Is binge engagement bad for retention?

The human behavior and psychology underlying product design can and have been described through nearly every lens, but I recently heard it discussed in the context of food, which I found refreshing and new. Frank Mars, the founder of Mars Candy, believed that a perfect candy bar left the consumer 'wanting one more bite.' The overly decadent chocolate cake that, while delicious for the first few bites, quickly becomes the source of regret and discomfort is a product whose design failed to incorporate optimal portion size. To Mars, controlling consumption was integral to perfect product design.

Does this principle apply elsewhere? To tech products? Are there certain apps whose value and appeal could be enhanced if their use were limited (e.g. 5 minutes a day, 10 actions a day, etc.)? Intuitively, it would seem odd for a company to limit the use of its products based on this principle alone unless it is true that, like candy, overindulgence at time period 1 results in lower retention or use of the product in future time periods. I think this principle probably applies best to products that are enjoyed and/or have some addictive properties about them (e.g. many consumer apps as opposed to enterprise ones).

So would this principle work for a social media site, for example? Most of these products create a ‘hook’ based on the dynamic nature of the content, something new to look at with every visit (e.g. new pictures, new posts, new connections). They rely on intense engagement for content creation, which in turn enhances future engagement, generates value for one’s network, and supports monetization. It seems odd then to limit consumption as intense engagement results in a better product experience. So the answer is probably no.

What about for Snapchat? We note that the ephemerality that is at Snapchat’s core is a very different type of limitation on consumption, but would a Snapchat that only allowed you to take 3 snaps a day be interesting? What if it only allowed you to open a subset of snaps sent to you? Hard to argue that these changes would enhance the product experience, but what are examples of products for which this principle applies? Are there certain properties about a product that lend itself to enhanced retention and enjoyment due to controlled consumption?

Perhaps the products, like candy bars, have to be the same across time periods. Regardless of whether you eat a candy bar today or tomorrow, it will taste the same. The sites discussed above offer different content every day so it makes sense that they don’t fit this principle, at least at first glance (it would be an interesting experiment to see something with consumption control). What about gaming? Many games offer the same experience whether played today or tomorrow. I certainly have binge played a game to the point of exhaustion. Had my engagement been limited in the beginning, would I have been a more frequent and valuable user to the gaming company in the long run? I am not sure what the LTV of binge users who drop off (‘hares’) vs. slow and steady users (’tortoises’) is, but I wonder if gaming companies have evaluated this. I admit it would be an odd move to restrict users from consuming your product, but is that intuition grounded in myopia rather than long-term product analysis?

Do you think this principle could apply to certain products? Have you seen it applied at all? Successfully?

Some food for thought.