Synthesia for iPad Business Model

Archived development update discussion from past versions
Archived development updates.
Nicholas
Posts: 12519

Post by Nicholas »

Now that Synthesia for iPad is so close to being finished, I've started thinking about the best way to sell it to you guys. (Arguably I've done things out of order... a businessperson I am not. :lol: ) Anyway, I've settled down a bit since my last outburst, so I'm not proposing anything so drastic this time.

Now of course every user wants everything for free. And everyone selling a product wishes people would give all their money for it. The interesting part is what happens somewhere in the middle.

The desktop version of Synthesia has a long legacy of giving away a lot of value for free. I like that. Really, if there were a way to survive while giving you guys everything for free, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I continue to be honored that people enjoy and use Synthesia and I love hearing stories about how it has changed your lives. Still, I have to charge something if I want to keep working on it full time and the $35 price point for the desktop Learning Pack feels great. It's less than a single piano lesson, competitive with everything else out there, and still gives me a little breathing room to have a sale here-and-there.

Unfortunately (for me :D ) $35 doesn't work on the iPad. The culture in that marketplace dictates that even the $5.99 I'm shooting for is still considered a little high. Though it's interesting to consider because not only are you getting all the same value as the desktop version, but things like portability and being able to put your iPad right on your keyboard's music stand make it even better! I daresay Synthesia makes more sense on the iPad than the desktop.

It is exactly that point that has me worried.

I've joked with my wife for months now that all this effort is going to result in less revenue because people that would have otherwise bought the desktop version will now go for the iPad instead, which ends up being a net loss for me.

I've spent some time thinking about how to offset that. Personally I can't stand ads and don't think I'm ever going to do that to you guys. I've been contacted by a few of those "Are you sure you don't-not want to absolutely, maybe prevent installing this browser toolbar that is going to cripple your computer and force you to use our search engine forever" companies (to be bundled with the desktop version). While those offers sound lucrative (being dishonest and tricking customers usually is), I wouldn't be able to sleep at night.

Like I mentioned before, I still think users are more used to the idea of buying content than they are features. Though finding high-quality content partners is hard. I do have some content stuff in the works, but it's not ready yet.

Still, thinking about the "content instead of features" problem some more, I came up with an idea. On the face of it, it sounds similar to the other thread, but it's actually a lot simpler. Check this out:

When you download Synthesia on the iPad for free, you can play 20 different songs (about three hand-picked from each difficulty category of the built-in set). All the features (melody practice, sheet, etc.) are always available in every song.

Then, if you are enjoying yourself and would like to play more songs -- any song, in fact -- you can do the unlock for $5.99. The rest of the included set become available and loading external songs starts working. Every song continues to have every feature always available.

In fact, it starts to sound strange to talk about features like sheet music being or not-being available, because all of the little padlock icons go away in every case. You'll never see them. The "Learning Pack" is effectively integrated into the base download. Instead of you having to keep track of which piecemeal bits of functionality you have access to (and me trying to communicate that to you), it's a much simpler question of "can I play just these songs or can I play all songs ever, anywhere?"

Of course, this is obviously more restrictive than the model the desktop version uses. Though it seems like a really cool way to balance just how much value you're getting with how much less $5.99 is compared to $35. That is, it would hopefully be a purchase that more iPad users would end up going for, vs. if it went out the door using the desktop's model.

The reason I'm even writing any of this is because it sort of feels like I should ask you guys for permission before making that decision. In my salesman role, what I'm doing right now is trying to figure out how far I can twist your iPad arms before it hurts. :lol: The very last thing I ever want to do is exploit any of you, so I'm curious to hear your thoughts. Is that too restrictive a change? How many of you weren't going to buy the Learning Pack on the iPad anyway? Do you think "everything Synthesia has to offer for these songs vs. every song ever" is easier to understand than "these features from column A vs. this list of features from column B" for new iPad users? Does it feel like I'd totally be taking advantage of everyone? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Thank you!
juba
Posts: 3

Post by juba »

To me 1$ is almost the same as free, what I hate is those who call themselves free and then come with a list of additional things. I think you could start with 0.99 for the first download (as you are that much better than the similar free ones) and then ask 4.99 for package and unlock other midis.
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jimhenry
Posts: 1824

Post by jimhenry »

juba wrote:what I hate is those who call themselves free and then come with a list of additional things
Would Synthesia for iPad limited to 20 included songs fall into that category?
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
adamskii
Posts: 5

Post by adamskii »

Hi Nicholas,

I have a suggestion on how you should sell Synthesia on iTunes.

