Parent authorization by SMS?

For discussion by the community — please reply on Tootsbook!

The new login system for children (ages under 13) requires a parental authorization using the parent’s (age 18+) Google account. (Facebook accounts will likely be supported soon, as well, but there have been some pain points there.)

The current design works like this: Your child enters their Toot character name, and then chooses a “password” made up of several symbols. Perhaps: Elephant, 3, Carrot. Once they’ve requested a sign-in, an e-mail message is sent to the parent’s account, with several links allowing the parents to approve an amount of play time; they can just click a link on their PC or smart phone to authorize 1, 2, or 3 hours, or go to the web page and enter in a different amount of time. In the mean time, the child can watch some short, kid-friendly movies from http://archive.org/ and the like while they wait.

To send and receive SMS (mobile text) messages, in addition to allowing this e-mail/web system, we can pretty easily do something similar. Imagine receiving a text message like:

Tootsville.org: "Catvlle" wants to play now.
Send NO to deny, or number of hours to allow.
HELP for help; STOP to remove your number.

Naturally, we would require parents to opt-in and “claim” their mobile number first …

Tootsville.org: To confirm your mobile number,
sign in and enter this code: XYZ42
- or visit http://toots.one/YgHe830

The downside of this feature is that each text message will cost us about a penny (1¢ / USD$.01), on average, to US numbers, and sometimes a bit more overseas.

We’ve been strongly promoting the “nothing to buy” and “Really Free” aspect of Tootsville.org, and I don’t want to seem sneaky or underhanded about offering this as a sort of premium service; but, I also don’t want to run up a $1,000 “phone” bill that way.

If we offered the SMS service as a “premium” feature, do you think that would violate our “nothing to buy” and “Really Free” promises? That is, the basic e-mail-based access will be (forever) completely free, but if someone wants to subscribe to the SMS service for a small, additional monthly fee — I would expect this to be something like a $1-2/month, $10-20/year kind of cost for players in the US, Canada, Western Europe, Australia, etc., and maybe a bit more in some countries — would that be acceptable? If so, how do we communicate effectively that this fee is just to cover the additional costs of the SMS feature?

Needless to say, there are expenses of running a project like this, and no actual source of income. We’ve already discussed and agreed that sales of merchandise to support the project will be acceptable, and some day in future plan to organize a

This isn’t happening very soon, if at all, but it is something about which I’d like some public feedback and discussion before putting in any more work on it.

I look forward to hearing your opinions … (~BRFP, Benevolent Dictator)

Really Free?

Tootsville.com used to be a pretty great bargain. Lots of players subscribed for under $5/month, sometimes even less.

Tootsville.org, though? It’s free.

Tootsville.com charged almost $60 a year ­— a little under $5/month — for subscribers to unlock all the Very Important Toot (VIT) privileges.
Tootsville.com charged almost $60 a year ­— a little under $5/month — for subscribers to unlock all the Very Important Toot (VIT) privileges.

And I don’t mean, it’s “free to play,” but you have to pay money to get stuff to keep playing. We’re not going to limit your time, or try to sell you more special items, or make you do lots of dumb stuff if you don’t pay us.

It’s just plain, free. That’s it.

We — the Violet Volts team — aren’t getting paid for this. Actually, the Fenn Pocock family is footing the bill for our server costs out-of-pocket, on top of all the hard work from our volunteers.

We’re also not really keen on pop-ups and advertisements and things. That’s just annoying.

Free. Really free. That’s it. Free.

So … why do it?

Well, partly, it’s a labor of love. Tootsville was an amazing game and really influenced some people’s lives. Non-violent, family-friendly games are hard to come by!

And it’s fun!

Plus, we get to build some cutting-edge technology to show off, which is cool.

What happens if the money runs out?

“Look, I won’t lie. I may not be able to shell out the money to keep this going forever, so some kind of more long-term foundation is going to be needed eventually.”  — Bruce-Robert Fenn Pocock, Benevolent Dictator, Violet Volts

Someday, yes, the money will run out. We’re exploring ways to cover those costs without strong-arming people into it. There’s the PBS/Wikipedia method, of begging for funding every few months, and taking tiny “patronage” payments. There’s the idea of selling merchandise … T-shirts, coffee mugs, books, whatever … And there’s also been some discussion of allowing tasteful, in-game sponsorships of certain places or items.

Bonus Services?

One feature that will probably come with a price tag is SMS (text messaging) or voice calling support. Those services cost more than plain ol’ Internet servers, but we might allow access to them in certain ways (eg: for parents to authorize children’s logins) to people who pay for those services.

We want to keep it very clear that these charges would be only to people who wanted to use extra services that do not affect game play.

But, yes. Really Free!

For now, enjoy the ride. We’re not going away any time soon, and we promise we won’t start charging a subscription or plastering you with “up-selling.”