The Danger of Engagement: Behavioral Observations of Online Community Activity and Service Spending in the Online Gaming Context

Maurits Kaptein, Petri Parvinen, and Essi Pöyry
International Journal of Electronic Commerce,
Volume 20, Number 1, Fall 2015, pp. 50-75.


Research indicates that customer engagement in online communities has positive effects on related businesses, and that, on an aggregated level, community activity and service spending are positively related. Therefore, marketing efforts tend to focus on promoting the community activity of customers. However, aggregates might not properly reflect processes at the individual level. We argue that in contexts in which both service consumption and community activity deplete resources, the latter might actually substitute for the former. Substitution effects can emerge from reveling: customers partly satisfy their need for a service by habituating to it during engagement in communities without actually consuming it. The present study reports empirical evidence of the so-called reveling effect in the online gaming context and suggests that theories motivating a positive relationship between engagement and service spending are oversimplified; for the relatively inactive community members an increase in engagement leads to increased spending, but for the already active members increasing engagement decreases spending. For marketers, it is important to know that increases in engagement might not lead to increased spending for the already engaged individual.

Key Words and Phrases: Active community participation, community engagement, online communities, online gaming communities, online service spending, reveling effect, substitution effect.