Unpaid Crowd Complementors: The Platform Network Effect Mirage

Kevin J. Boudreau, Lars Bo Jeppesen

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Platforms have evolved beyond just being organized as multi-sided markets with complementors selling to users. Complementors are often unpaid, working outside of a price system and driven by heterogeneous sources of motivation— which should affect how they respond to platform growth. Does reliance on network effects and strategies to attract large numbers of complementors remain advisable in such contexts? We test hypotheses related to these issues using data from 85 online multi-player game platforms with unpaid complementors. We find that complementor development responds to platform growth even without sales incentives, but that attracting complementors has a net zero effect on on-going development and fails to stimulate network effects. We discuss conditions under which a strategy of using unpaid crowd complementors remains advantageous.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalStrategic Management Journal
    Issue number12
    Pages (from-to)1761–1777
    Publication statusPublished - 2014

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