Do Suspense and Surprise Drive Entertainment Demand? Evidence from Twitch.tv
55 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2020 Last revised: 10 May 2021
Date Written: May 8, 2021
We measure the relative importance of suspense and surprise in the entertainment preferences of viewers of Twitch.tv, the largest online video game streaming platform. Using detailed viewership and game statistics data from broadcasts of tournaments of a popular video game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), we compute measures of suspense and surprise for a rational Bayesian viewer. We then develop and estimate a stylized utility model that underlies viewers' decisions to both join and to leave a game stream. Our method allows us to causally identify the direct effect of suspense and surprise on viewers' utilities, separating it out from other sources of entertainment value (e.g. team skill) and from indirect supply-side effects (e.g. advertising). We find that suspense enters a viewer's utility, but provide little evidence of the effect of surprise. The magnitudes simply that a one standard deviation increase in round-level suspense decreases the probability of leaving a stream by 0.2 percentage points. We find no detectable effect of suspense and surprise on the decision to join a stream, ruling out indirect effects. Variation in suspense levels explains 8.1% of the observed range of the evolution of a stream's viewership. Finally, we evaluate several rule changes in the design of the CS:GO tournaments, and show that making team win probabilities more homogenous will make games longer and more suspenseful, increasing viewership. Together, these results illustrate the value of our method as a general tool to be used by content producers and platforms to evaluate and design media products.
Keywords: Entertainment Marketing, Media Consumption, Preferences for Information, Suspense and Surprise, Choice Modeling
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation