MMO Focus: Traits of Popular Subscription Games

Posted by archiveDNA on Friday Dec 12, 2008.

Now that the trait system is getting more of a workout, we here at GamerDNA decided the resulting data pile deserved a column of its own. Remember, you too can participate in this experiment by following the directions in last week’s column.

This week’s column is hard to pin down, thematically, so just chant to yourself “not all who wander are lost,” and come with me.
Some traits are easy. When it comes to a game’s setting, some things leap to mind. “Fantasy.” “Sci fi.” Even “post-apocalyptic” is one of those things that most people recognize when they see it, even if spelling it proves to be a bit more of a challenge. The “playing against” trait is even easier – most people say “players” or some variation of “NPC.” In fact, you see pretty clear clusters of results for all the traits but one: “Playing As.”

Either we have a massive identity crisis here in the gaming world, or what you think you are has nothing to do with the games you play. Rampant individualists for the win!

Within the Playing As category, the blue lines were all of the responses that got more than 2% of the category. The red is the percentage those particular traits represent for the entire trait system. Simply put, there are a crazy number of people who boot up a game in order to play as a soldier. Sure, that’s a reflection of how many games there are where the main character is a soldier of some kind, but the games wouldn’t be produced if there weren’t a tremendous hunger to portray that archetype. Interesting, given that our culture does not encourage people to become actual soldiers.

But as with all statistics, you need the big picture. Those eight traits in the Playing As category are the most popular, sure… but the rest of the category consists of 974 others. No other category has such a long tail. That’s what I mean by rampant individualists.

Just for fun, by the way, here are the current traits across the entire system that have managed to garner at least 1% of the total entries:

So, what interesting patterns emerge when we run comparisons? Let’s revisit the MMO world and see what trends pop out at us.

One thing MMO people do that isn’t done by players of other genres is to identify very closely with their particular classes. This habit tends to fragment their “playing as” trait participation, since each game has multiple classes, and often unique names for the classes.

But given that MMOs have a lot in common with each other, let’s take a look at the other trait categories. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to limit this to four titles: WOW, WAR, LOTRO, and EVE.

When we look at the How It’s Played trait… no one agrees on how the games are played.

The most popular trait for WOW users in the How It’s Played category was “massively multiplayer,” with 32% of all WOW players selecting that trait.

Big deal, right? Everyone will pick that! In fact, I figured there would be enough overlap that I could make you a pretty graph to illustrate.


“Massively multiplayer” didn’t even make the How It’s Played list for EVE. The top How It’s Played trait for EVE was “complexity” with 24%. A tiny handful of WAR players chose “massively multiplater,” but when I say tiny, I mean less than 1%. WAR players went overwhelmingly with RVR, with 45% of players choosing that trait. 32% of LOTRO players selected “massively multiplayer,” but almost as many (31%) chose “story.” 29% of WOW players chose “raids” for How It’s Played, a trait that doesn’t appear in the lists of the other three games in our sample at all.

The Setting: The IP matters… except when it doesn’t.

Obviously, EVE is going to be a bit unusual here, given its non-fantasy setting. But the thing I find interesting about the EVE numbers is that EVE’s players did not get creative with the traits. 91% said the setting was “space.” Everyone else said “sci-fi fantasy.” The end. No long tail of craziness, no outliers, no one guy putting down “gay.”

The blue lines are WOW. The votes are clumped into three areas – Open World (30% of WOW players chose this), Fantasy (30%), and Dungeons (17%). The rest have fewer than 5% of players selecting them. The name of the IP is only given as the setting by 2% of players.

Compare that to LOTRO, where the name of the world was given as synonymous with setting by 53% of its players, or WAR, with 38% – both the top scoring Setting traits for the games.

“Fantasy,” a top trait of the system as a whole, did appear for all three fantasy MMO titles, but it was only a high scoring trait for WOW.

Finally, as I said, EVE players only gave one of two traits for the setting. LOTRO players were relatively precise as well, although in what I think is a lovely testament to the artwork, 26% of LOTRO players gave “beautiful scenery” as a setting trait. But WOW and WAR players got crazy with the traits in the long tail. I mean, Medieval Middle East (WAR)? Fantasy Hard Core? Or, really, my favorite, WOW and LOTRO are “high fantasy” but WAR isn’t?

