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Getting a PhD in watching Twitch: exploring why millions watch people play video games

In his doctoral dissertation, Max Sjöblom examines services like YouTube and Twitch and tries to understand why people keep watching others play video games
Max Sjöblom_Aalto_photo by Matti Ahlgren
Researcher Max Sjöblom

Watching others play games – either through services like YouTube or Twitch or watching competitive video games (esports) – has become increasingly popular during recent past years. MSc Max Sjöblom’s Doctoral thesis aims to dig deeper into this new form of media consumption, and the culture and social psychology behind it. Online live-streaming has especially produced plenty of new activity and social interaction: for example the emergence of different spectator groups and communities. “In particular, live-streaming has been the key for enabling social interaction. Indeed, interacting with other users is one major driver for people watching video games,” Max explains. 

Nevertheless, there are several other motivational factors explaining why people are so attracted to watching others play: learning how to play the game, purely for the entertainment value or just spending time – to name but a few. One interesting phenomenon in this relatively new field of research is also so-called social spending: what motivates users to spend money to support their favourite e-sports players and streamers. “Investigating all of these aspects of streaming and esports helps us to understand it also as a business”, Max says. 

Max studied in the Master's Programme in Information Networks in Aalto University, which combines information and communication technology and digital media in a unique way. Max noticed that his Master’s thesis work expanded as he managed to collect an extensive amount of international survey data. “Soon I realized it would be interesting to continue exploring these datasets. This led into the idea of a doctoral thesis”, Max says. He was able to start his multidisciplinary doctoral dissertation under supervision of two experts: Professor Juho Hamari, who is currently leading his Gamification research group at the Tampere University, and Professor Perttu Hämäläinen, who holds a joint professorship in the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Media in Aalto University.

In addition to research, Max and his colleagues have been active in organizing different stakeholder events and participating in funding applications, for example in several Business Finland (former TEKES) applications. “Preparation of research project proposals has provided a lot of useful experience. I’m sure that these skills are important also outside of academic world”, Max explains. 

Career in game industry and business sounds like an interesting option for Max: “I have always been interested in games, media and business. It would be really nice to continue working with these topics also in the future”. Overall, better understanding of new media consumption is important for game and media industries: “If we understood better the preferences and motivations of users, then it would also be easier to develop better services and products for consumers”, Max concludes.

MSc Max Sjöblom will defend the dissertation "Spectating play: investigating motivations for watching others play games" on Thursday 18 April 2019 at 12 noon in Aalto University School of Science, lecture hall TU2, Maarintie 8, Espoo. 

Link to the electronic version of the thesis is here

Contact information: MSc Max Sjöblom [email protected]

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