NCrunch: or how to ruin a product with greedy pricing

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

Update: 19/02/2016
This is a historic post, which I felt needed updating to reflect my current position.

Whilst I still feel that NCrunch is expensive, I feel that price now needs to be put into context. In the three years since writing this, I’m been waiting for an alternative to appear, at a more reasonable cost. The obvious candidate would be JetBrain’s dotCover. That latter product has improved greatly over the last couple of years, and is much cheaper (ReSharper Ultimate, which includes ReSharper, dotCover and other tools costs $957 over three years, versus $577 for just NCrunch over the same period). However, dotCover still doesn’t run your unit tests in the background as you type. It only runs on a build.

Because of this, and despite its high price, I now both have a licence of NCrunch for myself and have budgeted for buying licences for the rest of my team during 2016. It’s expensive, but I’ve reluctantly concluded it’s a justified expense.

Original article
Around a year ago, I restarted developing using C#. I’d used it a few years previously, but hadn’t really looked at it for more than four years. One of the big changes I noticed was with free libraries and tools. When of the things that used to frustrate me with the .NET world was that it was affected by the Windows “charge for everything” mentality. In recent years though, that has changed and free, community-driven, tools and libraries are now plentiful.

Another big change has been the change in attitudes to testing. Four years ago, many developers didn’t know about test driven development (TDD), much less use it. This of course applied across the industry, not just with .NET. I discovered though that – thanks to Remco Mulder – C# had probably the best unit testing tool ever: NCrunch, which was free whilst in beta. For those that don’t know about NCrunch, it integrates with Visual Studio and, whenever you pause typing for a while, it recompiles your unsaved source, runs your unit tests and reports them right back in the IDE via little green and red dots against passing/failing lines of code. I quickly became a big fan of NCrunch and fully intended buying a license when it was released.

Then today, I awoke to the news that it had gone commercial and that prices were available, and my excitement of NCrunch came crashing down in a heap when I saw the prices. I had been expecting around $20-$40 for a personal license and $50-$70 for a professional license, but the reality is utterly different. $159 for a named license (ie one that an employer cannot re-use if the named employee leaves) and a mind-numbingly outrageous $289 for a company seat license. On top of that, it will cost 50% of those prices every time a feature upgrade is released. These prices for a small productivity enhancement tool (one can unit test just fine without it, just not quite as easily) are ridiculous in my view. So my love affair with NCrunch is over and it’s time to find an alternative testing solution. A very sad start to the week, development-wise.

24 thoughts on “NCrunch: or how to ruin a product with greedy pricing

  1. David,

    I completely agree with you on this, we were expecting around £50 ($70) a seat which we would have happily paid but the pricing is crazy. We use Resharper which isn’t much more and gives us much more functionality. So I agree with you, the love affair is over and it’s time to look for an alternative.


  2. Remco explains his reasons behind the pricing here:

    I happen to think it’s well worth the money, as is Resharper and possibly TestDriven.Net if that is your preference. Using these tools has helped the developers I work with gain great experience of TDD.

    NCrunch makes the test coverage much more visible and helps us write code using the Red-Green-refactor cycle without stopping every so often to run the suite and break concentration.

    The value of any software tool is subjective and I think it best to choose a tool that makes sense to solve a particular problem. Our problem was lack of unit testing on legacy code and NCrunch has been invaluable and improved our code base. This justifies the expense in my view.

  3. @Michael,

    I’m aware of Remco’s attempts at justifying his pricing. His “justification” is idiotic in the extreme. He basically argues that TDD tools are expensive because few C# developers write tests and because few C# devs write tests, TDD tools need to be expensive. A classic no-win circular argument.

    I won’t argue that – despite its over-inflated price – some will still feel it worth paying the money to get the features. For me though, it was just a way of improving my existing TDD work flow. Sure I’ll miss it, as it’s a bloody good tool, but I’d miss the money far more…

  4. Hi David –

    I thought long and hard about whether I should make the effort to respond here, as I’m not entirely certain of your intentions in writing this blog post. I have the feeling it was written with the purpose of trying to create a community backlash in order to encourage me to change my pricing, and as such I’ll do my best not to take any of your comments personally.

