Free Trials and Paid Upgrades on the iOS App Store

31 July 2017

Two of the most frequently requested features for the App Store are free trials and paid upgrades. While I agree that it would be great if Apple gave us a convenient way to offer these options to customers, both are possible today. Pixaki now has both a free time-limited trial and a paid for upgrade, and there’s not a single subscription or in-app purchase involved. Here’s how I’ve done it:

Free trials

The Omni Group showed us last year that it was possible to get a time limited free trial through App Store review if the app remains functional after the trial runs out. In their case, the app still functions as a document viewer, and that’s exactly what I’ve done too. The Omni Group’s approach is to offer a single app with in-app purchases used to unlock the full functionality. However, there are a few downsides to using in-app purchases — there’s no support for Family Sharing, no bulk discount for education, an internet connection is required, and it’s quite a lot of work to develop. Instead I decided to release a second app — Pixaki Viewer — that provides the trial functionality, and then prompts the user to buy the full version on the App Store when the trial is over. The app shares all of the documents and settings with the full version, so there’s no migration process to deal with.

I’m certainly not the first person to do this, but paid upgrades using a bundle have worked out really well for me. Existing customers have been very grateful that their loyalty has been recognised, and I’ve had very few issues with it not working or not being obvious enough for people upgrading. It does mean that I need to keep the old app on the App Store for a while to come, but I want to keep doing bug fixes to it anyway, so that’s not too much of a problem. I had some issues initially with setting up the bundle on iTunes Connect before the app had launched — to get round this, I had to release the app then immediately remove it from sale.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about how we need to abandon the old pricing models and how everything is moving towards a subscription model, but I just don’t buy that. I think that for the right sort of app, the “old” way of doing things — charging a decent amount for the app, using free trials, and offering upgrade pricing — can work just as well on iOS as it has been working on macOS for decades.

Upgrading to Pixaki 3

24 March 2017

The launch of Pixaki 3 is just around the corner, and I am so excited! While version 2 was primarily a rewrite of version 1, version 3 takes a more solid foundation and runs with it, adding a wealth of new features that will completely transform how you use the app. If you want to get excited too, you can read all about those new features on the Pixaki page. Version 3 will be a new app with a new pricing model, so I thought now would be a good time to explain how it’s going to work.

What will it cost?

Pixaki 3 will launch for $24.99 / £23.99 / €24.99. While that’s more than previous versions have cost, it reflects the fact that this is a substantially different app. Features like animation with onion skinning, reference layers, enhanced PSD support, and sprite sheet creation now mean that this is a serious piece of software that you can use professionally.

How do I upgrade?

Discounted upgrade pricing will be available to all existing customers using an app bundle. To say thank you, we’re going to offer the maximum possible discount: If you want to upgrade, you’ll only pay the difference between what you paid for the old version and the price of version 3. So if you bought Pixaki 2 for the current price of £8.99, you can upgrade to Pixaki 3 for £15.

Will support for Pixaki 2 continue?

Yes, absolutely. The plan is to make sure that Pixaki 2 runs without any issues on all versions of iOS up to 12.0 by releasing compatibility updates. I know that not everyone will want to upgrade, but you will still have a fully functioning app for at least a couple more years.

I’ve been thinking about how best to handle upgrades since I started developing Pixaki 3, 18 months ago. I hope I’ve arrived at something that is both fair, and gives Pixaki the best possible chance of becoming a sustainable business. I believe that the future is very bright for pixel art. I’ve seen more incredible pixel art games in development right now than I’ve ever seen, and people are using the medium in completely new ways. My aim with Pixaki is to create modern pixel art creation software that will help to propel the medium forward to even greater things. Thank you so much for your support over the years — I can’t wait to see what you’ll create with Pixaki 3.

The best pixel art is still to come

14 May 2015

Reading Blake Reynold’s article on why he’s deciding to give up on pixel art got me thinking — is pixel art as a medium doomed to obscurity? Should we all be hanging up our 1 x 1 pixel brushes and 16 colour palettes and getting with the times? Have I wasted the last four years of my life trying to create the best pixel art app for a group of people that will soon cease to exist? I don’t think so!

For me, pixel art has never been about reminiscing or emulating the past. When I first got into video games, I started with a PlayStation and Final Fantasy VII, just as mainstream pixel art console games were disappearing. I only got into pixel art about five years ago, and have been completely captivated by the medium since. It’s surely one of the purest, most rewarding forms of art there is. Like a great novel or an impressionist painting, it provokes imagination in the beholder. But the reason I get really excited about pixel art is because the medium is still so young.

Now that we’ve released the shackles of the technical limitations from which pixel art was born, and it has instead become an artistic choice, what’s being created is mind blowing. Five years ago, I couldn’t have even imagined that games as stunning as Sword & Sworcery, Super Time Force, and Hyper Light Drifter could be made. Imagine what could happen in the next five or ten years. The very best pixel art is surely yet to come. (Check out this excellent article from the Verge too; “Pixel art games aren’t retro, they’re the future”.)

There will always be stupid people who don’t get it, who confuse the medium for the genre. (Some people think that all cartoons are for kids, but having just finished watching Death Note, I can assure you that’s not true.) Pixel art is just a medium, and one many people love. When has art ever been about appealing to the masses? True art is always divisive. So why would you give up doing what you love to try to cater to idiots? Especially when pixel art is just starting to grow up, and who knows what form it will take in the years to come.

