* The Business of Software

A former community discussing the business of software, from the smallest shareware operation to Microsoft. A part of Joel on Software.

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Moderators:

Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Trial time-limited, or reduced functionality?

Trying to decide whether my app should end after 30 days, or stay usable but with limited functionality?

Ending after 30 days means either the user will be forced to pay if they like it, or they'll just switch to a competitor, or they'll look for a crack.

Limited functionality means they can keep using it (and avoid switching to a competitor) but they might not ever pay.  After all, who pays if they don't have to, right?

How does one decide?
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
I provide fully-functional trial limited by a number of launches - users can start it 100 times.
Kuzmitskiy Dmitry Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
Hard to say without knowing more about the app. For example if the user gets all the value they'll ever need on day one then a 30 day trial is a bad idea. Disk recovery tools fall into this category.  On the flip side there are tools that grow in value over time and the user won't realise how useful it is until they've been using it for a while.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
The app is something that'll be used maybe 10 times a day or so, forever.  (Assuming they need it).  Sort of like how a screenshot tool might be used several times a day, forever.
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
Kuzmitskiy, do you ever wonder if people just uninstall and move on after 100 launches, though?  I'm wondering if the "drug addict" approach works, where you keep them hooked until they pay.
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
"Stay usable but with limited functionality" is good idea.
You just need to decide what features to disable.
This is my opinion.
Alex Vasilevsky Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
Here's my compromise: you get a 30-day trial, but that's for 30 individual days.  If you forget about it for a month, you don't lose any days.

Once those 30 individual days have expired, you still get 5 minutes per day - enough to test it, to evaluate it, to check whether you really did want to buy it, but not enough to make serious use of it.
Richie Hindle Send private email
Thursday, September 26, 2013
 
 
I agree it depends on the product but as a general rule it's best to avoid crippleware.

Imagine test-driving a car, except you can't put it into gear or turn the horn off?

One useful compromise for some products is producing the end result but with watermarks or some similar way of preventing them using the output. This way you're showing the software in action, proving that it works, is easy to use - but still leaving a good reason to pay for it.



AC
Reluctantlyregistered Send private email
Friday, September 27, 2013
 
 
AC, yes, I agree that total crippling is a no-no.  As a screenshot example, after 30 days the screenshots could be done in grayscale instead of color, until payment is made.  But then that leaves the risk that the user might be content with grayscale and *still* not pay.  Hmm.
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, September 27, 2013
 
 
> But then that leaves the risk that the user might be content with grayscale and *still* not pay.  Hmm.

Continue to press forward! :) Make it lower resolution every next week. Introduce watermarks of increasingly large proportions. Translate text in screenshots to traditional Chinese. Make screenshots an animated GIF where only first frame contains the screenshot, and the rest hundred tell how good your software is as long as one pays.

Seriously, though: are you sure you're not over-focus on it? Make simplest most obvious limitation and see how it goes.

...

I believe you can do A/B for these things too. Produce a special versions with adjusted limitations (e.g. 60 days instead of 30) and let prospects to download them and try. Track the conversion rates.
Vladimir Dyuzhev Send private email
Sunday, September 29, 2013
 
 
"are you sure you're not over-focus on it?"

I probably am.  I don't want this app to fail, though.  One mistake in the trial implementation, and everyone can use it forever without paying, even despite future upgrades.

How hard should we as coders think about preventing piracy?  I can store the trial info in the Registry no problem, but people can catch that with either RegShot or ProcMon.  Or does Joe Average not know of those apps?  How smart are we meant to assume our users are?  Do they actively seek to illegally extend or bypass a trial period?  Or am I only thinking that way because I'm a coder?
PSB136 Send private email
Sunday, September 29, 2013
 
 
In most cases, a licensing scheme is there to keep honest people honest.

Someone who will go to the trouble of hacking your licensing system is unlikely to become a paying customer, regardless of whether your system is simple or complex.

And you have many other things to do that will have a greater impact on your bottom line.
Richie Hindle Send private email
Sunday, September 29, 2013
 
 
> One mistake in the trial implementation, and everyone can use it forever without paying

I believe you're over-estimating the level of success you may get with your first version! :)
Vladimir Dyuzhev Send private email
Sunday, September 29, 2013
 
 
Vlad, yes, but it pays to be prepared and think big.  Also, it's not the first product I've sold; it's just the first where I'm using protection.
PSB136 Send private email
Sunday, September 29, 2013
 
 
Richie, that's kind of what I was thinking.  I guess most users won't go hunting the Registry anyway.  As for ProcMon, I've noticed that if I embed an exe inside my real exe that does the Registry access, ProcMon can't monitor it (since it's only monitoring the "outer" exe).
PSB136 Send private email
Sunday, September 29, 2013
 
 
One of mine is something that is used maybe 20 times a day. The trial has 150 free uses. During the last 50 uses, a prominent countdown is shown every time it is used.

Once all the uses expire, the user sees two buttons "Buy" and "+10 uses".

One takes them to my store. The other gives them 10 more uses. This button can be clicked indefinitely.

It's just annoying enough to make them want to buy it, but not so annoying to make them uninstall the app if they are undecided yet.

