Highlights about children's game play motivations from Games Week seminar Digital Kids Today

We had the pleasure of having Maurice Wheeler enlighten us on children's motivation for playing games, at the seminar Digital Kids Today.

Building on the previous work that looks at gamer typologies, The Little Big Partnership looks specifically at children and what motivates them.

The current research determines different motivations for children to play games. In this short article, we shed light on some of these subjects.

Some might think that if a game offers the classic gamification elements, such as the ability to collect and level up, it will automatically motivate the child to continue playing. However, the current research conducted by The Little Big Partnership tells us otherwise.


“It doesn’t come as a surprise, that some children are more into playing games involving pets, while others enjoy being superheroes or spending time on being creative. However, it surprised me that the use of classic gamification elements isn’t necessarily the right motivation for all children”

Maurice Wheeler, partner, The Little Big Partnership

Understanding different gameplay motivations

The current research by the Little Big Partnership, points out six gameplay motivations, which are presented below. The research is still in progress, and the possibility for changes due to new data may occur. Despite this, the overall message still stands. There are several gameplay motivations that we as game developers must be take into account when designing games for children.


The Adrenaline Junkie:

The name says it all. Fast pace motivates this child. Despite this, it is important to keep the cognitive and physical ability of the attended target group in mind. At some point, too much speed and action may risk stressing the child and cause anxiety, which is far from motivating.


The Storyteller:

The motivation for this type of child, comes from the ability to engage in, and shape stories. This audience doesn’t care about levels, they care about new adventures. Give the younger children games that copies their everyday life, and let the older audience role play “adult life”.


The Power Seeker:

This type of gamer is motivated by achieving power, always aiming at being the best, power up, reaching the highest level etc. Remember the rules for designing challenges that fit the right age, making it too easy to achieve high power levels can result in bored children.


The Problem Solver:

The Problem Solver is motivated by understanding challenges and solving them. These types of games demand skills within logic and strategic thinking. The audience is typically from the age of 7-8 and up, since logical and strategic thinking kicks in around this age.


The Socialiser:

Using games as a social channel to team up with friends or new acquaintances. This type of game play needs to address the ability to collaborate, allow for chats and sharing of content, in order to keep the audience motivated to play.



The Creator:

This type of gamer loves to make stuff. They are motivated by the process of creating, but also the result and the proud feeling their creations give them. A great way to motivate this audience, is by providing a guided process, that helps children create something they can be proud of.


How to make use of the knowledge

According to Maurice Wheeler, game developers need to be aware of the different gameplay motivations, and at best stick to one or two motivations, in order to address the primary audience the best.

Furthermore, we need to remember the cognitive development of the child, to develop age appropriate games.

Published: 28.04.2017

Maurice Wheeler, partner @ The little Big Partnership

As Founder and Strategy Partner at The Little Big Partnership, Maurice Wheeler has spent the last 19 years looking at how children engage with the world. This research has helped him develop audience lead strategies for clients including Disney, Google, Lego, The Premier League, Oxfam and the BBC.

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