Suspense and Surprise in Media Product Design: Evidence from Twitch.tv

65 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2020 Last revised: 2 Jun 2022

See all articles by Andrey Simonov

Andrey Simonov

Columbia University - Columbia Business School

Raluca Ursu

New York University - Stern School of Business

Carolina Zheng

Columbia University - Department of Computer Science

Date Written: June 1, 2022

Abstract

We quantify the relative importance of beliefs-based suspense and surprise measures 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 viewer. We then develop and estimate a stylized utility model that underlies viewers' decisions to both join and leave a game stream. Our method allows us to causally identify the direct effect of suspense and surprise on viewers' utilities, separating it from other sources of entertainment value (e.g. team skill) and from indirect/supply-side effects (e.g. word of mouth or advertising). We show that suspense enters a viewer's utility, but find little evidence of the effect of surprise. The magnitudes imply that a one standard deviation increase in round-level suspense decreases the probability of leaving a stream by 0.27 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 9.2% of the observed range of the evolution of a stream's viewership. We use these estimates to evaluate counterfactual game and platform designs. We show that historical updates to CS:GO game rules have increased tournament viewership by 4.1%, that rules can be further modified to increase viewership, and that alternative platform designs that inform joining users of games' scores will additionally increase overall viewership by 1.3%. Together, these results illustrate the value of our method as a general tool that content producers and platforms can use to evaluate and design media products.

Keywords: Entertainment Marketing, Media Consumption, Preferences for Information, Suspense and Surprise, Choice Modeling

Suggested Citation

Simonov, Andrey and Ursu, Raluca and Zheng, Carolina, Suspense and Surprise in Media Product Design: Evidence from Twitch.tv (June 1, 2022). Columbia Business School Research Paper Forthcoming, NYU Stern School of Business Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3711801 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3711801

Andrey Simonov (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Columbia Business School ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Raluca Ursu

New York University - Stern School of Business ( email )

Tisch Hall
40 W 4 St.
New York, NY NA 10012
United States

Carolina Zheng

Columbia University - Department of Computer Science ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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