Case Study for Portal 2: User-generated content revitalizes the game

4 Posted by - January 31, 2013 - News, User-Generated Content

Valve’s Portal 2 received some impressive accolades when it launched in April 2011, but since the game’s single player and cooperative modes offered little in terms of replay value, the game didn’t do much to encourage its players to stick around.

In May 2012 however, Valve released the Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative, a suite of in-game mod tools that allowed players to create, and share user-generated stages via the Steam Workshop. This free release helped reignite interest in the popular title, and Raptr’s data suggests that these tools had a huge impact on the game’s overall lifespan.

As part of a report published by Raptr, Portal 2’s mod tools was found to have skyrocketed player activity. The number of daily active Portal 2 users increased 806% the day after the mod tools made their debut, and one month later, the game’s player numbers were still up 40%.


This free release brought back many lapsed Portal 2 users, who hadn’t touched the game in more than two weeks. Once players had a chance to create and play new content, they felt compelled to return to the game with a newfound interest. These lapsed players made up 46% of all of the game’s daily active users on the day the Perpetual Testing Initiative debuted, and even one month later, Portal 2 saw 15% more returning players than it did before the free DLC.


Since this DLC was released for free to all Portal 2 users, Valve didn’t make any direct money from the Perpetual Testing Initiative. But that didn’t mean they did all this for goodwill. Because of all the buzz the mod tools generated, a fresh new wave of gamers bought the game for the first time. After the tools launched, Portal 2 saw a 2218% increase in new users, and new players continued to buy and play the game for more than a month after that spike. By the end of that month, Portal 2 was still attracting 28% more new users than it did before. While this is surprising to many analysts, since mod tools historically have been thought to just provide a boost to long term engagement, Portal 2, along with a number of other games, have consistently proven that allowing gamers to create their own content, can have a dramatic impact on overall sales.


The game’s community soared with the release of the Perpetual Testing Initiative, and those who played Portal 2 were more engaged than ever before. Average daily playtime increased 36% from 1.4 hours per day to 1.9 hours per day once the tools hit the game, meaning players wanted to keep playing Portal 2 now that they had access to more stages and content.

Like the spike in player numbers, daily engagement remained high well after the Perpetual Testing Initiative’s debut. One week after launch, users were playing 29% longer per day than they were before, and one month out, playtime was still up 17%.



Valve gave players the opportunity to create and consume their own content, and in doing so, drove up interest in the game across the board. Old users came out of hiding, new users purchased the game, and those active users began playing the game for longer periods. This free release wasn’t just a gesture of good will for the Portal 2 community; it was a significant product update that had a tangible impact on the game’s success.

And of course, these trends aren’t just bound to Portal 2. Developers looking to drive engagement for their games may want to consider giving their players some means of creating and sharing their own content, as Portal 2’s data shows that such functionality can dramatically extend the life of a traditional single player or cooperative game.