STUDY: Nickelodeon’s ‘Will They Or Won’t They?’

by Katie Bessiere, Research, Nickelodeon

With the influx of gaming apps available for free and paid download, Nickelodeon sought to better understand the decision-making process when it comes to buying games or making in-game purchases on an Apple iDevice. In “Will They Or Won’t They?,” Nickelodeon gave kids 3-17 and young adults 18-22 $20 to spend on gaming apps and then conducted in-depth interviews about their purchasing decisions. The findings reveal variations in motivation between age groups, as well as challenges associated with today’s paid apps and in-app purchase offerings.

Key Findings

iDevice gaming motivations vary by age.

  • 3-6-year-olds prefer games driven by their favorite TV show and characters.
  • 7-11-year-olds begin to recognize gaming brands outside of TV and develop genre preferences.
  • 12-17-year-olds have distinct preferences in genre. Brands, characters and series specific to games gain importance.
  • 18-22-year-olds are not as willing to experiment, and show an appreciation for nostalgia within gaming. Serious gamers within this demo (those seeking mastery and achievement) versus casual gamers (who seek fun, experience and completion) search by developer as well as genre.

Consumers are not convinced of the value of paid games on iDevices.

  • It is hard to decipher the quality of apps, and/or they are quickly played and forgotten.
  • There is no way to get your money back, so users are more cautious about what they buy.
  • There is a never-ending supply of free alternatives.

iDevice games tend to be for casual gaming, offering short, quick experiences that users can pick up, learn easily and put down easily. For this reason, quantity trumps quality.

  • Users would rather have many $1 apps than one $8 app.
  • The exception is serious gamers, who have developed better filters for fit and quality of apps they enjoy.  They are more likely to choose quality over quantity and spend more money on games that match their tastes.

Choosing and paying for apps is difficult.

Across all age groups, participants had difficulty finding new games to buy and ended up making arbitrary purchases just to spend the money.

  • They instinctively wanted to download free games, in part because they are no-risk, and in part because they’ve been conditioned to them.
  • The value of an app must be determined before purchase because it cannot be returned.
  • Competitive serious gamers are willing to spend more money than casual gamers, but they also have higher standards and very specific games they are looking for.
  • Other sources of difficulty included navigating the App Store’s vast offerings, figuring out the search/sort functionality and finding games relevant to their interests.

In-app purchases are rare because of negative perceptions.

Gamers felt that, at times, in-app purchases constitute cheating and that they take away the challenge. The two “valid” reasons for in-app purchases are:

Enhancement. Creative elements, hints, guides and exclusives can be appealing when they increase the entertainment value, aesthetics and creative expression within the game.

Expansion. Increasing longevity by adding new levels, missions, variables, challenges and maps is acceptable when it does not give the player a leg up on the competition.

Decision-Making Factors by Age

Preschoolers (3-6) bought apps depending on:

  • Familiarity/recognition (prior knowledge of the game, recommendations/word of mouth, trusted brands and franchises and popular or buzzed-about games)
  • Imagery (icons first for children, and in-game images for the parents)
  • Information (parents read reviews and assess for educational value)
    • Educational value can lead to more willingness to purchase an app.

Kids (7-11) bought apps depending on:

  • Familiarity/recognition
  • Imagery/graphics (icons first, in-game images to see what the game will be like)
  • New games (sometimes “I just need one”)
  • The invisible parent (will my parent allow me to have this game?)
  • Information/reviews (used by serious gamers but rarely read by casual gamers, except as a last resort)

Young adults (12-17) bought apps depending on:

  • Familiarity/recognition (the primary filter of casual gamers while untested, unknown and “risky” apps were passed over)
  • Fit (the primary filter of serious gamers who thoroughly inspected a game’s description, reviews, ratings, brand or developer and fit with interests in order to choose a game)
  • Imagery/graphics (in-game screen shots were considered)


  • Even when given money, it is difficult for users to purchase apps. Consumers need some indication of the higher quality/added value of paid apps to persuade them to buy.
  • There tends to be negative perceptions of in-app purchases. To counter this, these offerings should not take away the challenge of the game or give players a leg up over other players.
  • The ability to find quality games can be a difficult process for users. Search functions and general navigation in the App Store could be improved upon.

The Methodology:

This study was based on interviews with 86 people between the ages of 3 and 22. Interviews were conducted in pairs and in partnership with Dan Joseph & Associates. Pairs of participants were given $10 iTunes gift cards to spend in 10 minutes, and another $10 iTunes gift card to spend with the restriction that both participants had to agree to buy the same thing. Preschool pairs were done with the child and parent.

Related Posts


  1. Liliana Lettieri
    December 6, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    This is interesting research! Since familiarity and recognition are universally important factors, it seems as though introducing new characters to users within established games could overcome some of their hesitation to testing novel apps. Cool stuff.

Want to leave a comment?