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Wotja 'Featuregrade' Business Model arrives
15th Feb 2023 by Tim Cole
We believe in delivering the best value we can for any customer, supporter or user of Wotja.
Doing so has always been a massive priority for us and which is why we have now replaced our previous 'Fullgrade' Business Model with a 'Featuregrade' Business Model. This blog post give the backstory on how the Featuregrade model came about.
Background to the 'Featuregrade' Business Model
We knew that a good number of our longer term customers preferred a 'paid-for' model, i.e. where an app is paid-for once, and that is it. To that end, and over many years, we established what we called a 'Fullgrade' Business Model.
The model meant that for every major version of Wotja (e.g. W20, W21, W22), and for every App Store, we had both a free variant AND a paid-for 'Pro' variant.
It was well established, easily understood and worked well (for us, too) because the purchase of a paid-for variant of the next major version was always optional. It helped us fund the development of new features, capabilties and content as well as allowing us to provide for support during that year. Crucially it also allowed us to make many, many general improvements along the way.
It had a major downside, however, which was that it was a huge effort for us to remove each paid-for app from sale at the end of the calendar year and then release a new version. And, no matter how carefully we explained the Wotja business model, some customers still felt they were "buying again". :( But, because it worked for most customers we were reluctant to change it.
That said, we always hoped that one day we might be able to have the time to find a way to allow a form of optional in-app 'ugprade'. Because App Stores do not support that model out of the box (as it is hard) we always knew it would involve a lot of work to develop a suitable mechanism.
It was only because we were in effect forced to move to a single app model for Wotja 23 that we decided, once it has been released, that it was time to try to make the impossible possible.
For it to be able to work, however, there were 4 key things we had to get in place:
- NEW: ONE Wotja App Bundle per App Store DONE; W23.0.2:
- Our expectation at launch was that we would need to have an annual product cycle, meaning each year there was a new free version and the old version was removed from the App Store.
- Each new free version would have had to have its own One Time Buy (OTB) IAPs, e.g. Wotja 23 OTBs below.
- NEW: A mechanism to allow the permanent unlocking in Wotja 23 of '23' Feature Set (FS) options DONE; W23.0.2:
- Wotja 23.0.2 was the first version to include a '23' One Time Buy (OTB) IAP.
- We added a mobile-only OTB in W23.1.0
- NEW: The Wotja App Bundle must get rolling updates year-on-year DONE; W23.2.0:
- The Featuregrade model could only work if Wotja were to get rolling updates, meaning it was NOT removed from sale at the end of the year.
- It means every user will in effect get, for free, any general improvements we make to Wotja in the coming years, whether they purchase a OTB or not.
- We were unable to put this in place for the initial release of Wotja for the reasons explained here.
- Note: This change again means our Subscription (SUB) options again have a useful role because an active SUB will always unlock the stated Feature Set (FS) in any relevant Wotja App (and Plug-in) installed via your App Store User Account ID, whatever the major version of Wotja..
- NEW: Further development of the above OTB mechanism TO BE DONE; W23.3.0/W23.4.0:
- Required to make sure we can get it to work as expected for any new features, capabilities and content we add to a future major version (e.g. Wotja 24).
How we arrived at the Featuregrade Model (if you are interested!)
Let's just say that getting Wotja 23 released this year was a very, very big challenge.
For several years we had a well established model comprising a Free variant of Wotja and a separate paid-for 'Pro' variant. The differences were clear to everyone, and we added plenty of new features each year.
Come the middle of December 2022 we had been working hard on Wotja 23 for 6 months or more. We had done our final polishing and testing and on Dec 16th 2022 we submitted the Wotja 23 variants to the Apple App Store for their review. As we are a bonefide developer who had been developing for the App Store for 8 years, and we had a long established (and common) model, we were not expecting any issues.
On the 16th December both Free and paid-for Pro versions for macOS were approved and on the 18th December both variants for tvOS AND the Free variant for iOS were approved. So far so good we thought. There was just the iOS 'Pro' variant to go and so we expected that to be approved soon, meaning we could enjoy a well earned break.
How wrong we were. It turned out that instead of us getting a break we got broken. :(
With each of the 5 separate "rejections" from App Review (all seemingly totally non sensical) and we were gradually tearing out more and more of out hair and getting more and more stressed out. We simply did not know what to do, especially because we used the same free/paid-for model for all platforms. If we could not continue with that on Apple OS, we could not on any OS platform.