1) Synthesia is a "game", so use the same method that other popular music games on the iPad make their money, by selling music packs.

2) Create a music pack with around 5 songs in it and have each song have it's own background image, theme and instruments, as well as the fingering positions on how the song should be played on a keyboard.

3) Sell each pack of 5 songs for around £2 each and have a browser built in to Synthesia for purchasing and downloading the song packs.

4) Have a preview feature in the song browser so that people can hear & see a preview of the song packs before purchasing them. Such as showing a preview of the themes & background images used in the song pack.

5) Provide Synthesia free of charge with around 10 to 20 songs built into it, but don't include fancy stuff such as song themes & background images. Get people to buy the music packs to get the nice looking backgrounds that's comes with each song, etc, so they will feel that their money has been well spent.

6) Add the ability to add our own MIDI files in Synthesia via WIFI transfer and with iTunes, and sell this premium feature in iTunes for around £10 or more, and then people can use it as much as they want for free after purchasing it. Or you could make this feature subscription based, where people could buy a monthly or yearly subscription to use the feature in Synthesia.
davemac1
Posts: 31

Post by davemac1 »

It seems a shame that it has to be sold so cheaply in the apps store in view that the desktop version has been successful at a much higher price. I agree that one could argue that the iPad
version should be worth more. I dont not have a clear idea about how to price it. But maybe 99c for basic version with a few songs and a higher price for the unlimited version ( unlocked/learning pack ). Which ever way keep it simple. I would say $10 for the unlock as its such an amazing and unique app. I suppose it depends on the volume of sales ? Will this be purchased as a kids game to play around on with no midi keyboard or purchased by student / musicians to use with midi keyboard ? Or both.
Nicholas
Posts: 12519

Post by Nicholas »

Hmm... so far everyone has said "offer less up front and charge more!"

Interesting. :lol:
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swalker133
Posts: 246

Post by swalker133 »

to be honest, you could name just about any price under $50, and I'd buy...
Learning, creating, recording, and performing music on the iPhone and iPad...
http://www.iosmusician.com/
johbone
Posts: 17

Post by johbone »

Please don't do what adamskii said.that would turn off a lot of people from buying it(including me)(love the program btw):)
I think that everything you are saying is great and a good price for everything unlocked I would say anything under $10. 8-)
Most people don't have a lot of money to use on apps like adamskii does. :(
And personally ,the suggestions he is making seems to me like you would be exploiting people for money. :(
And like you said you wouldn't do that and I believe you wouldn't do that. ;)
I am proud of the developments you have made throughout this and am glad to buy synthesia when released.thanks. :D
Requiem
Posts: 4

Post by Requiem »

Here's my opinion:

For me every app below 2$ is a no-brainer. I don't really care and just buy if I think this could be fun and the app has a good reputation.
From 2$ to 5$ I start thinking.
From 5$ to 10$ I start thinking twice and try to figure out if I really want and need the app.
I have two or three apps that cost between 10$ and 20$, but none above. Within this category for me it's a 'must' that I'm able to try it out before I buy!

Regarding Synthesia, my gut feeling was, that it belongs into the last category. I wouldn't have a problem to pay, let's say 15$ or something like that if I'm then able to use it how I like. If I would be able to try it out beforehand, I'm perfectly OK with that. Trying out means, that I would be able to test if my Connection Kit (e.g. Camera Connection Kit) and my Keyboard work together with Synthesia and the iPad. If someone would buy the app and for some reason his/her hardware does not work (which would not be your fault), you will get a 'one star rating' immediately. That would be a pity. So the ability to try out the hardware connectivity is a must, I think. Therefore not much is needed I think. Just to try out this, I would just need one or two songs.

