I was in Hawaii last week to present “If You Let Them Build It, They Will Stay! An Empirical Study of Add-on Content and User Engagement”. It was a great honor to see the paper nominated for best paper award, alas we did not receive the award. This is the first paper we released based on the Steam Dataset I have been collecting and I am very excited to see where this dataset will take us.

The software market has been moving towards business models that favor long-term engagement over one-time sales. Often the software is offered for free, with the hopes of recouping development costs through advertisements, or sale of small add-ons. In the current situation, keeping users engaged becomes a major challenge and add-on content strategy is a crucial tool to keep the software engaging.

Having new heroes to the game is kind of vital to the longterm involvement and investment that the players have. You want to feel like it’s a living, breathing game that always has something new and exciting that’s being added to it.
Aaron Keller, Asst. Game Director, Blizzard Interactive

There are two major strategies when it comes to add-on content: (1) developer generated content (also known as DLC in gaming context), and (2) user-generated content. In our study, we try to figure out how add-on content strategy determines user engagement.

. . . the community itself makes ten times as much content as we do, we can’t compete with our own customers. Our customers have defeated us, not by a little but by a lot. They’re buiding content that’s just as good or better than what we’re building and they’re building it at a spectacular rate.
Gabe Newell, CEO, Valve Software

We found that while both strategies increased user engagement, using both at the same time limited their effectiveness. One exception to the rule was multiplayer games, where both strategies can be used without a reduction in effectiveness.

If you are curious about how and why we found what we found please find the full text here.

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