Cultural Differences in Social Game Play: Asians vs Whites

By Yvette Wohn

Survey results of 176 Facebook game players showed significant differences between Asians and Caucasians in play motivation, perceptions of gifting and the extent to which the players engage in visual customization.

Four non-hedonistic play motivations were identified: building common ground, reciprocity, coping, and passing time. Of these,
Asians rated significantly higher than Whites in their expectation of achieving common ground through the games, while Whites were playing to relieve boredom significantly more than Asians.

Asians customized their avatar more than Caucasians

Asians were more likely to associate features in the game as social. Participants were asked to rate a number of statements related to their playing style from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). In their responses, Asians rated items significantly higher
than Whites on items such as “I buy virtual gifts to give to my friends,” “I think giving gifts increases friendship,” and “I post comments when my friends share their game achievements.” Asians also rated items higher than Whites regarding sharing their gameplay experience, such as publishing game achievements on their Facebook Wall. Differences were also seen in avatar customization: Asians were customizing their avatar more than Whites.

These differences can be explained by constructs of collectivism and individualism. Although collectivism and individualism was not separately measured, results of this study suggest that the ethnic groups of Asians and Whites were a rough proxy of collectivist and individual cultures: Asians scored significantly higher than Whites on a one-item measure, “I play Facebook games to feel like part of a group.” (Also, most of the Asians that participated in our survey were living in Asia, while most Caucasians were living in North America.) Prior research on these two constructs have shown that collectivist cultures emphasize group goals, community, and society as a whole, as opposed to individualist cultures, which place importance on the rights or goals of the individual.

This shows some interesting implications for social game design. If you’re a new service targeting Asians, or populations that have strong collectivist values (Latin and Black cultures could possibly apply) achieving critical mass could be made through gift exchange mechanisms and riding network waves among Asians who like to share their game experiences. Customizing mechanisms could also be used to maintain players (and bring in some revenue by microtransactions), by providing interesting items to further customize one’s character. Cultural differences can also explain why some games work in Asia but not in the Western hemisphere, and vice versa. It’s definitely interesting to see that even if you have the same game mechanisms, people interpret them differently and use them for different reasons.

This is a summary of a poster presentation to be given at the Meaningful Play conference this week.

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4 responses to “Cultural Differences in Social Game Play: Asians vs Whites

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  3. Interesting study. I just have a question though: wouldn’t avatar customization fall in line with individualism? Because of this, I would have expected more Whites to be customizing their avatars. Where did the Whites rank strongly? I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    Thank you!

    • Not being terribly familiar with intercultural studies, I was also confused by this somewhat conflicting result. However, talking with some people who do a lot more research in this area, they explained this as being a projectile of a self that is inhibited. In other words, the lack of being able to customize in the real world led people to be more extreme in the fantasy world. Of course, we can’t attribute all of this to individualism/collectivism because 1) Asians are more used to customizing their avatar since Taiwan and Korea (where most of our participants were from) already have a lot of social game sites that focus on avatar customization.
      Whites ranked highly on gift exchange (I give gifts to others, I receive gifts from others) and mechanics (caring about the numbers in the game). However, Asians also ranked highly in this so there was no significant difference.

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