I'm not quite sure about apps that are offered for free. The reason is, everyone will load it, weather he/she needs it or not. The result often are ratings like 'Not useful at all - I would give zero stars if possible' (with bad rating).
1$ might prevent this, though it's not so much to prevent people from buying it who really want the app. On the other hand, I'm not happy to pay something for a 'trial'. So then the app would have to have much more functionality.

However, for me a model could look like this:
- Free download with limited featureset. E.g. leave out every convenience feature and/or settings. One or two songs would be enough to try out if the hardware works and if it's fun.
- For 2$ to 5$ offer a Learning Pack with enough songs to have fun with the app (e.g. a few songs within each difficulty level) and the ability to submit scores online.
- Or for about 15$ one can buy the Premium Set with all features enabled. E.g. adding own songs/midis to the library. All Settings and convenience features enabled.

So this is just one opinion. One could also think about another model with a 1$ Starter, or a monthly / half year or one year subscribtion for a Premium Feature Set like mentioned above.

... or whatever fits ... since I love Synthesia, I would go for the Premium Set anyway! ;-)

What I would not like to see, would be a model where I have to pay e.g. for each song, since for me it would not be clearly visible how much it will cost in the end and if this will prevent me from using the app since I have to pay and pay and pay.

Cheers ;-)
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error
Synthesia Multiple Donor!
Posts: 18

Post by error »

This is a tricky problem. The opinions you find here may be skewed because the forums are populated by loyalists, whose opinions may not align with those of the general populace. I, for example, am going to unlock everything ever immediately, if it's not going to cost me an arm and a leg. You're right about the difference in the economy between desktop and mobile apps, $35 for a desktop application is reasonable but for a mobile app it would be outrageous. A series of micro-transactions totaling as much or more, however, might be even more irksome for a user, especially if there's no "buy all at once" (hopefully for a discount).

While you're correct in your assessment that users are more comfortable buying content than functionality, I don't think either approach will really pay dividends. As a developer, I've also been studying the app market for what works and doesn't. I don't entirely approve of what I'm about to suggest, but it does seem typical of the top grossing applications.

"Freemium" apps dominate the market right now (I even hate the word!). The general idea here is that it is entirely possible to play and enjoy the game at zero cost, however there are some artificial barriers in place to make doing so tedious, slow, or otherwise boring. Then, there is some kind of token (coin, berry, jewel, magic bean, whatever) that can wave away the barrier, remove the waiting time, make all your dreams cost true. You can get these for free, too, but they're hard to earn. You have to perform well or get lucky - this feeds into the gameplay somehow, a user gets genuinely excited when he's earned a token. They have an artificial value, because they are for sale (50 for 99 cents, or 5 for one extraordinary performance, for example). The user associates the monetary value with the token, and can perhaps feel that he's earned something of actual value when playing for free - even though you can't cash them in.

The other idea I was going to put forth was the idea of subscription based content. Say you periodically release content packs, with various themes. Certain moods, certain artists, certain difficulties, different eras, whatever. Users can either unlock them with hard-earned (or -bought) coins, or they can subscribe to all updates, for a recurring cost. You could encourage users to get official Synthesia releases of content (instead of downloading the MIDIs) if there were leaderboards or something supporting official content. Also the unlock cost or per-play cost (which should always be payable with EITHER effort OR money, the whole idea of coins) should be overall lower for official content versus random-MIDI-from-the-web to encourage users to use your content, without actually stopping them from going around. Do whatever you can to make it better, easier, and cheaper to go through the official channel.

Two important takeaways here. 1) Time-versus-effort tradeoff, you should always be able to get things free, but it should be much easier to buy. 2) Recurring/expendable purchases, you want to make profit over the lifetime of the product, as the user is using it.

Users should get the full bang right out of the door, maybe with 10 coins their first login. Coins could then be earned through exceptional performance, but also through loyalty. For example, the first time you launch the app each day, coin. Do it every day for a week, 10 coins. Users have to taste it before they'll want it.

I feel like such a sellout now.
Nicholas
Posts: 12519

Post by Nicholas »

Both of you just shared some really insightful stuff. I've been trying to stay quiet in this thread just to take in feedback without contaminating the discussion, but I'll come out of hiding to talk about "Freemium".

