preferences
With so many technologies available to play video games (PC, PlayStation, XBOX, etc.), it’s surprising to find that 60% of mobile gamers prefer playing games on their smartphones rather than other devices. Whether this is due to convenience, affordability, more nuanced factors, this dispels the antiquated notion that mobile gaming is secondary or disposable.

India, which is rapidly adopting video gaming in general, stands out strongly with 96.8% of all gamers playing on a smartphone or tablet.

On the other hand, multi-device players will play on computers and/or consoles as well as their mobile devices. These people are more likely to play mobile games while they are out of the house or not able to use their stationary machines.
What Motivates Gamers

In GameRefinery’s Motivations and Demographics Snapshot Report: February 2022, they describe mobile gamers within a “Motivational Driver framework.” This model includes 6 overarching categories, each with two drivers that are somewhat yin and yang. These Motivational Drivers help us more deeply understand the psychology of why gamers game.

Cut the Rope Zeptolab Game Screenshot
Escapism includes excitement & thrill, as well as thinking and solving. These players are looking for entertainment that takes their mind off of the stress and struggles of life, whether through adrenaline or stoic zen. Games like the beloved puzzle game series Cut the Rope blend these motivations by presenting intellectual challenges that must be solved in real time due to physics.
Narrowing Down to Demographics

While characteristics like age and sex are less important to advertisers than player motivations, they’re not irrelevant either. The report from GameRefinery gives examples of specific games within their motivational driver framework and the percentage of players by gender and by age group.

One thing we can learn is that motivational factors in a game only somewhat correlate to the demographics of its players. The author of the report says:

“Both 4X strategy and tycoon/crafting games appeal to players who enjoy optimizing complex production streams and getting the most out of available resources, but they interest different demographics. For example, women favor tycoon/crafting games more because of their more casual elements, whereas the complex, competitive warfare elements of 4X strategy games seem to appeal mainly to male audience.”
Key Takeaways for Brand Managers
With more than a third of the world playing mobile games, brands must carefully choose which games to partner with for collaborations. Just because a mobile game may align with your brand image and values doesn’t mean that their core player base will be interested in your brand’s messaging.

In order to most effectively reach your target audience, it’s crucial to understand who plays any given mobile game and what motivations that game satisfies. With this information, brands will be able to create an effective campaign strategy and adjust their messaging so that players are satisfying their desires by engaging with your brand.

Top global brands prefer to work with full-service licensing agencies like PlayMGT, which specializes in mobile game brand integrations and collaborations. Our knowledge of the nuances of mobile game marketing and player desires ensures that brands can see significantly lower customer acquisition cost (CAC) and higher customer lifetime value (CLV).

Contact the PlayMGT team today and see how we connect brands and games!
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