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Why do kids and tweens buy virtual goods vs why do teens buy virtual goods? July 28, 2008

Posted by jeremyliew in game design, game mechanics, games, games 2.0, gaming, kids, teens, virtual goods, virtual worlds.

A recent post on KZero, asks, “Will luxury brands drive the growth of virtual goods?”:

… tweens and teens (KT&T) will play a big part in the growth. This group has ‘less of an issue’ paying real money for virtual goods – their decision-making process does not take into account its a virtual good – they just want the product and see technology as invisible.

So worlds targeting KT&T (kids, tweens, teens) clearly have a major opportunity to create strong revenues here, as long as the products are right. But which types of product are right?

Obviously the ones that are demanded are the right sorts of products. But what is this demand? Certainly in the younger worlds and to a certain degree in older worlds, some virtual goods are viewed as status symbols – a ‘badge’ that sends out a message that the owner (wearer) has something unique / purchased / earned, that others do not have. And in this context, there’s a lot of perceived value associated with the item.

Izzy Neis though thinks that the kids and tweens are motivated quite differently than teens:

Kids/Tweens have less “ownership” and responsibility and ABILITY than teens do. For tweens the status is more broad than teens – who care less about the meaning & depth of an item and more about what “luxury” means to them.

Tweens/Kids seem much happier to own the item itself, as well as show it off and play with it. They remind me more of Dragons & Treasure. As in many tales of lore (oh, how I love the folksy stuff), Dragons want want want, then horde it all. It’s as much of a self-congratulations in ownership as it is a play thing or show-n-tell.

Teens are more “look at me, look at me” (to quote Kat in “Ten Things I Hate About You”). The name of the item and the social-style-competition is much bigger a pay off than the actual day-to-day use or “play time”.

In the virtual worlds, from what I’ve seen, kids are just as psyched to EARN/PURCHASE as they are own – and just like kids playing with their clutter in real life, kids yearn to earn all sorts of silliness that moms & dads won’t buy them in the real world. Empowerment.

And in the teen worlds – it’s the display of the purchase and how it makes others around react that shows the “BIG” payoff.

This dichotomy seems like an important distinction to people building social media sites and virtual worlds.

Kids who are collecting virtual goods for the love of ownership (perhaps enjoying the control that they do not have to buy things in the real world) need less of a social experience to justify their purchases. THis is good news because (i) creating a social environment implies communication between members, which is more fraught with risk when it comes to kids and (ii) if kids enjoy “soloing” the demand for virtual goods can start earlier in the lifecycle of the company. But ownership for it’s own sake can get boring when you own enough stuff, so there may be a more well defined limit on how long any virtual world can hold a kids attention.

Teens (and adults), who more focused on how others react to their virtual goods than in the ownership of the goods themselves, require a social environment to justify and validate their purchases. Ownership is a performance, one of the three ways that social networks are different from other forms of online communication. This social environment takes longer to develop, and hence demand for virtual goods can be delayed versus a more “soloing” environment. But the flipside is that as the social environment changes and evolves, you can maintain an ongoing demand for virtual goods to stay current with the environment, just as the fashion industry does in the offline world.

I’d be interested to hear from readers if they agree with this dichotomy.


1. Izzy Neis - July 28, 2008

Ahhh! I love this statement: “But ownership for it’s own sake can get boring when you own enough stuff, so there may be a more well defined limit on how long any virtual world can hold a kids attention.”

And that’s the rub isn’t it? What Club Penguin is able to do, that a lot of other Virtual Worlds for youth DO NOT, is offer buy-ables that have extended play – like clothes that produce unique animations for the character (animations meant for role play purposes), and offer enough of a limited buying experience (at any one given time) to elicit a level of exclusiveness – that hasn’t quite the same level a teen might find in exclusiveness, more of a “if i don’t buy it, it will be gone” thought process. If you go into Buildabearville, you will see a lot of cute furniture/buyables – but how many kids do creative things with the buyables in their homes? Not many, if at all. Whereas in Club Penguin – kids take dog bowls and make toilets with them, or build spas or restaurants out of non-obvious objects.

So really – with tweens, it’s almost just as important to allow them to buy & feel that empowerment, as it is to ensure that the “buy” actually has some “legs” to it – that it can extend the play pattern… otherwise, just like you brilliantly say – it gets boring!

Thanks for the ping back!! Luv your blog 🙂

2. Simon Newstead - July 30, 2008

Nice post. Seems to make sense about the younger age being more “buy to own and play” vs older “buy to share / show off”..

Izzy, agree with you about the ongoing longevity aspect of goods – virtual worlds like Habbo and Sooff (and for that matter some grow a tree apps on Facebook) starting to offer more mutating /evolving / interactive items gives a much more interesting experience longer term to users (also a surprise element – come back to see what your item has turned into)

Although on the other hand that greatly increases each item production cost and more time needed for design.. always a good dilemma – create 2 advanced interactive objects vs 10 standard items. In an ideal world you’d have both..but not easy to choose if you’re constrained..

3. Monica - October 5, 2008

Interesting read, I like where you said “Kids yearn to earn all sorts of silliness that moms & dads won’t buy them in the real world.”

I definatley think its possible that in the near future we will have luxury limited edition brand name virtual products.

I am just not sure I want my children spending thier money on it 🙂

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