TL;DR I’ve replaced SmartGo Kifu and SmartGo Player, two paid-up-front apps, by SmartGo One, a free app with extra features available through in-app purchases and subscription.
I’ve just released SmartGo One, which completely changes the business model for my apps. This all-new iOS app replaces both SmartGo Player ($3) and SmartGo Kifu ($20) with a free app.
Some history: I released SmartGo Pro for iPhone in September 2008 (first $10, then $13), followed by SmartGo Kifu for iPad ($20) in April 2010. The two were merged into a universal app in 2012. SmartGo Kifu has always been a premium paid-up-front app – if you bought it a decade ago, you have not paid a cent for it since. This is clearly not sustainable, especially for an app that appeals to a niche audience of dedicated go players.
In December 2015, I announced that I was moving my apps to Swift – with SmartGo One, that effort is finally bearing fruit. (Did it take longer than hoped for? Yes, it most certainly did.) I’ve written a separate blog post on user interface and feature changes, and plan to write one on the technical changes under the hood; in this post, I will focus on the business model.
This is how the old apps were positioned:
- SmartGo Player ($3) was aimed at people who wanted to learn the game and play against the computer.
- SmartGo Kifu ($20) was aimed at existing go players who wanted to study the game, solve problems, and record their own games.
- Go Books (free with in-app purchases) is aimed at anybody who wants to learn more about go, from beginner to expert. The books range in price from $3 to $20.
Over the last years, as most of my time has gone into the new app, sales of Player and Kifu have been slowly declining, while sales of books have remained stable. In terms of gross revenue, the three apps have been roughly even, but Kifu and Player account for more income due to Go Books having higher upfront costs (converting books to digital) as well as higher royalty payments.
The new app is free to download, and is aimed at anybody who wants to do anything with the game of go, from beginner to expert. The free features include most of the features of SmartGo Player (except that computer play is limited to the smaller 9×9 and 13×13 boards), as well as the game-recording features of SmartGo Kifu.
There are three ways to pay in SmartGo One:
- Subscription: For $12 per year, you get access to the full GoGoD collection of 114,000+ pro games as well as advanced features like joseki matching. You can also play the computer on the full 19×19 board.
- Problem collections: SmartGo Kifu included 2,000 problems; SmartGo One gives you 200 problems for free, and then you can buy additional problem packs ($4 each) to get more problems at your level (up to currently 4,700 problems).
- Books: All 150 books from Go Books are integrated in SmartGo One, and can be bought using in-app purchase. (The stand-alone Go Books app is still available, and books bought there can be read in SmartGo One.)
Will it work out?
With such a radical change in business model, it’s hard to predict how it will turn out. Here’s my (possibly wishful) thinking:
- Many of the go players who were willing to pay $20 up-front for an app they couldn’t even try should be willing to pay $12 per year (after a 14-day free trial). These are the old Kifu customers.
- As a free app, SmartGo One should see many more downloads than SmartGo Player did. Some of these downloads will lead to people buying a book to learn more about the game, or maybe they get into solving go problems and buy a problem collection. A few might even subscribe, but I think subscriptions are going to be mostly dedicated long-term go players.
- The free Go Books app was not getting enough downloads. Anecdotally, there are many users of Kifu and Player who still don’t know about Go Books. Having the books directly integrated into the app should help people discover them.
Also, SmartGo One is better in pretty much every way than the old apps (in my humble, unbiased opinion). That should count for something.
So maybe it will work out? Interesting times ahead as I build up a whole new user base for this app. But regardless of the finances, SmartGo One is a win for users, as I discuss in this other blog post on user interface and features, and a win for me, putting future development on a much better path.