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"Demo" version schemes

My boss thinks that having a demo version of our software product might help sales.  Most software today has a "demo" version.  This allows you to download the application and test it out before any commitment to buy.

From time trials, selected inactive features, or nagging screens, what "demo" version limiting control scheme have you found to be most effective?  That is, least annoying (or most annoying) and favoured more likely to your decision on probably buying the product.

Friday, February 14, 2003

If you define "most effective" as "most effective at preventing someone from cracking the protection" then you would most likely prefer to implement a feature-limited version of the product. If certain aspects of the functionality aren't compiled into the executable at all, then they can't be cracked. However, if I were you, I wouldn't disable the SAVE function. Let your users save their work. Just don't let them have the complete feature set.

Of course, once people decide that they like the demo enough to buy the product, they'll have to download it all over again. Depending on the size of your product download and the market (corporate vs home users), this may or may not cause problems.

On the other hand, if your definition of "most effective" is "most effective at getting users to buy the software" the jury is still out. Maybe it's better to give them a really fantastic product that they can use without being nagged all the time. The idea is that maybe, after months and months of "evaluating" your software, the user will eventually cough up the money to buy it.

The trouble is, if your software is designed for teenagers or home users, they will _never_ actually pay for it. If your software is for corporate users, some will pay but most won't. It has yet to be proven, though, whether nagging your users actually gets more of them to buy, so I would be careful.

Whatever you do, make sure you give users an adequate chance to _really_ use your software. Some demos are so limited that you can't get into the software and get hooked on it. So, when the demo expires in 30 days, most people either uninstall or crack it. It can take longer than 30 days to fall in love with an application.

Benji Smith
Friday, February 14, 2003

I really really would like to know comparisons of download/purchase ratio between different methods (crippled versions (withous saving, for example), limited executions/execution time (Paint Shop pro, Flash), nag screens (WinZip, Textpad), etc.)

Anybody knows if there is such info available?

Leonardo Herrera
Friday, February 14, 2003

I've heard second hand that Niko Mak (the author of Winzip) attributes most of his profits to the nag screen.

Chris Tavares
Friday, February 14, 2003

My product produces documents. Without a proper license key, the entire program operates, except the produced documents say "sample" in the background.

Later, when someone purchases the product, they simply enter their license key and are good to go.

Of course, this scheme only works if your product does something like produce documents.

Friday, February 14, 2003

I can tell you what doesn't work:  Enabled menu items or buttons that, when clicked, say "This feature is only available in the Super Deluxe Ultra version!!!  Click here to upgrade!!!"  Obvious usability issue; if a feature isn't available, the button/menu item/etc. should be disabled.  Failure to respect this convention is poor programming; replacement of this convention with nag screens is rudeness in the extreme, and I've never been tempted to upgrade to the deluxe version of a program if the programmers would treat me so rudely in the trial/demo/basic version.

Best schemes I've seen:

Full-featured but time-limited: I bought two different Palm OS money management programs this way, and the time-limited thing worked well because this was a program I used every day (to enter money I spent, etc.).  Unfortunately, a certain crippling bug in the first one I got didn't show up till after the trial was over, but I was still able to get my money back after their bug fixes didn't fix it.  The second, SplashMoney, has served me well.

Games that let you play one set of missions: Managing to be both full-featured and limited at the same time.  I've bought more than one game after trying it out this way for a while.  (You have to be careful not to make the demo too fun, though; I played the Age of Kings demo for a _long_ time before I bought the full version.)

Not rude but not, IMO, effective either:  Nag splash screens like WinZip's.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Whichever method you employ (but especially in the full feature but time limited model), I strongly urge you to implement an automated licensing system.

Twice I've used shareware for work and had it die over the weekend. I put in my credit card number and get "you'll recieve the license code in a few days"

No repeat business from me.


Philip Janus
Friday, February 14, 2003

Doesn't it depend a lot on the type of software being demoed?  An effective protection scheme for a word processor won't necessarily be appropriate for a game, or a scheduling tool.

sedwo: What sort of software is this?

Brent P. Newhall
Friday, February 14, 2003

I would second some sort of unobtrusive feature limitation. I used to work for a company that produced software to produce full ecommerce stores in a wysiwyg way, no programming etc. needed. They essentially gave away the product, except the "free" version had a maximum of ten items in the store. There were other minor limitations, but nothing too major.

There are quite a lot of users that never bought the full thing. A lot of people are selling less than ten items. But a lot of people tried that and decided they liked the way it worked and then shelled out for the full version.

It worked very well, and customer response was very positive. Having people happily using your software and knowing your name, even if they haven't paid, is better than nothing I would say.

Andrew Cherry
Friday, February 14, 2003

I will never buy a demo version which is not fully featured as one can not fully evaluate the product. I have only ever done this once only to find upgrade incompatible and support rather short  and descriptions rather misleading. On the other hand I have bought many fully featured time demo products. If I can't afford them I leave them on my PC until I can. Half demos usally get uninstalled imeadiately.
If the product is good enough people will buy contrary to popular believe not all home users are theives and if the company make you feel like that I get very offended and do not buy.

Paul Houghton
Thursday, July 01, 2004

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