    I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed using NCrunch and based on the fact that your main points are around its pricing and not on the tool itself, I assume that you well understand the considerable effort involved in developing such a tool. NCrunch isn’t something that can be born in a basement from someone just working nights and weekends. This is a project that takes years to mature and requires significant investment, not to mention the risks involved in building something for which there is no evidence that anyone would ever pay for (actually, based on previously built continuous testing tools, there is much evidence to the contrary).

    I’ve already articulated in great detail the decision that led to taking NCrunch commercial, and I hope you understand that I genuinely believe this to be the best option not for myself, but for ensuring the product still has a future. After investing so much of my own time in bringing it to life, my well has run dry and I need to find a way to support my family. The logical alternative of going back to consulting would mean the product would suffer chronically and likely disappear with time.

    Regarding pricing, I believe your argument in favour of $20-$70 licenses is fundamentally flawed. NCrunch operates within a niche of niches. Very few developers even understand how to write automated tests, much less bother to practice TDD. In order to make an equivalent return on selling personal licenses for $40 each, I would need to sell four times as many licenses as I would at the current price level, and the costs of supporting the product would be at least four times as high.

    Even if there were enough potential customers to support such a price level (and believe me, there isn’t), I would need to spend so much time on supporting the product that it would move at a snails pace. No more big features. No more significant innovation. Just lots and lots of fixes and troubleshooting for tiny niche problems that only very few people care about and even fewer would pay decent money for. Please consider that this is a problem I’ve already been handling for the last 18 months now, so I understand it very well.

    It isn’t really very hard to justify a price of $159/$289 when you look at the potential value provided by NCrunch. On applicable projects, NCrunch has the potential to reduce the cost of software development by 10% or more. How much is one day of a software developer’s time worth? We’re expensive people. It doesn’t take much logic to work out how quickly an NCrunch license will pay for itself.

    Most of the people who I’ve spoken to that feel NCrunch is overpriced generally use the tool for different purposes or have a different way of valuing the software. Many people use NCrunch purely because they enjoy it – it makes TDD more fun, more approachable. Productivity improvements are often more subtle and aren’t always as easily recognised, thus the value these people place on the product is largely emotional. $159 probably does seem like a steep price if you use the product more as a way to enjoy coding without great concern for commercial benefits. I understand this. I’m not happy about pricing the tool out of the hands of this class of user, but a commercial model that can support this user base isn’t something that I’m able to provide. Instead, I have to suggest looking at alternative tools. There are some great continuous testing options that exist within the free and open source space that are well worth your time in investigating.

    So in summary, I’m sorry if you feel these prices are too high for you. If $159 is more than you can justify spending on such a tool, then maybe this isn’t the tool for you. But please understand that $40 licenses just aren’t an option for NCrunch. If I were to sell licenses at $40 each, I’d be broke long before NCrunch V2 ever went out the door, which is a prospect I think many people would find far more disappointing.


    Remco Mulder
    NCrunch Developer

  5. I must agree with the critics here.
    The company seat license will never get through with my boss anyway.

    To sad as we’re just in the process of implementing TDD.

  6. @Remco,

    I wrote the piece as I was – and still am – angry with your pricing decision. I’m a keen advocate of TDD and NCrunch makes TDD so easy in Visual Studio, I was finding it a great tool for convincing people to give it a try.

    From my investigations, I concluded that NCrunch was by far the best TDD tool available for Visual Studio. Nothing else comes even close. Whilst it was free, persuading people to try it, and thus try TDD, was easy. I feel you have now priced yourself out of the market though. For most businesses, the expensive seat license is the only option they will go for. $289 per head for a tool that few yet see as being of any benefit is a ridiculously hard sell.

    The price suggests to me that you cannot come up with a viable business model for NCrunch. A low price wouldn’t earn you enough, so you are gambling on a few people paying a high price for it and that they’ll keep paying for annual upgrades at $144 a time. You say it serves a niche of a niche. Yet your pricing policy creates that situation and will keep it there.