There is a really good (but also long) article that I found on the phenomenon, here. If you stick with it, it paints a pretty grim picture. There is no denying that tapping into human nature in those ways is a great way to make a ton of money.

Though, in the same way I won't be adding browser toolbars to the desktop installer, I'm the nice guy that finishes last (and leaves a bunch of money on the table in this case). I've always made Synthesia the way I would want it to be as a user myself. That's true for all its facets, like why there isn't any DRM (unless you count the unlock key, which is as no-hassle as I could make it). Just like I'm ad-adverse, I'm also not a fan of the freemium model at all. I don't know that I could ever see it making its way in.

That's not to say I wouldn't love to release content packs -- in fact, I hope to some day -- but it would be a sort of face-value purchase where you knew exactly what you were getting and there was a dollar value attached to it so you can assess whether or not it's worth it to you. That's fine. That's just offering a customer a product they might like at a fair price.

The weird artificial-speed-limit / time-to-money conversion thing feels super exploitative to me. I won't argue for a second that it wouldn't make more money... I just don't want to be that guy. The promise of early retirement, or... yachts or whatever is enough to twist your value structures all out of whack. Still, I'm happy to continue being naive, idealistic, and probably even a little old fashioned in this context.

From my "what if I were a user" point of view I would want to be able to try the thing out (free download). Then, if I enjoyed it, I would want to buy it for a reasonable price ($5.99 unlock). That is the entire story. It's a little eerie to think I might be in the minority today.

I guess I never spelled out my motivation in the top post. I'm not really here to make money. I'm here to delight you guys with cool software. Hopefully I can stay out of your way while you enjoy it and charge just enough to survive. (It may be safe to describe me as an atypical business owner. ;) )
johbone
Posts: 17

Post by johbone »

Nicholas your last post was great.(especially the last few lines) $5.99 seems like a good price.i wouldn't mind paying a "little" more.although it would turn away a few people. :cry:
Although:you could make 2 unlocks one : one for all the songs and being able to view it (about $4.99) and another key that unlocks connecting a keyboard.(because some people won't pay $30 for a camera connection kit plus the other cable)
I don't believe you/I are in the minority(maybe?) because I share your views on almost everything.
And I understand you must charge enough to make some money from it for all the time you have put and will put into it.
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jimhenry
Posts: 1824

Post by jimhenry »

Maybe there is an additional market for Synthesia for use by those who just want to listen to MIDI files. They would want access to all MIDI files but wouldn't need an external keyboard.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
kiwi
Synthesia Donor
Posts: 1178

Post by kiwi »

Maybe dektop users can have the ipad version free?
Personnally i don't have an ipad but considering the price for the desktop version it would be good to have ipad version free.

personnally i think desktop is too expensive not for me but for potential customers and i pad is too low priced (but it's the standard in apple apps...)

So the choice is difficult good luck :)
Nicholas
Posts: 12519

Post by Nicholas »

kiwi wrote:Maybe desktop users can have the iPad version free?
Having the two purchases be related somehow is something I would have really liked to do, but that is against Apple's terms. Check out section 11.1, 11.2, and 11.13 of their "App Store Review Guidelines" document to see why.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

The selection of demo songs looks good.

I think you should include some of the scale exercises as demos.

I don't like the feel of unlocked demo songs awash in a sea of locked content. I would prefer that the non-demo songs not be there at all rather than grayed out. You aren't selling content yet. If and when you do, I doubt that you would present content for sale in this way. I guess you could. It would be sort of like the way Rock Band adds "recommended" songs to purchase into your library listing. However, at this point I don't think you should create any expectations of how purchased content might look with the presentation of songs that are not in the demo library. You should of course say that X number of additional songs and scale exercises are included in the pre-loaded library of the purchased version along with the ability to use any MIDI file.

I do wonder if potential buyers who have no prior exposure to Synthesia, and hopefully there will be a lot of them, will doubt your claim to be able to use any MIDI file. Do you think you should allow the use of the first minute of any MIDI file so people can confirm that the MIDI files they are interested in will work?