Again, EVE players are precise and in agreement. They are playing against players. The end. No discussion, no farting around. Their opponent is clear. Not one single EVE player said anything different. It’s an example of group mind.

LOTRO and WAR players are a little more spread out than that, but the traits they list for their game’s Playing Against category are reasonably limited. WAR players offer five possible traits, four if you consider that Destruction and Order translate to the same thing as the WOW player’s version, the “opposing faction.” LOTRO players limit themselves to six, with poetic entries like “Armies of Sauron” and “Evildoers.” LOTRO players also list “Freeps” as an enemy, which is interesting given that the term means “Free Peoples of Middle Earth,” so by choosing that option, they’re essentially saying that they play as monsters.

WOW players are completely bonkers. They have given forty one possible options, at first glance. On second glance, the problem is getting them to agree on terms. LOTRO players, for example, all tend to simply say “NPC” when they mean any kind of non-player character, from monster to humanoid to instance boss. WOW players are more…creative. Terms include undead, demons, monsters, mobs, NPCs, elementals, murlocs, goblins, aliens, epic bosses, dragons, and more are all on the list, and all in statistically significant numbers, too. Once you lump them all into a single NPC category (and consolidate “alliance” with “alliance scum” and so on), you get a slightly more rational twelve traits.

So what do we see?

WAR, which has quite a bit of PVE content even with a PVP emphasis, triumphs with its marketing message of PVP action. WAR players are also likely to specifically declare the name of the opposing faction as their enemy, which may suggest that WOW players are more likely to have characters of both alignments than WAR players. In WAR, Destruction is vastly outnumbering Order players, whereas the situation is reversed (and not quite as drastic) in WOW, where the sides are called Horde and Alliance.

And even after the consolidation, when WOW players think about what they’re fighting, a lot more comes to mind, allowing this title to be more things to more people.

Finally, let’s talk Tone.

This time, LOTRO and EVE players are both tightly focused, and both WOW and WAR players can’t seem to agree. Again, that’s not a disadvantage in an MMO – you want to appeal to as many people as possible!

Look at the words WAR users have chosen – dark, violent, sexy, serious. 7% say it’s awesome. You’ve almost certainly got a good mental image right now. Now contrast that with WOW traits – colorful, fun, amusing, addictive. 14% said fun.

Just for the heck of it, I went back to the main data pull that Steve The Data Man gave me this morning. I wanted to see what MMO games got the fun trait from users.


And City of Heroes.

I don’t know what that means, exactly, but I think it means the industry has some work to do.

Posted in the categories: Market Trends


  • arislyn

    Personally, I didn’t fill in the “play as” field most of the time simply because I’m such an alt-aholic (especially for MMOs.) So, if I tried to put in all of the races/classes that I like in a game, I wouldn’t be able to add anything else to my traits!

  • bobslidel

    eve is hardcore.

    the rest is meh… candy canes, lollipops, fluffy care bears and bunny rabbits.

  • Uzik

    Your article was not very clear. The background isn’t referenced so what happened in the past is unknown. The testing methodology and test group size aren’t explained. It’s very difficult to draw any meaningful conclusions from this.

  • Tarminic

    Sums up my feelings about EVE pretty concisely.

  • T’Renn

    Yeah… this is why I left Eve for WoW. “Fun” didn’t even make the list for Eve.

  • Rooker

    That every player in EVE pointed at all the other players as the enemy is not group think. The other players are the opponents. Everything you do in EVE is in competition with everyone else, even the pve stuff.

    That everyone said so is an example of accuracy, not group think.

  • JAB

    This was cool and affirms my decision that EVE is a manly, manly game to play.

  • solarwinds

    Everyone in EVE *is* out to get you, so the results really aren’t that surprising. I agree it’s not group think, but rather the nature of the game.

  • john

    asking the player to provide/select traits is one thing, but asking him to do so in predefined catagories like “how it’s played”, etc, is quite another. Perhaps probe gamers on traits alone, then catagorize the results as you please.

  • Hehulk

    Eve is plenty fun. You just need to go looking for it, instead of having your hand held until you are given it. Takes a specific type of mind-set to enjoy that, but no other MMO has ever had me jabbering hours after an events because I’m still high on adrenaline

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