In the Beginning
I started out developing for Windows Phone way back when Windows Phone 7 was
the big thing. Your options for monetization were pretty much
advertising or charging for your app. One great innovation that Microsoft
provided to developers (and phone owners) was the concept of "Try" it
before you buy it. This did actually help out quite a bit. With
other platforms at that time (and some still today) if you, as the developer,
wanted customers to be able to try your app before paying for it, you needed to
create a special "free" version and publish alongside the "Pro
or Paid" version that costs some money. That created lots of extra
work and management. With the advent of Windows Phone 7 you could publish
a single app with a bit of code inside that allowed a downloader of your app to
play with it in either a feature or limited fashion and then when satisfied
with the quality and usefulness just tap a button and update the app in-place
to the full paid version. All the work they had previously done was
preserved because it actually was the same app with the light switch turned on.
This was all well and fine but as with most "innovations" it
tended to be a good starting point. Over the years of smart phones and
app stores, many end users kind of got trained to look for "free"
apps and, I think, had become averse to paying for apps. Not all users,
but certainly many stayed well clear of paid apps not realizing there was a try
before you buy model. I found this from personal experience.
The coming of Windows Phone 8
Microsoft was listening. In my opinion the single best part of Windows
Phone 8, and there were lots of great bits, was the ability to do in-app
purchases. In-App purchases gave developers yet another way to monetize
their apps. Maybe the single best way if you ask many developers.
In-App purchases allowed a developer to release a clearly free app. No
Trial necessary. However they could hold back some features like perhaps
cloud storage or no advertising or coins in a game and allow the owner of the
free app the option to get these neat features (for a small price) to make
their favorite app even better.
Mock or Not
For developers there was only two things you needed to learn. When
developing, add the Mock In-App Purchase Library
to your app. This
library, available from the Windows Phone Dev Center lets you simulate the
purchase of in-app purchase features. This, in turn, lets the developer
test out if their in-app purchase features are working without having to deploy
to the store first. For example, if a user of my app purchases the
removal of advertising for $0.99, I can run my app in the debugger making sure
that I properly disable the advertising feature of the app when
purchased. Also, while you need to check "durable" licenses
each time you connect, if there is no network connection you will have had to
have stored the information locally so the features are available anyway.
Basically you have an #if DEBUG statement that switches from the MockAPI to the
store features depending on how you built the app. Second, to implement
in-app purchases for real you will need to become familiar with the "Windows.ApplicationModel.Store
library. It is within the CurrentApp class you will find everything you need
to purchase in-app products and then, later, verify the purchase.
Once you have it working in test mode you
will need to become friends with the "beta" system in the
store. You want to deploy your app as a beta where you can create the
beta in-app purchase bits in the beta store, purchase them (for free) and then
make sure everything is working properly. Store Betas are critical to
good apps in the long run.
Durable or Consumable
Microsoft provided options for in-app purchases that lets you be
flexible. Those purchases can be durable, like removing advertising, once
done, done forever or consumable like buying coins in your favorite game to
help you get past those nasty bad guys. Even time expiring in-app
purchases are available to you can provide a subscription model to your
apps. Each year to use those fine features, they need to pay some amount
to keep using them. The possibilities are endless. I think,
depending on the app, that a mixture is a good thing.
Windows Phone 8.1 Microsoft gave developers the ability to synchronize in-app
purchases across devices and platforms.
So, if I wish I can add the ability to purchase something for my phone
app and then for the Windows 8.1 version have that purchase also appear.
This opens up many other options which I’ll
reserve for a follow up post.
In-App purchase make sense even when cannibalizing your existing revenue
streams. For example you have a free app that has been downloaded 10,000
times and you are making a bit of money from advertising but really not enough
yet so you decide to add an in-app purchase option to remove advertising as you
have had a number of customer requests for this ability through the "email
me" feature in your app (you have of those right?). But you are
concerned that if you do a durable in-app purchase to remove advertising you
will get some up front revenue but on-going revenue from ads will dry
up. The thing is, it won't. If you have 10,000 (and growing) users
of your app, the majority don't really care about advertising or don’t want to
spend their own money. If you managed to get just 10% to remove the ads
you have added an extra $1000 to your revenue but you still have 90% of your
advertising coming in with more being added all the time. This give you
the option to continue a revenue stream from those that don't want to pay
or can't afford to pay while offering a premium option for those that
wish. Everybody ends up loving you. That's living the dream
baby! Remember, you could even charge $0.99 to remove the advertising for
just 1 year, then they have to renew each year or the ads come back.
I haven’t seen this done much yet, but the
year is still young.
Because of Microsoft’s constant growth of the Windows Phone OS, the options
for making money from your app development continue to grow and the outlook for
making that money continues to get brighter. Combine that with the growth
in Market share we are seeing in Windows Phone add in some great ideas, some
great marketing and a little bit of creativity and you might have to put on a fancy
pair of sunglasses. It's never going to be easy and you will have some
wins and losses. Learn from what people like. Listen to what they
want. And then charge them for it what they want using in-app purchases.
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