Parents, please buy your children App Store Gift Cards for Christmas

I don’t work for Google, Apple, Steam or any of those places. I am one of those craven game companies trying to get rich by selling bits of my game as in-app purchases. Before you accuse me, please take a minute to read my heartfelt plea.

“Your target are kids, right? Not all parents are going to pay a dollar or euro or whatever. My parents won’t even take it into consideration… The app is amazing, just the fact that you have to pay isn’t.”

I am a tiny micro-scale entrepreneur. My big scary dream? To make romantic sims that promote healthy relationships. I want to do this because I want to help players understand consent and provide alternatives to the sea of gender norms & emotional double-binds that most teens would call “normal” dating. Why? Because I think we set patterns when we are young that are hard to break. Learning early to value respect, trust, love and integrity in your relationship is an important part of growing up and currently I don’t see many options in the world of gaming or entertainment that helps kids have fun figuring out what healthy boundaries feel like. Youth today grapple with a lot of complex stuff: LGBTQ identities, internet-enabled relationships, social pressure, cultural identity and migration. LongStory is a game that tackles these issues with humor and sensitivity. We’ve released four episodes so far and have three more on the way.

This is our beautiful game

So, am I achieving my dream? Well, yes and no.

Yes because our game, aside from some normal start-up panics is doing pretty okay. We have dedicated fans, an active (and awesome) Tumblr community that grows with the release of each new episode. We have a 4 star rating on both our app stores.

But also no

No because a lot of teens can’t or won’t pay for new episodes. In fact many players believe paying money for digital content is a scam.

There are two “can’t pay” camps. The first are players who tell us their parents won’t let them pay for apps e.g:

The choices were interesting and I found the game more like real life events that actually happen!! (Not fantasy). No spoilers really love this game. I give it 4 out of 5 rubber ducks!! ;p P.s I’m 13 in year 7 first year and this high school based role-playing game has helped me a lot with decision making!! Thx :/ I may be nagging now :p I was wondering I love your game, but my parents don’t let me buy in app purchases. I know this is how you make money, but maybe you could have the second chapter for free? I know this is asking to much maybe have the game cost money in the first place. Thx again for creating this app!!!! 👍🏻😊😜😆 Luv it 😍😘💕

The second and ultimately more frustrating camp leave comments like this one:

“really??? the amount you expect people to pay per episode is absolutely ludicrous. The game it self is good but you only deserve 1 star because of the cost. Make it free you’ll get 5 stars.”
“Meh I like it but I hate I have to buy episodes . sorry but I’m uninstalling until the prices go sway:/”

The game is $1.99(USD) per episode folks.

These are young people — many of whom have probably never had a job — telling my company that they don’t think our labor is worth their money. Sure they enjoyed the game, but not enough to pay for it.

Where would they get the idea that we are “ludicrous” for charging two dollars for a half an hour or more of entertainment? Why do you think they “hate” being forced to part with their money for something that they enjoy?

Parents, some of your children demonstrate an amazing amount of entitlement about their ‘right’ to access digital media and I am worried that they get this sense from you. From what you tell them about what is “worth their money” and what is not.

I believe quality digital products that offer a better experience over cynical experiments in click-bait, jewel-hoarding and stuff-getting are worth your children’s allowance. That learning how to differentiate between a good purchase and a waste of their money is something you can help your kids learn. But you can’t help them know what’s good if you tell them that all digital purchases are a waste of money, or that they aren’t “old enough” yet to pay for games online.

Are they old enough to get an allowance? Do they have discretionary income at the candy store? Can they discern whether a licorice whip or a pack of Big Chew is a better value for their dollar? If so, they can also probably handle a digital allowance. Based on comments we receive daily, many of you have chosen not to give your kids the chance to learn financial literacy skills in the digital realm, and in some cases are probably of the belief that all in-app purchases are a rip-off and not worth the money. You transmit this value to your kids so when faced with the prospect of a digital product that they like but that costs some money, your children do what seems logical based on what you’ve told them: They tell my company that we are trying to rip them off.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think charging $1.99 for an amusing, age- appropriate romantic role-playing game that includes some gentle hints about being a kind person and sticking to your values is a scam. My goal with this company is not to “maximize the bottom line” or “gain value for shareholders”. I would like to be able to make more games, and employ more people, and eventually quit my day job. It might appear that I do this on the backs of your children, but so do the authors of children’s books, or the actors in the shows they watch, or the movies they enjoy.

A digital allowance would be an awesome way for parents to teach their kids about budgeting, about saving and deciding how to prioritize their spend. Instead, kids figure out ways to get around paying for apps. They barter their time & eyeballs, or beg companies like mine to put in disruptive advertisements. They try to download bootleg versions. They threaten us with one star ratings, as if we would change our economic model and go broke to spare them the indignity of parting with hard cash.

You can argue that the mobile market is a race to the bottom, that I chose to work in this medium so I should be prepared for the fact that our conversion rate from free to paying is 2%. I agree. I did know what the market was like going in, and I am prepared for the tiny funnel that exists for mobile.

I have spent almost a year making my peace with the fact that for every amazing comment like this:

“Excellent Game I love that this game is queer positive. I love the story and characters. I see a lot of complaining about the prices, The prices are fair as they are. Please update soon I’d love to have the whole game :)”

We get five players telling us we need to figure out how to work for free or show them ads every 2 minutes because paying is simply not an option, no matter how much they like our game.

Parents, I think the kids who tell us they understand why we have to charge are in a better place to succeed later on. When you tell your kids that they should not be consumers, that the way the world works is to get as much as possible for as little as possible — you do them a disservice. When they eventually need to spend their own money, they will have little to base their judgement on aside from the strongly held belief that people who ask for money are jerks. Furthermore, maybe at some point they will want some money for something they do? How will they reconcile their desire to be producers with a morality that tells them paying for stuff is a scam? By teaching your kids not to spend intelligently you are setting the future up for an economy that has no choice but to become cashless or fail us all*.

*Which is a topic for a whole other post , one that I am not even remotely equipped to write. For now we have capitalism. Parents please don’t raise your children to believe that they are exceptions to it’s inescapable logic.