Make a Free Version of Your Paid App

So you just finished your Android app. You spent many hours writing code and designing graphics. Maybe you spent a lot of money on a graphic designer and/or coder. Either way, your app looks beautiful and performs well. You deserve to be paid for your work. After all, you’re technically in debt if you count your own hourly rate and actually in debt if you count your graphic design budget. Here’s the story of a na├»ve developer (me) who thought everybody would want to buy his app.


After working very hard on my first game, Silver Dollar Shooter, I was ready to publish. I settled on the very reasonable price of $0.99 and uploaded my APK. Now to begin advertising.

My first campaign was to my friends on Facebook, with a simple status update and a link to Silver Dollar Shooter’s market page. My second avenue was reddit, where I posted to r/androidapps. Within two days, I had 4 downloads. That’s right, 4. And I knew them all personally. The only comment I got from reddit asked why I thought my app was worth any money at all. Not a good start.

Changing Tactics

At this point, I believed my advertising strategy was sound but the quality of my app was not. So I decided to make a free, ad-supported version of my game. I signed up for AdMob and threw some ads into my app.

The difference in attention was drastic. After posting the free version on r/androidapps, I received several comments and suggestions. I also got some honest reviews on the market. I went back and made some changes to my app and repeated the process. My downloads continued to grow as my game improved. Additionally, I have now made more money from ads than I have from selling the paid version (just over $10 after a month, but it’s progress). Also, I did notice a few strangers bought my paid app.


Paid apps are difficult to sell.

The Android market has so many high-quality free apps that users expect even higher quality from paid apps. I can safely say that my screen shots did not depict a quality experience. You have to put time and energy into the graphics, gameplay, and market description or your paid app will fail no matter how well you advertise.

Don’t get greedy.

I really wanted to make money with my game. So I pushed it out without any real QA testing. I then expected to get feedback from my paying customers. Next time, I will make a free version first and then decide if there is enough interest to justify a premium version.

Ads probably won’t make you rich.

Unless your game draws in users and keeps them around for a long time, hold off on buying that new car.

My experience showed that even a mediocre app can benefit from publishing a free version. As I continue to improve the game, I plan to add some premium features to the paid version to make it more enticing. Hopefully the attention to the free version will lead to more paid version downloads.


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