World of Warcraft

[SURVEY RESULTS] Player Preferences in World of Warcraft Game Design

wow2 - [SURVEY RESULTS] Player Preferences in World of Warcraft Game Design

Hi everyone!

Remember me? No? Well, I can't blame you. But you may remember this thread.

If you do, you will find the results of that research project in this thread. If you don't, allow me to explain what this is about.

My name is Dennis and at the time of conducting that study I was a student in the course Digital Journalism and Media at the Technische Hochschule Köln in Cologne, Germany.

As part of my bachelor's thesis, I designed and conducted a study to measure how much players enjoyed the different versions of World of Warcraft available based on different aspects of the game. To do that I used a two part survey. The first part was designed by me and asked participants about which version of the game they most prefer for a given aspect of the game. The measured aspects are PvE, PvP, Leveling, World, Content, Character Progression, Class, and Overall Favorite and were identified based on an analysis of the game's development history. Based on patch notes and the changes introduced by expansions, these aspects were chosen as parts of the game that differ significantly between versions. In addition, participants were able to leave comments to explain their responses in more detail. The second part was an implementation of Nick Yee's Empirical Model of Player Motivation. This questionnaire allows for the creation of a "motivation profile" based on the replies given by a participant. In short, the results of this part told me why you like to play online games like World of Warcraft. For more information on Nick Yee's work, visit the Quantic Foundry website.

The goal of this thesis was to collect the data necessary to draw potential conclusions for MMORPG game design. To achieve that, the survey measured if there is a statistically relevant correlation between a player's favorite version of the game for a given aspect and their motivation profile.

Now, in this thread, I want to briefly present some general results as well as what are probably the most important insights. If you want to read the full thesis you can do so here. I'm currently still looking into how to best make the data set I worked with publicly available so others may work with the data as well. If you're interested in looking at the data I worked with you can message me on Reddit about it and we will figure something out.


First, some general data about the study. The survey was open for participation for nine days and during this period, 3.011 impressions occurred and 2.044 completed surveys were returned. Less than one percent of the data had to be pruned during the subsequent cleaning of the data. The resulting data set consisted of 2.032 entries. The gender distribution among participants was as follows.

Gender Distribution


Version Profiles

Based on the collected qualitative and quantitative data, version profiles were created for every version of the game. Due to the length of this section, I will only cover the most important aspects in this thread. More detailed versions of these profiles can be found in the full thesis.

First, lets take a look at the general distribution of participant choices across the measured aspects.

Version Choice Across Aspects

PvEPvPLevelingWorld ContentChar. Prog.ClassFavorite

Allow me to explain the data in the table above. What you're seeing here are the quantitative results of the first part of the survey. From this we can identify a favorite version among participants for each measured aspect. As the data shows, the Legion expansion was identified as the favorite version of the Reddit community in every aspect except PvP and Leveling. Mists of Pandaria and Warlords of Draenor won out in those categories, respectively. You might also notice that the data doesn't add up to 100% for every category. This is due to a "No Opinion" option that is not included in the results displayed above. Most notably, there was a large number of "No Opinion" responses for the PvP category. Comments indicate that participants were not interested in PvP or do not PvP enough to feel that they can accurately give an opinion.


Over the course of the survey, 4.178 comments in total were received. Based on an analysis of this qualitative data, more nuanced, written version profiles were created. As they would go beyond the scope of this post, you can find these profiles in the full thesis in the link above.

Hypothesis Testing

Before I go about the hypothesis testing for the survey, some background on the Empirical Model of Player Motivation is required. This model was developed by Nick Yee and verified and developed using a factor analytic approach. To date, the model has been refined and adjusted based on data gathered from over 400.000 participants and as such is one of the most substantiated models available for this purpose.

In this model, player motivation is measured in ten components distributed across the three main components of Achievement, Social and Immersion. Using the results from this part of the survey, I could distribute participants into these three categories based on their test results. The criteria used for the classification was the upper quartile, the top 25% of a component. What this means is that if you scored in the top 25% of the achievement component, your data set was marked as an achiever. If you scored in the top 25% of the social component, your data set was marked as a socializer and so on.

By applying a so called chi-square test, the statistical significance of a correlation can be measured. Following that, Phi and Cramer's V tests measured the effect size. What this means is that first, it was tested if a statistically significant relation exists at all. If it did, it was measured how strong it was.

The result of these tests was that there is a statistically significant correlation of small to moderate size between a player's motivation profile and their preference in MMORPG design.

This means that the reasons why you play online games have an influence on which kind of design you respond to or: Why you play affects what you think is fun.

I can only assume why the effect size is small to moderate, but my theory is that since MMORPGs are designed to appeal to all of these components, the mileage between different versions doesn't vary enough to cause strong differences in the composition of the playerbase. Again, covering this entire section goes past the scope of this thread. More details can be found in the full thesis.


Lastly, I want to cover the game design conclusions that were drawn from the data. For this, the results were once again split based on the measured aspects. For this thread, I will briefly cover each category. More detailed descriptions can again be found in the full thesis.


  • Players prefer design that gives them a feeling of agency
  • The structure of progression systems should be as transparent as possible
  • The game should offer a wide variety of content for solo and group-based activities as well as casual and hardcore players


  • Again, players prefer a feeling of agency in obtaining PvP items
  • PvP vendors were cited as an efficient means of achieving this
  • The most favored expansions in this category were praised for their class balance and the large toolkits available to classes


  • Players enjoy zones with strong themes and a focus on storytelling
  • Players prefer being flexible in how they progress through the zones of an expansion
  • Players also praised the more involved questing experience of later expansions
  • Highly competitive players prefer to be able to shorten or bypass the leveling experience

World Content

  • The world quest system was often cited as keeping the open world interesting and rewarding
  • Legion especially was praised for its breadth of world content

Character Progression

  • Players enjoy progression systems that are easy to understand and give them a feeling of control
  • Players feel that later versions of the game introduced disproportionate amounts of RNG into their progression systems
  • Players prefer a variety of paths for progression
  • Legion's legendary and artifact weapon systems were praised as meaningful ways of character progression

Class Design

  • In the most favored versions, players experienced their classes as well tuned with large toolkits
  • This gave players a feeling of being able to make an impact as well as a high skill ceiling

What took you so long?

Some of you might wonder why it took over four months for me to come back with the results. After I had conducted the study, I started analyzing the data and writing my thesis. The deadline for handing it in was at the start of August. Follwing that, my university had a period of up to eight weeks to evaluate and grade it, which they made complete use of. I received the results a few weeks ago and past that, I had to clear up some questions about publishing this.

A Word of Caution

As always with research, please take these results with a grain of salt. This was the first time in my life that I designed an instrument for research as well as the first time in my life that I handled statistical data and analysis to this degree. As part of the feedback given by my supervisors, I was told that my methodology is thin in places, limiting the plausibility of the resulting data.

In addition, a bias in the analyzed sample cannot be ruled out. The overwhelming majority of participants came from this Subreddit. What this means is that I predominantly measured the attitudes of a particular type of player and also that I wasn't able to measure the attitudes of players that no longer play the game, among other things. Once again, this is detailed in more depth in the full thesis.

A Word of Gratitude

That being said, let me once again thank you all for your participation! I had a lot of fun doing this and the response I received was bigger than I ever could've dreamed of. Over two thousand completed surveys was a great set of data to work with and I believe that it generated truly interesting results. So once again, thank you to everyone who participated and helped to make this what it is.

So what do you think about this? Please let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you have any questions leave them in the comments and I will try my best to answer them.

Edit: Thank you for the awards!

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