    If you couldn’t come up with a viable business model for the tool, then I believe you should simply have open-sourced it and moved on to produce something more profitable. Instead you have turned it into an overpriced luxury that few will use and have weakened the TDD environment for the C# community. You have forced many of us into having to choose between paying too much for it, or simply putting up with going back to “bad old ways”. This is a great shame and it leaves me – and many others – a bitter taste of betrayal in the mouth.

  7. I’m as frustrated with the pricing as David is. A portion of my frustration my just be initial sticker shock.

    David, I do feel your criticism that Remco has “weakened the TDD environment for the C# community” is unfair, unless you first credit him for strengthening it with the introduction of NCrunch.

    When Remco was deliberating with how to move forward with NCrunch, I had secretly hoped he would “sell” to someone like Microsoft, JetBrains or Red-Gate. I feel like the functionality in NCrunch would be a great fit and excellent addition to ReSharper’s test runner and/or dotCover, for example. I had also hoped that dotCover, for example, would leave it’s price unchanged or only a small increase.

    I get that Remco fears he won’t make enough profit out of NCrunch. But I fear making it a standalone product, and pricing it so high, has created a self-fulfilling prophecy. I only learned of NCrunch a few months ago and instantly fell in love. How many other developers longing for such a tool also haven’t heard of NCrunch? How many potential customers will now be turned away by the price tag?

    And most importantly, how long until JetBrains, Microsoft, Red-Gate or MightyMoose as equivalent features into their products, destroying the isolation go the niche that NCrunch is filling.

    Justifying paying for it by looking at the savings it brings is legitimate. Of course, there’s lots of tools I want to use that I could justify this way (XAML Spy, Reflector, ReSharper, NCover, ANTS Memory Profiler, SCM software, MSDN licenses, etc.). At some point the cumulative costs start to become unbearable.

    I’m not sure if I’m at that point yet.

  8. @binygal,

    That is indeed an interesting announcement by JetBrains. dotCover is substantially less expensive than NCrunch, and offers more features, plus integration with ReSharper.If they add NCrunch-like features to it as well, then it becomes very difficult to justify buying NCrunch unless the price of the latter is severely slashed.

    Thanks for the link.

  9. I have used NCrunch and loved it. I was ready to purchase it, but when I saw the prices I was totally disappointed. I do understand that you need to make a living, but equally charging those per licence is just being plain greedy.

    I read Remco’s post about trying to justify the prices but he needs to understand that at the moment TDD in not still mainstream in the industry thus majority of companies will not spend the money on the product, and at this time about 90% of his potential customers are developers who would purchase an individual licence (forking money out of their own pockets).

    In his post he argues against $20-$70 price per licence, saying that NCrunch in a niche product and very few developers do TDD. That is totally untrue. Even if they don’t use TDD a lot of them still write unit tests. And nowadays on every job description one of the requirements is TDD.

    Then he tries to justify the price of $159/$289 that NCrunch will reduce the cost of software development by 10%. This is not true either. TDD will reduce the cost of SD for 10% or more, not NCrunch. And then he goes on about saying many people use NCrunch because they enjoy it. I am saying, dude 90% of people using NCrunch use it BECAUSE they enjoy it, not because they have no other choice.

    Pricing NCrunch at a higher price that Resharper is just plain silly.

    At the end, Remcohas the right to charge whatever he wants for NCrunch. It is his product after all, it just sad to see such a great product being killed by its own owner. This is a classical example of a good engineer being crap businessman.

  10. I am in favour of Remcos Arguments and will probably get it personally, but I’ll wait for dot cover 3.0 first to see how it compares.

  11. I would love to work on an open source solution to the same problems although Mighty Moose does 90% of the same stuff already…

  12. I can actually understand his pricing and I don’t really understand all of you who can’t justify the price for your boss?

    The amount of time that you have to spend to get the same coverage manually should easily justify the price. If I take my hourly rate at my last client it equals 2,5 hours of work. It’s easy to say that the amount of time I have to spend on getting full coverage will be less than that.

  13. I understand the corporate pricing… if you are making money off of the product then the cost is fairly trivial.

    The only thing that saddens me is now I can’t (ok, won’t) use it at home because it costs so much for a private license.

