Have you ever downloaded a game from a online store, that seemed to have good reviews, and thought to yourself: How does this game have such a good score? With this article we’ll try to explain why and how mobile games fake their ratings.
Your answer up front
Mobile Game Devs prompt users with the review prompt at specific points in the game. When they win a level, win a rare item or when they achieve something that feels rewarding. By showing the review prompt in specifically controlled moments they can ensure that players feel more positive about the game. However, if the player gives a rating bellow 4 stars (usually), the developer does not perform the API calls to the store in order to have that review registered. This way, they ensure that mostly good reviews end up there.
Moving forward, we’re going to deconstruct the mechanism, trigger points and offer more details how this system works and why it’s so vital for a lot of games nowadays. At the end of the article, we hope that you’ll have a much better understanding of the situation which should help you waste less time on bad games.
Why do we need rating system for apps?
The premise behind the modern rating system is simple. Imagine I am the owner of the Play Store and I have hundreds of apps submitted daily. If my customers just download bad apps, they’ll be annoyed with my store and think the store itself is the problem. By adding a star rating system that makes it easy for users to review and rate apps, and by featuring it on the main page next to the game’s title and screenshots – I can ensure that people see it and reduce the amount of times the app or game gets downloaded. This should, in theory, lower the amount of times a user downloads a bad app.
Using the rating system I can also pick and choose which games to feature prominently on the store’s front page. It allows me, as the store owner, to make lists like: “Best RPG Games”, “Most Liked Driving Games”, etc.
So the idea of using a rating system is a good, pro-consumer move. You know what’s anti consumer and extremely pro gaining the system? The mobile gaming industry (for the most part).
How do game developers “GAME” the star rating systems for Google’s Play & Apple’s App Store?
Both the Play Store and the App Store feature an API (code) that allows them to bring up a native pop-up that allows a user to rate the game. Nothing nefarious here so far. Both Apple and Google encourage this to be added to apps. However, game devs choose to add an extra step before this happens.
They prompt users and ask them to rate the app using their own rating prompt. If a player gives a 4 or 5 star rating, then the game does the necessary call to the store’s API and the regular review process happens.
But if a user gives a lesser review of 1->3 stars? Then the devs just discard the review without triggering said API. By adding this extra step, they can filter out users who feel negatively about the game. And in most cases, they don’t inform the users that their 1->3 star review WASN’T added to the store. Instead they offer a prompt that, more or less says, “We’re sorry you feel that way”. Or they just dismiss it all together.
Another way in which the player’s rating is influenced is by designing specific moments in their games where the prompt should trigger.
Example of how game developers “fake” their mobile game rating
Take our own BSG – Dragon Battle game as an example. We didn’t add a star rating prompt to it, thought that would make for an interesting case study. Anyway, pretend that we added one. What would be the perfect moment for us to ask you for a review?
- When you just start the game and reach the main menu for the first time? That would be too early.
- In the middle of the boss fight when the action is ramped up and your focusing on dodging the dragon’s attack? That’s one way to ensure you give us a 1 star rating.
- When you die for the 10th time in a row? Same as above.
- How about when you manage to successfully slay the dragon after an epic 5-10 minute battle where you managed to hang on long enough to defeat him? I think this is the way to go 🙂
When the adrenaline is rushing, with the sense of accomplishment taking hold of you and with satisfaction and joy in your eyes that’s the right time to prompt you for a review. You’re happy and naturally, you’re more inclined to give us a 4 or 5 star rating.
If we’d do it a little later, just after you’d be sent to the main menu and you would notice that’s the end of the game – the outcome might not be so favourable.
Is it legal for developers to “game” the star rating system?
Well yes, but also no. Kinda. Both Apple and Google encourage developers to add the star rating system to their game. Apple even describes the right moments to do that. Here’s a screenshot straight from Apple’s Website:
Google has a bit of a different take on the matter. They do not encourage developers to influence the user’s rating – going as far as saying:
- Your app should not ask the user any questions before or while presenting the rating button or card, including questions about their opinion (such as “Do you like the app?”) or predictive questions (such as “Would you rate this app 5 stars”).
You’d think google actively enforces this but I have yet to see a game being taken down due to this. Wanna know how widespread this is? There are about 30 games I developed for clients in 2020 that performed calls to google’s API ONLY if they said they’d rate us 4-5 stars. Luckily my name’s not on any of those apps and the client took full responsibility for this requests. But it’s that bad. It’s a common practice that slips by easily.
What can you do to stop this practice?
You should be able to recognise when this happens. Take a look at how the official review widgets look like:
If you’re playing a mobile game on iOS or Android and you get a prompt to review the game, and it looks different than the appropriate ones (presented above) do one of two things:
- Be honest with your review. If you feel it deserves 4 / 5 stars, review it as such and submit it properly.
- Lie at first and then be honest. Give it 4 / 5 stars in the fake prompt and then, when the real one appears, hit it with your honest opinion/rating.
Most rating systems are built on an Honor System and when there’s no Honor everything collapses. Or in this cases, the mobile game in question will fail to garner more of an audience.
Where to Next?
You’ve reached the end of this article and hopefully you now have a better understanding on why mobile games have fake ratings. I write extensively about the mobile gaming industry, their tactics and how greed influences a game’s design, subjects which were brought up in this post.
I believe that you might be interested in more articles on game monetisation. So if you want to stick around, you can check out “How Do Free Mobile Games Make money“, “Why Do Mobile Games Have Fake Ads” and “Why Do Mobile Games Have In-App Purchases“.
There’s also a monster post (about 4000 words) that answers the question: “How Hard Is It To Make A Mobile Game“. It goes in depth with actual examples on how Experience, Resources and Financials affect the difficulty of developing and releasing new mobile games!
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