I think you should include a few MIDI files on your site that tie into a demo of how a MIDI file on the internet can be used in Synthesia. I was impressed when I realized that I could just click on a MIDI file link in Safari and have it open the file in Synthesia. What happens in terms of adding that song to my library?

Do you think the demo version should be called "Synthesia Lite for iPad" and the purchased version "Synthesia Pro for iPad"? It seems like there is enough in the demo that it is more than a demo. The "demo" is a fully usable and useful program with an abbreviated song library. I think "Lite" captures that level of capability better than "Demo". I am not fond of the "Pro" appellation being stuck on things willy-nilly, but it does seem like the norm for the all capabilities version of a program.

Overall, Synthesia for the iPad is looking very good and I think it will do very well. You should start compiling a list of potential reviewers and announcement sites so that you can blast them with a press release when Synthesia for iPad goes up in the App Store.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
Nicholas
Posts: 12519

Post by Nicholas »

jimhenry wrote:I don't like the feel of unlocked demo songs awash in a sea of locked content. I would prefer that the non-demo songs not be there at all rather than grayed out.
I like the opposite for two reasons:
  • With the locked songs hidden, each category would feel anemic to the point of "why do three songs count for a category anyway?" The value gained for navigating into a group would drop below the cost of the navigation. That is, all 21 songs could fit at the top level with only the slightest amount of scrolling, so it would be confusing why they weren't.
  • Being in a sea of locked content gives the impression that there is a lot of additional content to be had, no? It also provides the opportunity to spot that one song you really enjoy (for as traditional as the included set is, there are still some classics).
I'm not sure an "X additional songs" bullet-point drives the point home as well as seeing all of them. Awash was a great verb. I think the big list tantalizes and is full of potential. Three songs per category would underwhelm.

There is a psychological component for the users that get obsessive about making all those little score boxes into bright green 100s, too. That is impossible for the top-level groups before the unlock.
jimhenry wrote:Do you think you should allow the use of the first minute of any MIDI file so people can confirm that the MIDI files they are interested in will work?
I was going to let the song preview at the top of the song library work for locked songs. This would apply to imported songs, too. That's another good tease: they'll be able to hear it (and see that it works in Synthesia) but not see the notes or play along.

That is another reason to show locked songs in the library though.
jimhenry wrote:I think you should include a few MIDI files on your site that tie into a demo of how a MIDI file on the internet can be used in Synthesia.
This is a good idea. (The "Bach Chorale" link on the front page is kind of buried and will be pushed off when 8.4 hits.) Though I wonder how iPad users will find their way to the site. While the desktop version virtually requires they go through that channel first, the App Store practically hides the website link. It's kind of nice how uniform that makes the experience for every app, but a little sad that I get fewer outside-the-app opportunities to educate users.
jimhenry wrote:Do you think the demo version should be called "Synthesia Lite for iPad" and the purchased version "Synthesia Pro for iPad"?
I'm on the fence about multiple SKUs. Ever since they started allowing in-app purchase in initially-free apps, that's felt like the right answer. Otherwise it just adds administrative hassle on the user: going back to the app store, finding the other version, downloading it, locating it on their home screen, deleting the old version, wishing they could import their scores from the Lite version, etc.

"Synthesia" is also nearing the max app name length before you get an ellipsis. Both of those other versions might end up looking like "Synthesia ..." and "Synthesia ..." on the home screen. Instead, I'd have to distinguish them by app icon alone.
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jimhenry
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Post by jimhenry »

Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:I don't like the feel of unlocked demo songs awash in a sea of locked content. I would prefer that the non-demo songs not be there at all rather than grayed out.
I like the opposite for two reasons:
  • With the locked songs hidden, each category would feel anemic to the point of "why do three songs count for a category anyway?" The value gained for navigating into a group would drop below the cost of the navigation. That is, all 21 songs could fit at the top level with only the slightest amount of scrolling, so it would be confusing why they weren't.
I see Synthesia Lite as a complete but thin piano trainer based on Gil Bendetti's free graded piano music and the categories group the songs by difficulty as Bendetti grouped them.
Nicholas wrote: [*]Being in a sea of locked content gives the impression that there is a lot of additional content to be had, no? It also provides the opportunity to spot that one song you really enjoy (for as traditional as the included set is, there are still some classics).[/list]
I'm not sure an "X additional songs" bullet-point drives the point home as well as seeing all of them. Awash was a great verb. I think the big list tantalizes and is full of potential. Three songs per category would underwhelm.

