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Why Do People Play Mobile Games?

What are the main motivations to play mobile games? 

While the reasons for playing may vary from person to person, research from Quantic Foundry has identified six universal motivations for video game play: action, social, mastery, achievement, immersion, and creativity. It is the case that one motivation tends to be more prominent than the others – but most players are driven by a combination of these. For more about this model and to find out your gamer motivation profile, visit the Quantic Foundry website. 

Motivations are not mutually exclusive: for instance, if you like playing a certain game because it allows you to be creative it does not mean you will only play games that tap into your creative side. Similarly, social motivations underlie (at least partially) all forms of mobile game play – players are choosing to play video games in an internet-based community. For mobile game players, part of the enjoyment of playing comes from the fact that it takes place within a social space and being shared with other players. 

Let’s examine those motivations: 

Reason 1: Social fulfillment 

There are a range of benefits of social online play (for more on this, see our Benefits of Social Play article), with perhaps the most obvious being the ability to connect to friends and family. With 88% of gamers in the US reporting that games expand their social circles, it may come as no surprise that mobile games have become a fun, playful activity to enjoy together – at home, in another state or province or on the other side of the world! 

Mobile games also provide a great opportunity to make new friends – young and old, near and far. There are not too many other opportunities for a 20-something in California to befriend a 40-something in England! The social opportunities while playing online are endless. 

Reason 2: Psychological fulfilment 

Research has found that video games, especially mobile games, are so enjoyable because they satisfy our intrinsic psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. 

Autonomy refers to a sense of freedom and choice. Video games provide players with choices, rewards, and feedback to promote this sense of free will and influence on the outcome of the games they are playing. 

Competence refers to feeling successful when overcoming a challenge. Video games provide many different opportunities to develop new skills or abilities and typically provide positive feedback to the players as they overcome ever increasingly difficult challenges. This helps promote a sense of mastery and competence. 

Relatedness refers to being socially connect with others, such as the other online players – having this shared social experience with others increases the enjoyment and motivation to play any specific game for longer periods of time. 

Achieving a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness has also been related to achieving a sense of “flow” or “being in the zone”. Flow states (discussed in more detail below) are also critically important for promoting learning in video games. 

Reason 3: Educational fulfilment 

Mobile games are fantastic tools for learning because they induce what is commonly referred to as a state of “flow”. When in a state of flow, players become focused, seem to lose track of time, and are motivated to continue playing because they are having fun. Flow states occur when in-game challenges are perfectly balanced with their skill level. And if the mobile game is any good, this should occur often! 

Flow states provide unique opportunities for learning because the player is not only hyper-focused on the in-game challenges but also determined to complete them because they are being challenged. Since mobile games are also genuinely fun activities to participate in, they make the perfect vehicles for inducing flow and, consequently, promoting learning. In fact, mobile game designers and education scholars have noted learning is a common outcome of video game play because the sense of flow it creates challenges and motivates players to continually develop new and creative ways to overcome in-game tasks 

Furthermore, opportunities to learn from mobile games is not limited to any particular genre and the skills players acquire while playing online are often successfully transferred to other, offline contexts (such as work and school). 

Apart from helping to promote cognitive skills, such as creative thinking and problem solving, mobile games can be valuable tools for social learning. This can include developing or expanding one’s world views by befriending other players from different cultures and backgrounds as well as developing new social skills. 

For example, to be successful in online games, players often have to use a variety of social skills, such as leadership and agreeableness. Typically, social skills such as these are acquired through cognitive-social learning, which is the process of observation, rehearsal, and feedback.  

Online games (particularly Massively-Multiplayer Online Games, or MMOGs) provide the ideal space for this kind of learning as players are able to observe the social interactions of other players, rehearse and practice their own skills, and are continually receiving positive or negative feedback from other players. Motivated by their “flow” state and their desire for in-game success, players are likely to hone their social skills simply by continuing to play 

Top Tips

  • Remember that mobile games are a fantastic way of having real and meaningful social interaction

  • Consider playing games that have the option to develop new skills or abilities

  • Challenge yourself by playing mobile games that test your knowledge

  • Think of games as an educational tool  

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