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In Virtual World, Women Outplay Men

December 17, 2009

Women play longer in popular online game, are happier players than men and healthier than both sexes in general population ““ but are less honest about their time online

They may not admit it, but female players of a large online game are more hardcore than men or teenagers, according to a sociologist of virtual worlds.

Dmitri Williams, assistant professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, found several surprises during his study of 7,000 anonymous players of “EverQuest II.”

While 80 percent of players were male, female players spent more time in-world: 29 hours a week, versus 25 for males.

“The women play more intensely than the guys do,” Williams said. “They’re less likely to quit, and they’re happier playing.”

As the first game researcher granted access to a virtual world’s servers, Williams was able to measure playing time directly.

That turned up another surprise: Women underestimated their playing time more than men.

“The women really under-report,” Williams said. “They play more than they admit.”

Williams was not able to explain the difference. He suggested that women may be conditioned to view gaming as a male pastime and therefore may distort out of a sense of shame or stereotype pressure.

Other findings from the study, published online in the December issue of the Journal of Communication, included:

“¢ The top 10 percent of female players averaged nearly 57 hours per week, eight more than male players. “A subset of the women are very hardcore players,” Williams said.

“¢ Female players ““ especially the older ones ““ weighed less and exercised more than males or females in the general population. Male players reported fitness levels similar to non-players.

“¢ Men and women feel very differently about playing together. More than 60 percent of women reported playing with a romantic partner, compared to only 25 percent of men. And each preferred it that way. “Men are happier when playing without their partner. Women are happier when they play with them,” Williams said.

“¢ Female players were five times more likely to report a bisexual orientation: 15 percent, compared to about 3 percent of women in the general population.

The survey took place over three days. Players were recruited with the offer of a “Greatstaff of the Sun Serpent,” a keepsake created specifically for the survey, in exchange for participation. Everyone who logged in during the recruitment period was offered the same prize.

Contrary to another stereotype ““ that of the teenage game player ““ the average age of the 7,000 players surveyed was 31.

“We found that older players were more typical,” Williams said. There were more players in their 30s than in their 20s, and playing time tended to increase with age.

In a first for online game research, Sony Online Entertainment agreed to let the researchers access anonymous game data.

The resulting discrepancy between actual playing time and players’ own estimates potentially calls into question 30 years of game research based on self-reported data, Williams said.

Williams’ co-authors were Nick Yee of the Palo Alto Research Center and Scott Caplan of the University of Delaware.

ABOUT DATA CONFIDENTIALITY

In an effort to better understand the playing habits and patterns of its customers, Sony Online Entertainment participated in a research study with Dmitri Williams, assistant professor of communications at USC Annenberg. Sony provided Williams and his colleagues with data from its massively multiplayer online game video game “EverQuest II.”

The information Sony provided for the research project was scrubbed of all personally identifiable information prior to being provided to the researchers. None of this information was connected to, or linked with, the real names or other personally indentifiable information of any players.

ABOUT DMITRI WILLIAMS

A leading researcher in the social uses and impact of large games and virtual worlds, Williams is the first game researcher to be granted access to a major online world’s database. As a result, he was able to compare anonymous survey responses to hard data about in-world behavior.

Williams also conducted the first long-term experimental work on video games. Prior to this work, no experimental study of a game had a stimulus that lasted for longer than 90 minutes.

His controlled study of a massively multiplayer online game tracked players over 56 hours of exposure and monitored their play habits, their uses of the software and a wide range of outcomes.

These studies generated a series of research findings that have been published in the leading communication journals. The work was also invoked in Williams’ expert witness testimony before the United States Senate and in two high-profile federal court cases.

Working at the intersection of sociology, psychology, communication and new technology, Williams studies large-scale game worlds for their research usefulness as simulators and sources of effects that might be difficult to observe in the real world.

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