Lasting Effects of Application Updates

Building relationship with the user-base as a game developer


The goal of this post is to provide a brief overview of the research I conducted on the impact of software updates on user activity. The research was conducted as part of my master's thesis at Maastricht University. The research was fairly lengthy, but I will try to keep this post as concise as possible. If you're interested in the full research, feel free to contact me and I'll be happy to share the full report.


This study offers a unique perspective on the video game industry, examining the impact of software updates on user activity. Through the adaptation and use of finite distributed lag model, a tool commonly applied in economics and marketing, the study analysed data from the Steam platform over a six-month period. The findings shed light on the types of updates that have the strongest impact on user activity, and highlighted the challenges that indie game developers face in comparison to their non-indie counterparts. As someone who enjoys playing games or is interested in the business side of the industry, this study provides a valuable look at the quantitative analysis of video game updates. Whether you're a game developer or a publisher, the insights gleaned from this research can help you improve user engagement and game longevity.


Research Question

Do video game software updates affect user activity? If so, does the effect vary with publisher support?

H1: Game software updates positively affect user activity.
H1: Game software updates have prolonged effects on the number of users playing the game.
H2: Game software updates containing major gameplay changes have a stronger positive effect on user activity than updates with minor gameplay changes.
H3: Game software updates by non-indie developers have a stronger and more prolonged effect on user activities than updates by indie developers.

Data and Development

The data used in this study was collected from the Steam platform by Lars Rieser, researcher and assistant professor at Maastricht University Department of Accounting and Information Management. I used the data to conduct a quantitative analysis of the impact of updates on user activity. The data was collected over a six-month period from September 2021 to February 2022.

In order to build models that can predict the impact of updates on user activity, I needed to first understand the data. I used R to clean and prepare the data for analysis. I then categorised the developers into indie and non-indie developers based on Styhre's (2021) criteria. Table 1 and Table 2 show the number of games and developers, as well as the number of major and minor updates for each category.

Table 1. Number of games and developers
Table 2. Number of major and minor updates

Relevant Theory and Literature

Here I summarised the literature review section of my thesis. The literature review is a critical part of any research project. It helps you understand the context of your research and identify gaps in the existing literature. It also helps you develop a deeper understanding of the topic and identify the most relevant theories and methods to use in your research.

Video Game Industry

The video game industry is a rapidly evolving intersection of computer science, entertainment, and arts that has become a significant contributor to the global entertainment economy (Marchand & Hennig-Thurau, 2013; Dautovic, 2022; Styhre, 2020). However, with fierce competition and an overwhelming number of alternatives available to users, video game developers must distinguish themselves (Thomes, 2015; Rieser & Furneaux, 2022). While software updates and patches were once inconvenient and required physical distribution, modern platforms like Steam have made it easier for developers to communicate with users and push out updates (Toy et al., 2018).

Video Game Updates

The practice of updating a video game, similarly to traditional software, involves making changes to an existing product. This can include adding new features or implementing patches to fix issues (Claypool et al., 2017). Despite the numerous changes that video games undergo during development and before release, developers often update and patch their games after release to keep their users engaged and loyal (Arora et al., 2010; Claypool et al., 2017). Video game developers are incentivized to keep their users engaged and loyal, and research has shown that game software updates can affect user behavior, although the effects may not always be positive (Zhong & Xu, 2022; Liu, Tang & Bush, 2021). Additionally, Rieser and Furneaux (2022) suggest that users tend to devote more attention to popular and current applications.

Building relationship through updates

Software updates not only keep applications up-to-date but also help developers maintain a relationship with their customers. Fleischman et al. (2016) confirmed the positive effect of software updates on user continuance intentions. Furthermore, updating applications is a form of relationship marketing that strengthens the bond between businesses and their customers. Unlike physical products, software applications are less susceptible to obsolescence, and video game developers use updates to provide post-purchase modifications, which is a form of aftermarket service (Ayres et al., 2021). Grönroos (2017) proposed that relationship marketing is based on promise theory, which involves making and fulfilling promises. The concept of promise theory is common in the video game industry, as developers promise to improve their products through updates, which can stimulate further user activity.

Intensity of Video Game Updates

Video game software updates can vary greatly in terms of their content and purpose. Some updates introduce new content, while others aim to fix issues or improve the playability of the game (Claypool et al., 2017). For example, a major update in the game "Don’t Starve Together" added a new playable character with unique gameplay mechanics that required users to learn new gameplay tactics (Klei Entertainment, 2021). In contrast, a minor update focused on improving the overall playability of the game without introducing new mechanics.

While some updates can positively impact player engagement, others may have a negative effect (Zhong & Xu, 2022). Although research has explored the impact of updates on an application's lifecycle, little is known about the effects of specific types of updates (Furneaux et al., 2020; Agarwal & Tiwana, 2015). Major updates, which typically involve significant changes, may require more resources than minor updates (Claypool et al., 2017).

Video Game Developers and Publishers

The video game industry is largely composed of developers who specialize in video game development and publish their games through mediation platforms such as Steam and Epic Games. The market has seen a growing class of video games published as indie titles in the past decade, and one major distinction between classes of developers is the identity they assume. Indie game titles are developed by independent developers, who are determined through various factors such as their attitude, specific form of organization, position in the labor market, and the video game output they produce. However, the determining factors are subjective and arguable. Publishers, on the other hand, have the resources and experiences required to publish video game titles into the market and can support game developers in following through with their projects. Independent developers tend to have lower disposable resources and may find it difficult to compete with bigger development studios. (Adams, 2010; Cheuque et al., 2019; Lipkin, 2012; Styhre, 2020; Zegarra, 2020)

You can read the entire paperhere!