Winning on the Marketplace: Trial mode–the art of the upsell

Part 2 of this 5-part blog post series on success strategies in the Windows Phone Marketplace deals with a fairly unique component to the Windows Phone platform called Trial Mode. If you make use of trial mode in your paid apps and games (and you really, really should if you plan on putting a price on your app/game), then you are making it much more likely that users will download your app and in response to that, make the possibility of them paying for your app much higher as well.

If your aim is to publish a Windows Phone app or game and charge money for it in the Windows Phone Marketplace, then you really should get to know a nice feature of the platform called Trial Mode.  Trial Mode allows you to publish your app that you charge users to make use of, but gives them a free trial mode of the app so that they can download it and make use of it to determine whether or not they want to purchase it.  And the beautiful thing about Trial Mode is that it means you don’t have to create a second, stripped-down version of your paid app that you have to manage separately from your paid app – both your trial app and paid app are one and the same, with the trial determining how your app will behave.

While it may seem counter-intuitive to provide a free version of your paid app, consider these statistics that the Windows Phone Marketplace team has published describing the opportunity using trial mode in your apps represents:


Basically, what this means is that if you implement trial mode in your paid app/game, you will get an average of 70 times the downloads you would have gotten without trial mode and 10% of those trial mode downloaders will actually buy your app/game.  That works out to 7 times the number of paid apps you will have earned than if you hadn’t used trial mode at all.

So what defines a trial, anyway?

What do you want it to be?  Seriously, that is the answer – we don’t limit the definition of “trial” to something we say it is.  Basically, we offer an API to query the Marketplace to determine if the user of your app has paid for it or not and you decide the behaviour of your app if the user has not paid for it.  In other words, the trial for your app is whatever you want it to be, including but not limited to scenarios like:

  • Limited functionality for your app if the user is in trial mode for your app
  • Ad-supported (i.e.:  advertisements show up at the bottom of your app) if the app is in trial mode
  • App may be used only x number of times if the app is in trial mode
  • App is time-bombed to not work after y number of days after the first use
  • App only allows z number of transactions in trial mode
  • App makes use of a service you implemented on the server-side only n number of times per day
  • etc.

OK, so how do you use trial mode?

There are two scenarios that are covered really well in the MSDN knowledgebase.  The first shows details on how to implement Trial Mode in a Silverlight app.  The second shows how to implement Trial Mode in an XNA-based game.

If all you want to see is code, I have implemented trial mode in the following Silverlight sample here (a Visual Studio project in a zip file).

How do you use trial mode effectively?

As you saw from the code examples above, trial mode is extremely versatile.  Ultimately, it’s your choice as to how you implement a trial in your app or game.  That said, there are a few tips that can make your trial more effective, both for your end goals of having the user buy your app in the end as well as maximize the trial experience for your app’s users so they see the value of the work you have published.  Some of the things we have found are:

  • Don’t give it away:  Put serious thought into what you want to put in your trial.  Be diligent and understand the levers that will entice your user to want to go beyond the trial and pay for your app.
  • Make the trial experience compelling: Just like the advice to not give your app away, don’t limit the functionality or experience of your app so severely that the user can’t get a good understanding of the value the app holds.  Leave them wanting more; don’t leave them frustrated.
  • Use ads in your trial mode: The intent of implementing a trial in your app is to show the user that there is value in paying for your app, because one of the ultimate goals with your app is revenue (otherwise, why have a trial in your app?).  As a result, you should seriously consider monetizing your trial in a non-impactful way to your user through advertisements.  Hey, that way you get paid either way!

Remember, if your app is a paid app, you want to add a trial.  Given that trials are common in the Windows Phone Marketplace, if you have a paid app with no trial, I can tell you that you are leaving a lot of money on the table as not many users will take the chance on your app.  Just some food for thought.

This post was the second in a series of five posts on strategies for being successful on the Windows Phone Marketplace. The first post (publishing in the right geographies) is here. The third post (pricing strategies) is here. The fourth post (differentiation using Windows Phone-specific features like Live Tiles and Push Notifications) and fifth post (how to get promoted in the Windows Phone Marketplace) are upcoming on this blog.