Pixaki, 7 months on

27 March 2014

Back in August 2011, I started work on a Pixel art editor app. At the time I was planning to create a pixel art game and wanted a way to create all of the artwork from my iPad, but I couldn’t see any decent, well designed apps already on the App Store. So I set about creating my own app, thinking I could probably have it done by Christmas. Two years later, after many late nights, almost giving up multiple times and a lot of iterating on everything, Pixaki finally shipped.

The indie developer community has always excelled at sharing statistics, and I know that hearing the stories of success and failure has helped me along the way. So in an attempt to be useful for someone else, I’m going to share the metrics I have that help to answer the question “how successful is Pixaki?”.


To date, Pixaki has sold 1355 copies and made $4919. I have mixed feelings about these numbers. On one hand, this a far better than any previous project I’ve attempted before and a great additional income. And the app has continued to generate a consistent number of daily downloads, which is brilliant. On the other hand, my hopes for Pixaki were that it would enable me to make a living from app development, and the numbers haven’t been anywhere near high enough for me to consider leaving full time employment. I think the important thing to remember is that Pixaki has been, and continues to be a great step towards that goal and that massive success won’t come overnight, but I’m making progress.

Reviews and press coverage

Press coverage for Pixaki has been amazing. Just before I launched, I sent some promo codes to a few sites, concentrating on the ones that I personally knew about and read. I was pretty flipping excited when Andrew Webster from The Verge replied and said that he wanted to feature Pixaki. The review came out on launch day and was very positive. As well as The Verge, Pixaki has been featured on the Guardian, Mac|Life, AppAdvice, TWiT’s iPad Today, at least two print publications and a whole range of other websites. I think Pixaki is a good case for demonstrating that positive reviews on major websites don’t necessarily lead to large spikes in sales: in fact, for the most part, I can’t attribute any sales increase to a website review. Having said that, I think there must be a great long term benefit to having these reviews rank highly on relevant Google searches, and it’s great to experience this kind of success.

User reviews on the App Store have been very positive too, which is massively rewarding. Hearing about how people use the app and what it enables them to do helps to make all the time invested in the development seem much more worthwhile. Giuseppe Landolina, one of the creators of The Other Brothers got in contact with me to say how much he liked the app and that he was using it to create new assets. In an interview about his massively successful Kickstarter campaign for the Game Frame, Jeremy Williams mentioned that Pixaki was his pixel art app of choice (it even features in the Kickstarter video). And I know that Owen Goss used Pixaki to do some of the initial designs for some of the animals in Disco Zoo, which is pretty cool. Every one of these stories of how the app is getting out there and being used spurs me on to keep going and make Pixaki even better: if you’ve got a story to share about how you’re using the app, please get in touch.

The future

I have lots planned for Pixaki. I’m currently working on a major update to bring the design in line with iOS 7 and add some of the most requested features, such as custom canvas sizes and image import. After that, I’m think of adding animation support, potentially making it run on the iPhone with iCloud support and maybe even making a desktop version. I’d also like to build up more of a community around Pixaki and create a place for people to share their creations with each other.

While Pixaki’s success hasn’t been stellar, it’s still doing well and I’m committed to making it the best product that it can be.

Time Lord: Maintaining Balance in Life

22 October 2011

I think a big challenge for any indie developer; indeed, any person; is how you manage your time. We all want to be working on our latest and greatest project, but we also need to manage everything else in life. I don’t believe it’s ever wise to burn out in trying to create something. I’ve found new challenges in my time management since going back to work full time, so I wanted to share about how I approach this whole area.

As any self respecting Time Lord will tell you, some points in time are fixed, and some are in flux. I like to think of my time in the same way (any excuse for a Doctor Who reference!). Certain things in my week are fixed – like being at work 9 to 5:30, being in church every Sunday, sleeping during certain hours etc. That time is easy to manage, but it’s all the rest of your time that presents an issue.

One approach is to always do the most urgent and most important thing first. The trouble with that is that some things, like having a social life, are never urgent, but are vital to build into your schedule. Another approach you might take is to have a weekly schedule, but you’ll soon find that it can become restrictive. I find that none of my friends work to much of a weekly schedule, so trying to fit any socialising in requires flexibility. I don’t even try to get ‘x’ number of hours of project work into a month, but I just go with the rhythm of life.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working to get my church’s new website live. It’s taken up a lot of time, and I pushed hard, meaning that I didn’t have time to work on my app, and I socialised a bit less than I would usually. But I’m fine with that. What I’ve come to realise is that there are chunks of time when your emphasis on where you spend your time will shift, and that’s OK, because that’s how life has to work. One of the best bits of advice I was ever given about time management was to think of balance as a pendulum. It’s easy to get into micromanaging our time, trying to make the pendulum as still as possible at all times, but you need to let it swing out. For me, the pendulum has been on the church website, but this week it’s been swinging back towards Rizer. I’m hoping to launch the pixel art app before the year’s out, which will require a lot of time and effort to be invested in the next few months. But there’s also plenty of other things I have planned in that time – like spending quality time with my family. The pendulum will swing backwards and forwards, one week will look very different to the next, and that’s OK.

So embrace the pendulum. It’ll lead to a healthy, balanced, guilt free lifestyle, where you don’t burn out, but keep on making awesome things for many years to come.