Play, Playbour or Labour? The Relationships between Perception of Occupational Activity and Outcomes among Streamers and YouTubers

The development of digital technology and the information society has had a significant impact on our working environments and cultures. Technology has advanced our work and communication practices beyond the borders of physical location, but has also provided us with the ability to introduce work into our free time and vice versa. This transition is exemplified in new forms of online work, such as the gig economy (e.g. Uber), sharing economy (e.g. Airbnb) and crowdsourcing (e.g. Wikipedia). But it is also evident in practices that aim to either merge play with work, such as gamification [1,2], or merge work with play such as playbour [3–6].

Therefore, the attitude and perception we hold towards our occupation activities might have a strong effect on our productivity. For example, if an activity were perceived as work, engagement with it would usually be expected to be serious and professional albeit not intrinsically motivating. On the other hand, if an activity is perceived as leisure, engagement with it could often be characterized by playfulness and the pursuit of enjoyment albeit possibly lacking a serious focus. What is relevant behaviour in one context may not be relevant in another. Therefore, understanding how we perceive different activities is of high importance, in order to understand how we engage with them and what outcomes we expect from them.

Content creation in digital and social media formats is often considered a leisure activity, where individuals produce and share content presumably in their free time, in order to connect with their social networks and to explore their creativity [7]. It is an activity that may lead to enjoyment and a feeling of sociability among other outcomes [7]. However, as digital and social media develop and become more integrated into our lives, the digital economy around an individual content creator and their content has begun to evolve.

This has been particularly evident in video content creation, or personal broadcasting activities, through digital platforms such as YouTube and Twitch that have begun to develop sophisticated monetisation systems and commercial benefits for their content creators. The introduction of direct income and commercial incentives to this activity has led to the increasing professionalisation of this type of personal broadcasting. Practices, such as scheduling, time- management and risk-taking, which are often associated with work, are becoming more common within the activity. This has led to an increasing merger of work and play within personal broadcasting activities. Therefore, these new forms of online work provide opportune avenues to research how people view and negotiate their work in the internet era.

The purpose of this research is to understand how personal broadcasters perceive their video content creation and how that perception correlates with their activities and the kinds of outcomes they gain from their content creation. Data was collected through an online survey (N = 382) and was analysed in SPSS. The results allow us to examine this modern form of digital labour in relation to our traditional political economy understanding of work and labour. The results also provide possible opportunities for personal broadcasters to renegotiate their place in this digital “work” environment.

Play, Playbour or Labour? The Relationships between Perception of Occupational Activity and Outcomes among Streamers and YouTubers

Maria Törhönen
Lobna Hassan
Max Sjöblom 
Juho Hamari

Citation: Törhönen, M., Hassan, L., Sjöblom, M., & Hamari, J. (2019, January). Play, playbour or labour? The relationships between perception of occupational activity and outcomes among streamers and YouTubers. In Proceedings of the 52nd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. DOI:10.24251/hicss.2019.308

Please see the paper for full details: 


The increasing digitalization and gamification of different aspects of our lives has blurred the line between what we consider work and play. Therefore, our productivity may increasingly depend on how we negotiate and view our occupations and work. Through an online survey (n=382), this study examines the relationship between the perception of online video content creation as either work, play or equally as both, and the activities and income of these video content creators (streamers and YouTubers). The results indicate that those who view their content creation as work had the highest levels of activity and income, whereas those who associated their content creation with play, earned more income than those who regard their content creation equally as play and work. The results demonstrate the emergence of new forms of digital entrepreneurial practices in the work-oriented group, but also the highlight the increasing workification of our play activities.


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