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Miriam Verburg was working at the library while completing a masters’ degree in media studies when she had a realization. “Teenagers use technology so much for self-definition and self-expression. They spend a lot of time online trying to figure themselves out,” said Verburg, CEO and Game Designer of Bloom Digital Media.

Unfortunately, there are not lot of applications and websites that engage teenagers in this process in a healthy or meaningful way. Until now.

Verburg built on that realization to create LongStory, a narrative driven game aimed at players who are between 10 and 17 years old. Players enter the story in the first episode as a grade eight student who has returned to school after a year absence. As they navigate their re-entry into the school environment and engage with other characters—and may or may not develop a crush—the players learn valuable lessons about themselves through their progression in the narrative. “The game features authentic characters in pivotal moments,” explained Verburg. “LongStory is a healthy game that promotes healthy relationships.”

It’s also one that has proved very popular. Bloom Digital has released five episodes since LongStory first launched in 2014, and is set to release a sixth and seventh in the coming months. The first episode has been downloaded about 650,000, and there are about 20,000 to 30,000 actives users at any given time. There’s a strong LongStory community on Tumblr, and many of the players have found the game through word-of-mouth.

Part of LongStory’s appeal is its nuanced approach to dating and sexuality. “When people are just starting to date, they often don’t understand what’s happening when it’s happening. We’re trying to create gameplay where players can reflect on their experience with dating in a safe space,” related Verburg. It’s acceptable for a player to choose not to date within the narrative, which includes LGBTQ content, another rarity in the gaming world. “I am most proud of how much of an emotional impact it has had on players, in terms of the game,” said Verburg, who adds that although the game continues to grow in popularity, one of the challenges facing Bloom is monetization. “It’s very hard to get kids to go from a non-paid to a paid app. It really offends people to spend $1.99.” However, once they make the in-app purchase and buy the first episode, there is an 85 per cent conversion rate.

There’s also a lot of different avenues in which to grow the company, a challenge that wouldn’t even exist if not for the OMDC. “I probably would have given up if were not for the OMDC,” admitted Verburg. “They’re lovely and really helpful. They bend over backwards to help you with the strategic stuff. The OMDC has been instrumental in helping us get here.”

She also highlighted the Ontario development game industry itself, which is becoming known among designers as one that nurtures and develops entrepreneurial talent. “People are just in awe that there is funding for games at all from the government. It’s been wonderful to be part of the Ontario development game industry.”

Learn more about Bloom Digital Media:
Twitter: @bloomdigitalmed

Learn more about LongStory:
Twitter: @LongStoryGame