I realise this means I am "giving the app away for free" but trial-to-purchase conversion rate is good.
Nick Moore Send private email
Monday, September 30, 2013
 
 
"The other gives them 10 more uses. This button can be clicked indefinitely"

So how do you deal with an automation app that just clicks that button for them, so they never see it, and get your app permanently used for free?  Do you just not think about it because you're getting sales anyway?
PSB136 Send private email
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
 
 
"So how do you deal with an automation app that just clicks that button for them, so they never see it, and get your app permanently used for free?  Do you just not think about it because you're getting sales anyway?"

Yep pretty much. I don't worry about that. There's always a way round ANY protection scheme. So I make my protection scheme as un-obnoxious as possible.

Some people fundamentally just don't want to pay for software, and feel justified in downloading cracks etc. Nothing we can do to change their worldview. They weren't going to buy anyway.

As a rule of thumb, think about keeping honest people honest. Don't put yourself in the role of an "enforcer of justice". A lot of people fall into this trap, and see people using their app for free as a kind of personal tragedy. They set themselves on a mission to defeat every possible attack, be it real or imaginary.

Best to put effort into your marketing and development, not devising ever more clever protection schemes.
Nick Moore Send private email
Tuesday, October 01, 2013
 
 
But then that leaves the risk that the user might be content with grayscale and *still* not pay.  Hmm.

Continue to press forward! :) Make it lower resolution every next week. Introduce watermarks of increasingly large proportions. Translate text in screenshots to traditional Chinese. Make screenshots an animated GIF where only first frame contains the screenshot, and the rest hundred tell how good your software is as long as one pays.

Seriously, though: are you sure you're not over-focus on it? Make simplest most obvious limitation and see how it goes.

...

I believe you can do A/B for these things too. Produce a special versions with adjusted limitations (e.g. 60 days instead of 30) and let prospects to download them and try. Track the conversion rates.
lara_19800 Send private email
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
 
 
ne mistake in the trial implementation, and everyone can use it forever without paying

I believe you're over-estimating the level of success you may get with your first versio
lara_19800 Send private email
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
 
 
"I believe you're over-estimating the level of success you may get with your first versio[n]"

So tired of reading that.  Successful people plan, and plan well.  It's a fact.  There's nothing wrong with being meticulous to the last detail, even for a first version.
PSB136 Send private email
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
 
 
> So tired of reading that.  Successful people plan, and plan well.  It's a fact.  There's nothing wrong with being meticulous to the last detail, even for a first version.

I bet you'll get some rebuttals to that statement.  One might be that there *is* something wrong about being "meticulous to the last detail", especially for a first version,  It is premature optimization, because you don't know if the details you are investing effort in are the ones that will be rewarding enough to warrant that effort.  [I know this, and yet am somehow unwilling to follow it through].

And many successes are successes despite doggy first versions.
Racky Send private email
Wednesday, October 02, 2013
 
 
"It is premature optimization"

Not to me.  I think it's best to always plan and do the best in all areas.  Doing a half-assed job just because a product is new is not my idea of a good business practice.
PSB136 Send private email
Thursday, October 03, 2013
 
 
@PSB136, have you read the counter-arguments?  There's a long history of this sort of discussion in programming and in business.  E.g., the YAGNI problem.  And don't you agree that not all features of your product will contribute to your profits equally?  If so, shouldn't you prioritize some features over others?  If so, which ones?  How would you know?  Some would argue, you don't know, you have to test the waters with customers.

I think the truth is somewhere in between.  You shouldn't release an obviously buggy and barely usable piece of software--of course.  But if you wait to release a fully polished one, you may have waited self-defeatingly long.  [again, I don't follow this advice myself, probably to my detriment, but I was also mostly in coding learning hobby mode for most of this time].
Racky Send private email
Thursday, October 03, 2013
 
 
Racky, the discussion here is not about features, but trial limitations.  I already have a "minimum viable product", but now I need to secure the trial implementation, because if I get it wrong, everyone can use it forever.  I've made that mistake before, sadly.
PSB136 Send private email
Friday, October 04, 2013
 
 
@PSB, Yep--I can definitely see that aspect being critical to at least try as hard as you can to get right from the outset, since it may make a big difference to your initial sales, and initial sales and popularity may make a difference to successive sales...not to mention your motivation to continue, etc.
Racky Send private email
Friday, October 04, 2013
 
 
I once made a big mistake and uploaded the full version of one of my apps to my site, instead of the trial version, without noticing.  Took me about a month to realise.  :(  People had downloaded it too, but no sales ever eventuated.
PSB136 Send private email
Saturday, October 05, 2013
 
 
>> "People had downloaded it too, but no sales ever eventuated.
"

This is a bit perplexing. You started another thread in which you want to do this all over again (i.e. no DRM): http://discuss.joelonsoftware.com/default.asp?biz.5.855651.35

What makes you think it (no-DRM) will work a second time when it never worked the first time?
Wyatt O'Day Send private email
Saturday, October 05, 2013
 
 
That other thread is about me wanting to get paid without crippling, which is different.  In fact, that's partly why I want to find a way to encourage payment without nagging or crippling, so I don't have to worry about stuffing up a trial release again.
PSB136 Send private email
Saturday, October 05, 2013
 
 
Sorry, I didn't answer this: "What makes you think it (no-DRM) will work a second time when it never worked the first time?"

Answer: It didn't work the first time because the users downloaded the full version and got it for free, with no legal or moral expectation of payment.
PSB136 Send private email
Saturday, October 05, 2013
 
 

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