There is a psychological component for the users that get obsessive about making all those little score boxes into bright green 100s, too. That is impossible for the top-level groups before the unlock.
It's a delicate dance between making the free version seem like a teaser for what someone really wants versus a free, lightweight app that is complete but has a paid big brother that can do a lot more. You should get more input than just mine on this point.
Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:Do you think you should allow the use of the first minute of any MIDI file so people can confirm that the MIDI files they are interested in will work?
I was going to let the song preview at the top of the song library work for locked songs. This would apply to imported songs, too. That's another good tease: they'll be able to hear it (and see that it works in Synthesia) but not see the notes or play along.

That is another reason to show locked songs in the library though.
I was about to say that works but then I realized that it makes the free version 100% complete for people who just want a MIDI file player. I think that is an important market segment. All those MIDI files on the internet are primarily for people who just want to listen to them. I wouldn't just give that away.

I am OK with just playing a preview on the Song selection page but it probably should be a limited snippet.

More of Bendetti's songs don't prove much with regard to the ability to play any MIDI file. However, if you want to showcase the additional content that has been enhanced with Synthesia finger hints, maybe you could provide a link to Bendetti's site.
Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:I think you should include a few MIDI files on your site that tie into a demo of how a MIDI file on the internet can be used in Synthesia.
This is a good idea. (The "Bach Chorale" link on the front page is kind of buried and will be pushed off when 8.4 hits.) Though I wonder how iPad users will find their way to the site. While the desktop version virtually requires they go through that channel first, the App Store practically hides the website link. It's kind of nice how uniform that makes the experience for every app, but a little sad that I get fewer outside-the-app opportunities to educate users.
Are you able to include links to websites in Synthesia that launch Safari to go to the site? I think I saw that happening with regard to the leaderboards. You don't want a link to the MIDI file from the App Store, you want it in Synthesia so users can see how links to MIDI content are now listenable in Synthesia. Without Synthesia or an equivalent, a MIDI file link is something that Safari can't do anything with.
Nicholas wrote:
jimhenry wrote:Do you think the demo version should be called "Synthesia Lite for iPad" and the purchased version "Synthesia Pro for iPad"?
I'm on the fence about multiple SKUs. Ever since they started allowing in-app purchase in initially-free apps, that's felt like the right answer. Otherwise it just adds administrative hassle on the user: going back to the app store, finding the other version, downloading it, locating it on their home screen, deleting the old version, wishing they could import their scores from the Lite version, etc.

"Synthesia" is also nearing the max app name length before you get an ellipsis. Both of those other versions might end up looking like "Synthesia ..." and "Synthesia ..." on the home screen. Instead, I'd have to distinguish them by app icon alone.
I wasn't thinking of both versions being in the App Store. Only Synthesia Lite would be in the App Store. (You don't need "for iPad" in the App Store listing.) Synthesia Pro would be an in-app purchase. I'm mostly trying to think of how do you describe things if the purchase isn't The Learning Pack.

BTW, I think the forthcoming release is bigger than a point release. I wouldn't call this 8.4. I'll leave it to you as to what does work for what is arguably the most significant release of Synthesia since the first release.
Jim Henry
Author of the Miditzer, a free virtual theatre pipe organ
http://www.Miditzer.org/
kamborambo
Posts: 32

Post by kamborambo »

Anything lower than $10 makes me feel like I should have purchased the iPad app insdtead of the desktop version :(
Is it still not possible for desktop users to get the mobile counterparts for free ? Is this a restriction by Apple?

Although I do like the idea of offering up a small set list for free.
Nicholas
Posts: 12519

Post by Nicholas »

kamborambo wrote:Is it still not possible for desktop users to get the mobile counterparts for free ? Is this a restriction by Apple?
Yes. Check Apple's "App Store Review Guidelines" document and look at section 11.1, 11.2, and 11.13.

I wish I could have a single Learning Pack key work everywhere, but those rules don't let me. :(
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