Google Play Store Ratings Drop

One of the worst nightmares of any developer is to wake up in the morning and find out their app’s rating has suddenly crashed.  This is exactly what happened to many Android app developers who noticed unusual activity with their Google Play Store ratings after December 10, 2013.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a flurry of 5 stars.  Instead, developers began to sweat it out, as they watched 1′s, 2′s, and 3′s slowly diminish their 4 – 5 ratings. After research and reaching out to Android app developers through Google+, Facebook, and online forums, a picture of what happened and the unintended, surprising results has been crafted by Android app developers.

Amir Uval – the developer behind Countdown Timer, an interval timer and alarm, started a discussion on Facebook and Google+ to reach out to other Android app developers and “discovered I’m not alone.” In his Google+ discussion, details have emerged, links to similar discussions online have been shared, and he “finally put all the puzzle pieces together and concluded what was the source.” Mr. Uval talked with us about his experience and findings. He says, “I’ve noticed a strange a flow of low ratings on Dec 10. I’ve been getting a 1 or 2 once a month before that, and I started to get more negative reviews on a daily basis.”

This graph shows the dramatic shift that prompted Amir Uval's Google+ discussion. This graph shows the dramatic shift that prompted Amir Uval’s Google+ discussion.

Around December 10, 2013, the Google Play Store added a new feature called, “Want Quick Suggestions?” An app appears on the screen, and the user is encouraged to offer a rating without the opportunity to provide a comment. The rating appears to help Google make better suggestions for Android app purchases and downloads by a user’s assessment of the suggestion. But, Uval discovered the rating of the suggestion is converted to a rating for the app. He also discovered that users who touch on the stars as their finger scrolls on the screen could leave a rating. This updated interface seems to provide more opportunities for unintentional, random ratings. This same assessment of the problem is discussed on Reddit and Android forums.

Google Play Quick Suggestion

Paolo Conte joined Uval’s Google+ discussion and shared a graph with us that is nearly identical.  Conte’s app, Trains Timetable Italy (Orario Treni), “had a rating of 5 stars (4.8) for a long time.”  Conte says, “In Italy it is the number 1 app in the transportation category, and it is also featured in the Best of 2013 section.”  And, again, he shares a similar theme to Uval’s experience, “Since Dec 10th I started noticing a lot of 1 star ratings, but with no negative comments.”

"As you can see in the chart below, which covers a time span of one year, it is clear this is just wrong." - Paolo Conte “As you can see in the chart below, which covers a time span of one year, it is clear this is just wrong.” – Paolo Conte[/caption]

Mateusz Mucha is an Android app developer based in Krakow, Poland, whose app, Percentage Calculator, has suffered a similar fate as Uval and Conte.  After December 10, he noticed an increase in 1 ratings on what had previously been a 4.7 rated app.  He said, “Over the next 3.5 weeks, Percentage Calculator received over twice as many 1-star ratings than in its whole 14-month history.”  Mucha took a look at the “Want Quick Suggestions?” app rating feature and concluded, “I’m only sure of two things: I cannot fairly rate it and Google makes me do it.”  The required participation of users who may or may not understand what they are evaluating is creating unnecessary confusion; and, with graphs like Mucha’s below, frustrated developers are losing sleep.

Mucha's Percentage Calculator "had approx. 27 1-star ratings on December 10, now it has 92."

Mucha’s Percentage Calculator “had approx. 27 1-star ratings on December 10, now it has 92.”

The game, Move: A Brain Shifting Puzzle, has experienced the same pattern.  Noam Abta, the developer, said, “It had a very steady average rating of around 4.7, until around the 10 of December, it started to drop gradually and continuously.”  Abta’s graph below is yet another example of a highly rated app in the Google Play Store experiencing a decline on December 10, 2013.  Abta added, “The frustrating part was that most of the commented reviews we got were still enthusiastic 5 star reviews.”

Abta's "Move: A Brain Shifting Puzzle" launched strongly in October 2013. Abta’s “Move: A Brain Shifting Puzzle” launched strongly in October 2013.

Combining the rating of a suggestion with the rating of a specific app’s performance creates a gauge that is more difficult to use and implement in the development process. Uval says, “They just don’t mix – suggestion box asks for relevance, and rating – for overall quality and overall satisfaction with an app.” Right now, developers are struggling to understand their diminishing ratings in light of the commingled ratings and inability to receive comments and feedback from the “Want Quick Suggestions?” interface.

Updates to the Google Play Store interface, ratings, and data affect developers, and hopefully Google will respond to their concerns quickly. Uval suggests “a little note in the developer console” to inform developers of changes. And, as many developers note in forums, the ratings should be separated.  Bogumił Sikora with Paridae, the development team behind Countries Capitals Quiz, shares his chart that shows this downward shift in ratings.

Bogumił Sikora's app Countries Capitals Quiz Android app ratings chart.

Bogumił Sikora’s Countries Capitals Quiz Android app ratings chart.

For developers who share Uval’s experience, this discussion about the ratings change also revealed an unfortunate timing issue. Many of their Google connections are enjoying a holiday vacation, as one of Uval’s Google contacts “autoreplied he is on vacation.”

Right now, unfortunately, there are few options for developers impacted by the ratings. Developers are reaching out to contacts at Google, creating an online conversation, and hoping users swipe anywhere other than the ratings interface. Uval had a bump up in positive ratings after he released an update. He said, “I guess many of my happy users had a chance to rate.”

If you are an Android developer who has experienced ratings changes as a result of the “Want Quick Suggestions?” feature around December 10, 2013 and would like to add their story, please tweet a screenshot of your chart, mention @testfairy and we will add your tweet to this post.

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