By 21st December we decided we had no option but to submit an appeal to the App Review board. But, being so late in the day and with no certainty the rejection would be overturned, we had NO OPTION but to set to work trying to figure out alternative model that could work for all platforms.
In doing so we knew that if we found a solution we would be hard pressed to row back from it, whatever their decision. Part of that is because changing business model is, for us at least, never easy at the best of times as we ALWAYS try our very best to look after our customers.
But having to start work on that on 21st December when you have promised all your users that the new version is coming on Jan 1st... That is INSANELY TOUGH, especially as Wotja 23 was ready to go and were by then already knackered.
Background Stage 1 - One Time Buy (OTB) Permanent Unlocks to the rescue
Intermorphic is Tim and Pete and Wotja is a very complex system of interdependencies and UI components. A lot of effort in each major version goes into things most users never see or notice. On top of that, by V22 we also had 14 different variants to build/test every release.
To ease our burden we always hoped to be able find a way to have just one free app per platform that we could update on a rolling basis, and then unlock as required. It was a pipedream because we knew that no store supports in-app upgrades for paid-for apps, the only real solution to that being to bring out another version. And besides, we still needed a free version. Suffice to say, we could never figure out how to do it.
Necessity is the mother of invention and it being 21st December and Apple (in its unfathomable wisdom) effectively saying they would only approve ONE app, we needed a solution to our predicament, fast, and it HAD to be one for the free variant.
We burnt a LOT of mental CPU in the space of a few days and finally came up with and settled on the solution of One Time Buy (OTB) 'Pro' Unlocks in the free variant. This meant we could retain and update the existing free variants and thus keep Subscriptions going for existing subscribers.
The big downsides for us were, however, that we believed that A) each and every year we would have to replace those free versions with new apps, effectively having to grow a new installed base each year when as a niche app we cannot afford marketing, AND B) that Subscriptions (which suit some) would thus become much less useful.
It was not the solution we wanted, but it was the ONLY way to get through the eye of the needle so to speak.
All we had to do (hahahahaha, NOT) was to implement it, for iOS, macOS, tvOS, Windows and Android for Google Play and Amazon Appstore, and also to rework the User Guide and website to reflect the big changes. And we had to have it submitted, approved and released by Jan 1st for all platforms.
To cut a long story short, we worked like dogs right up to Jan 1st.
Miraculousy, we did manage to do it all and come Jan 1st Wotja 23 was available on all our the App Stores.
Would we want to go through this again? Absolutely not.
All this just goes to show you the power App Stores have over developers, and the big impact their decisions have on our lives.
Background Stage 2 - Wotja gets rolling updates
Since the release of Wotja 23 we continued to mull over the big changes we had had to put in place. We wondered if they could somehow lead on to other things.
It took us a while, but we realised that IF we could find a way to allow Permanent Unlocks to unlock NEW features, capabilities and content added in future major versions, i.e. Wotja 24 in 2024, then we could do away with having to release a NEW downloadable Wotja app every year. It would mean we could just have one app per App Store, "Wotja", and release rolling updates. That in turn would mean we that could continue to grow an installed base and that Subscriptions could continue to work as intended.
Secondly, we realised that IF we could figure that out we then hoped we might be able to adopt fullgrade pricing on OTB.
After a lot of complex, tricky work, we managed to get that in place and it is also in Wotja 23.2.
Existing Wotja 23 'Pro' Unlocks work exactly as before, and no one loses out. In fact, you gain quite considerably, as explained below.
- MAJOR GAIN FOR YOU (MAJOR RISK FOR US):
- As noted above, a huge amount of work each major release goes into general improvements - new features, capabilies and content are really just the visible tip of the iceberg. This new approach means we have no way of monetising/funding work on general improvements. If you don't want to pay to unlock what is new, then you effect get all that work for free, year-on-year, unless perhaps you tip. The risk for us is that UNLESS enough people help fund work on new things, then Wotja could die.
- IMPORTANT: As Contact Support eats time we will henceforth be providing it only to those who can demonstrate purchase of a One Time Buy (OTB) for the year in question, or who have an active Subscription (SUB) or an 'in period' Tip Jar Tip (TJT).
- Minor Downside for you:
- App Stores are not good at supporting rollbacks. With just one app that gets rolling updates year-on-year, it will be up to you to find ways to back it up - if you want to. You might want to do that in case we have to remove or deprecate use of some feature, capability or content.
Anyhow, we hope all of you will love the 'Featuregrade' model if we can get it going and iron out any kinks. Long live Wotja!
If you have any feedback or suggestions, please do Contact Us.
Tim and Pete