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Free iPhone App Costs Developers

ratings.pngMy team and I created WordPop! for iPhone. Like many developers we decided to create a “free” version of our game so potential players could try it before they purchased. Over the last six months I noticed ratings for our free version was lower than our paid version. I wondered if other developers were having the same experience. I did an analysis of the top 20 best selling games in November in the Games: Word category.

I compared the ratings from the Paid version to the Free Version. If the paid version had an average 3.5 rating and the free version had a 3.0 rating, then there was a .5 negative change.

N/A     45%
No Change    10%
.5  Neg Change    35%
1.0 Neg Change    5%
1.5 Neg Change     5%
Total         100%

Not one application had a better rating for the free version and 45% had worse ratings.

Then I was curious if ratings determine if an application will be a best seller.

5       5%
4.5   5%
4    25%
3.5 35%
3     25%
2.5    5%
Total 100%

I was surprised that 65% had 3.5 or worse rating.

Although a small sample and taken from the Word Games category I came to the following conclusions.

1.  Creating a free version was once thought of as an important strategy to getting noticed and to be a top seller. Since almost half (45%) of the top selling word games do not have a free version I no longer think this is true.

2. Either players of free versions are much more critical of apps in general or the free version is missing a feature that makes it higher rated

3.  You can be a best seller without having a free version

4. You can be a best seller with lower than average ratings

All in all, as a developer I no longer believe it is critical for my team to create a fee version to drive sales or to become a best seller. And I think the costs to make the free version may not justify the return on investment (ROI).

You can read more about our game WordPop! here and the free version, Diet WordPop! here.

5 replies
  1. Marc Hellman
    Marc Hellman says:

    Interesting data. But what if the free app does make a difference. Isn’t better to try it than not?

  2. Joey_Effronderass
    Joey_Effronderass says:

    Are you making the link between game ratings and lite versus full versions? I don’t quite follow your logic. It seems to me that a better contrast would be sales points for apps with and without lite versions. I would make the assumption that lite versions give buyers the chance to try the program and then buy *if they like it.* If the lite version isn’t good, then sales will not follow. However this would probably be difficult to get the data to back this up and prove the point.

  3. Todd Sherman
    Todd Sherman says:

    Hi Joey,

    Thank you very much for your feedback.

    Many people were claiming that to have a successful paid application you had to also create a free version. I found this was not the case for several applications. It did take time for us to create a free version. We had to decide which feature to give away and which ones to hold back. Art had to be changed and new icons created. We had to test it and support it. After talking with some other developers who found zero changes in sales after making a free version I concluded that for some developers creating a free version actually cost them when time could have been spent on creating a new application or enhancing the paid version.

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