Focused on the prize: Characteristics of experts in massive multiplayer online games


  • Jing Wang Northwestern University
  • David A. Huffaker Northwestern University
  • Jeffrey W. Treem Northwestern University
  • Lindsay Fullerton Northwestern University
  • Muhammad A. Ahmad University of Minnesota
  • Dmitri Williams University of Southern California
  • Marshall Scott Poole University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Noshir Contractor Northwestern University



virtual worlds, games, massive multiplayer online role-playing games, game expertise


This study is the first large–scale multi–method attempt to empirically examine the characteristics leading to development of expertise in EverQuest II, a popular massively multi–player online role–playing game (MMOs). Benefiting from the unprecedented opportunity of obtaining game log data matched with survey data, the project investigated the relationship between player motivations and in–game behavior, personality characteristics, and demographic attributes with game performance and achievement, which we refer to as game “expertise.” Players who were high on achievement motivation or social motivation had higher game expertise, while those high on immersion motivation had lower expertise. Game experts were also characterized by focusing their game time on completing tasks. Younger players showed a slim advantage over older players. Male and female players exhibited similar expertise levels in this MMO.

Author Biographies

Jing Wang, Northwestern University

Jing Wang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Northwestern University.

David A. Huffaker, Northwestern University

David Huffaker is a researcher at Google, Inc. His research focuses on communication and networks in social media.

Jeffrey W. Treem, Northwestern University

Jeffrey Treem is a Ph.D. student in the Media, Technology, and Society program in Northwestern University's School of Communication. His research interests include the relationship between technology use and social perceptions of expertise.

Lindsay Fullerton, Northwestern University

Lindsay Fullerton is a PhD student in the Media, Technology and Society program in the School of Communication at Northwestern University.

Muhammad A. Ahmad, University of Minnesota

Muhammad A. Ahmad is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota (UMN).

Dmitri Williams, University of Southern California

Dmitri Williams is an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, where he is a part of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities (APOC).

Marshall Scott Poole, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Marshall Scott Poole is David and Margaret Romano Professorial Scholar, Senior Research Scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Director of I-CHASS: The Institute for Computing in the Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at the University of Illinois.

Noshir Contractor, Northwestern University

Noshir Contractor is the Jane S. & William J. White Professor of Behavioral Sciences in the McCormick School of Engineering & Applied Science, the School of Communication and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, USA. He is the Director of the Science of Networks in Communities (SONIC) Research Group.




How to Cite

Wang, J., Huffaker, D. A., Treem, J. W., Fullerton, L., Ahmad, M. A., Williams, D., Poole, M. S., & Contractor, N. (2011). Focused on the prize: Characteristics of experts in massive multiplayer online games. First Monday, 16(8).