    I would have expected a personal – non-profit use license around the $40 to $50 mark in addition to the corporate license tiers.

    Oh well. I was new to TDD anyway so it won’t be much hardship to live without it.

  14. I run a small development team and had one of my staff suggest this tool. The tool works great and I found it to be very useful.

    Decided that it was time to look into getting this for my entire team. Wow, really I’m going to pay $289/dev and $130/dev more for the same tool because I work in a company?

    This was really a poor pricing model and very unfortunate. I believe it will crater a great tool. At $100 I would have bought 10 licenses and upgraded every-time, instead he’ll get nothing.

    Too bad.

  15. Hi, I feel like taking sides with Remco.
    He has given a very mature Product to the Community for free and quite a long time and everyone could benefit from it. I very much admire the ingenuious mind and bold step to start a business.
    In our project it continuously saves us time as our test base is in the 1000s and still growing.
    With Visual Studio in the 800$s and Re# at 250$ (both personal Licenses), this Tool is adequately priced, compared to the conscious effort and break in concentration it takes a developer to write and run tests.
    We all need to make a living and I’d rather fund an ingenious independent developer than one of the big companies. And I think unless someone has taken the same step, they should rather keep their …
    Software has and is taking everyone ahead in big leaps and the ‘all free’ and copy attitude is costing especially the creative minds, be it in arts, music or in software or books.
    Big companies compensate by spying our habits and selling advertising, but what about us developers? Isn’t it greedy to want such a tool for free? I’m getting a bit agitated here at the thought of people complaining and spoiling things but not bringing a similar service to the community.
    Unless I’m reading that Remco is retiring as a billionaire in the Bahamas like McAfee, I’m very ready to pay for the substantial benefit. The same holds even more for Services like Wikipedia who solely rely on donations from us!
    Merry Christmas and just compensation for everyone.

  16. I don’t understand all the emotion around this issue; Remco wrote the software, he can charge what he likes, if people don’t think it’s worth the cost they don’t have to buy it.

    Personally I think NCrunch is the most valuable productivity tool I’ve used and would happily pay more for it than I do for ReSharper (despite it being a technically more complex and larger piece of software) as I feel the benefits it delivers are of such value.

    Anyone is free to implement their own continuous test runner and if they think it should be cheap, free or open then they can make that choice.

  17. The emotion is because people were really enjoying at amazed by something and feel like it’s been ripped away by greed. David has every right to do what he’s done, and people have every right to react to it as they see fit.

    My emotional response also includes sorrow for David and the world. I truly feel he would’ve been more successful with a lower price point. I think he would’ve received more total revenue, more recognition and left his mark on the world by bringing continuous testing to the masses. I’m not saying this as a joke. I mean it sincerely.

    And, Tom, as you said, anyone is free to implement their own. JetBrains is working on it right now for dotCover 3.0: . dotCover has commercial pricing of $199/seat vs. NCrunch’s $289. Guess which one I’m recommending my company invest in.

  18. Hi Remco,

    I have a suggestion. I too was ready to buy NChrunch. It’s a really good tool. But like so many of the comments above, the price is just above my pain threshold for a tool like this.

    That reminded me of NHibernate Profiler. Also fairly high price, but they also offer a monthly subscription model which gets you updates for life. If you work out the annual cost it’s only slightly cheaper than buying a full license, but it made me buy the subscription. I initially thought I’ll only use it for a few months for a project I need. I’ve now been using NHProf for about two years. Oren Eini has extracted more money from me than a full license costs and I’m happy, because it seems less painful to pay $30 a month and being able to cancel any time I want makes me feel I’m getting value.

    If you were to offer a subscription based model along side your full license prices, I’m sure you would gain a few more sales. Subscriptions does wonders for your cashflow.



  19. Remco – I would suggest to make single day – or even several hours promo, like JetBrains made in December – when named licences were 75% off – just to see, that market is not so niche of the niche. Let’s say it will be less than 75% off – let’s say price would be 39$ for a named license for very limited time, I’m pretty sure, that it would go viral on twitter/facebook and you would sell some licences to those, who never did TDD before.

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