Convert Your Free/Paid Apps to Freemium Apps – The Best of Both Worlds

Tips and Tricks

With the launch event for BlackBerry 10 less than two weeks away, I figured this would be an ideal time to remind our developer community of some of the great options and flexibility provided by the Payment SDK, which leverages the BlackBerry World client to allow the sale of digital goods and subscriptions.


As many of you may be aware, there are essentially two main models for distributing applications through BlackBerry World: paid and free. With paid applications, the gap between a user seeing an application in BlackBerry World and actually purchasing that application can be a bit of a problem, especially for newer applications.

Free applications can spread quickly but don’t generate revenue when downloaded. So how do you get your applications into the hands of the masses without worrying about this gap and still make money? It’s not a trick question – the answer lies with a hybrid of the two models discussed above by use of the Payment Services SDK.

Enter the freemium (free + premium) business model. The freemium model uses the approach of providing free products/services with paid premium upgrades. Using this model, you would be able to provide a version of your application for free, allowing anyone to test your application without paying a cent, and then offer premium items for purchase using the APIs available in the Payment Services SDK to enhance the user experience. Of course, there are many options for how this could be achieved; the best way to proceed may be to use an example and evaluate a few strategies.

The simplest application to use this model that comes to mind would be a game. With a game, you can allow users have a feel for the gameplay, use the controls and get absorbed into the plot by distributing it for free. One great example where the freemium model is being used today is in the games created by the BlackBerry World vendor Ebscer, in particular Xploding Boxes. I will be using this example to draw parallels to a few concepts discussed in the remainder of this blog post.

To monetize, here are a few options which leverage the Payment Service SDK:


  • The idea with the upgrade would be to provide a base or lite version of the application for free and provide the means for the user to pay to unlock the full version. In this scenario, you could present the user with an “Upgrade” button which, when clicked, uses the Payment Services SDK to purchase a Digital Good from BlackBerry World. Once this Digital Good is purchased, the full version of the application can be unlocked for the user.

Unlock Levels

  • An alternate approach could be to create the application with 10 (to pick an arbitrary number) levels, but only allow the first 5 to be playable for free. The remaining 5 could be purchased in order to become playable and complete the game. For this you could use a single Digital Good to unlock all 5 levels, sell them individually or in bundles.

In the example of Xploding boxes, the first 25 levels are completely free to play when the application is first installed. As you work your way through the game and have exploded the first 25 levels worth of boxes you then have the option to complete an in-app payment to unlock all 360 levels! The first 25 levels do a great job of getting the player hooked with simple, fun and mind-bending puzzle gameplay, so once those are completed, the nominal fee to unlock an extra 335 levels is more than worth it.

Unlock Features

  • Suppose the user would like to customize their game character, or access items for use in the game which will help them complete the game more easily. Why not offer the ability to purchase premium features such as clothing to customize character appearances or a charm to speed up character movements? These features could be as simple as a change to a variable value in the game, but could mean increasing the chances of returns and adoptions of your once-free application.

There are many more options to monetize your applications using the Payment Services SDK; the above three are just some ways this could be done. There is also no restriction to choosing one singular approach; you could use multiple approaches in the same application. As well, you can always release updated versions of your applications with new features and new options to enhance the application through paid premium upgrades.

A few minor suggestions when choosing to use the freemium business model: Make the application addictive/engaging and usable on its own without the user needing to purchase premium features. When selling premium features ensure that the end user receives a good return on their investment by making the features add good value to the application. Finally, premium features should be just that – “premium” – so it is important that they meet or exceed the caliber that users have come to expect from the rest of your application. Going back to the example of Xploding Boxes, all three of these criteria are met: the game is very fun and addictive, the extra 335 levels is a great return providing hours (if not days) of more fun, and as the additional levels extend the existing gameplay model, the user knows exactly what they are getting before making the purchase.

The Payment Service SDK is already supported in current BlackBerry smartphones (OS <=7.1) as well as the BlackBerry PlayBook OS and BlackBerry 10, so no matter what development approach you use (BlackBerry Java, WebWorks HTML5, Native, Cascades Framework, Adobe AIR, Android) there are APIs to support in-app purchases of Digital Goods.  The only thing left to do is implement the freemium model to your existing* or upcoming applications! Oh, and if you would like to have a good example of how this is done, then I would highly recommend giving Xploding Boxes a try on your BlackBerry PlayBook tablet as well as BlackBerrysmartphones (OS <=7.1 and BlackBerry 10) – it is free, after all.

Ready to get started? Here are some resources to help:

Cascades Framework
Native SDK
HTML5 WebWorks
Adobe AIR
Runtime for Android Apps
Java (BlackBerry OS <= 7.1)

BlackBerry World applications cannot change between paid and free models

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