Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Google Removing Mobile Game Reviews Without Cause?

Greenheart Games released Game Dev Tycoon for android and iPhones at the end of January. The 2012 PC game was an indie favorite, and it's still one that I enjoy tinkering with today. Your goal with the game is to develop your own video game company. You choose the projects, hire the team, make the game, and try to determine what consumers want to ensure your company is successful. The straight-forward concept makes this a game that is easy to pick up. And like reality you have to deal with the same issues real devs face: layoffs, economic changes, new consoles, hackers stealing your code, etc. Though unlike other mobile games, Game Dev Tycoon does not have any microtransactions. Straight from their website: "there are no forced wait-times, no virtual coins, no in-app purchases, no ad-breaks, no loot boxes and no overly addictive gameplay mechanics." You pay to get the game and that's it! That's a good deal for $4.99.

However 2 weeks in, Greenheart Games began to notice something was happening to their Google Play reviews. In a blog post by developer Patrick Klug, they saw reviews that looked legitimate were disappearing from the store page. Six days after the game was released, it maintained a 5 star rating. But soon after, 25% of the positive reviews were removed. Just after that, it was 77%. Greenheart Games went to Twitter to ask customers if their review had vanished. And a number of them confirmed that yes, their genuine reviews were removed.

It's common knowledge among app creators that Google and Apple will remove reviews if they feel they are erroneous: left a review but did not download the item, paid review bots, etc. A stray review here and there being removed shouldn't cause such a drastic drop for Greenheart Games. Having 400+ reviews vanish in one day for a new app is a big deal.

Some would put the blame on Google's algorithm that is meant to remove fake reviews. However, as we know with social media, that system is never full proof. Good reviews will get swept in with the fake ones. But in the case of Greenheart Games, this isn't 1-4 reviews deleted a day. This was 400. Said algorithm is kind of back-wash for paid games. It makes sense for the free-to-play where you can trick the system into reviewing without having to download. You can't for paid games on Google Play. You have to spend money in order to review. People who are reviewing the game are customers, not bots.

Google did respond to Greenheart Games, stating that there were review guidelines and people needed to follow those to ensure their reviews are kept. Such as not using excessive capitalization or punctuation, and having a review with both positive and negative points (yes, even for 5 star reviews). But when you see some of the deleted reviews, you'll find that most of them are legit and should not have been removed by Google.

Greenheart Games is working on a follow-up post to also address the piracy concerns - because Google is seemingly okay with game theft, but not reviews. We'll update the article or make a new post if more information comes to light about the missing reviews. If it's affecting Greenheart Games, it's surely hitting other developers.

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