You probably noticed that after the Windows 10 release there was some backlash on the web about the humble FreeCell Solitaire game being released as freemium.  Essentially you can play it for free, and get an ad. after a certain number of games, or pay $10/yr to remove the ads and get some other gimmicks (for hardcore solitaire players).

Solitaire upgrade
Solitaire upgrade

As you might expect the move did not go down particularly well, and I’d say that for at least a day, many people really, really cared about Solitaire – to the point were some people were (supposedly) never going to upgrade Windows, or even use Windows ever again…  The words “storm” (or “tempest” for our American friends) and “teapot” come to mind.

So, it raises the question; why would Microsoft do this?  Surely not for the measly couple of million dollars it might raise in revenue – after all they just decided to forgo hundreds of millions they would make by charging for the Win 10 upgrade.

One theory is that perhaps they are testing market tolerance for this kind of model.  Back in the days when “.NET” was merely marketing hype and not a released framework, there was talk that MS wanted to move to a subscriber/rental model for software.  Clearly that (albeit 14 years later) is becoming the norm, but I doubt that MS really needs to use FreeCell to experiment with subscriber models, after all they have Office365 amongst other things.

Another theory is that they need casual game/entertainment app developers to move to the new universal Windows platform.  Freemium and in-app purchases currently rule on the mobile app stores, and so Microsoft needs to prove to developers that it is worthwhile targeting not just iOS and Android, but also Windows.

I think this applies not just to mobile apps, but desktop software as well, where monetization for smaller games and utilities is hard.

Running this experiment with FreeCell Solitaire will allow MS to tweak and prove that freemium can work for desktop as well as mobile apps on Windows.  Look for the next Build conference to include lots of content on monetizing apps.

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