Greenheart Games, developers of the recently-released (on Android) Game Dev Tycoon, claim that Google has removed “over 77 percent” of the game’s positive reviews on the Google Play Store.

In the second part of Greenheart’s Android release report, written by Patrick Klug, they claim they “expected to write about sales numbers and piracy rates,” but due to an extremely odd situation with reviews on their store page, the report is about that. Greenheart say that after six days, they had a perfect 5.0 rating from “over two thousand players.”

And then?

We were so excited until, an hour later, we mysteriously lost 438 of our 5-star reviews. Within a moment, over 25% of all our reviews were just gone.

They investigated by contacting Google directly and also asked followers on Twitter whether anybody could confirm their review had been deleted. “Multiple confirmations” came in, leading Greenheart to believe that genuine positive reviews were being deleted for their game.

Greenheart says at one point they lost 400 reviews, then the next day lost 430 reviews, followed by drops of 655 and “500-plus,” respectively. That’s a staggering number of reviews, and the question here is whether or not they were legitimate. Greenheart says they are, and at this time, there is no reason to suspect otherwise given the response on Twitter and general positivity surrounding the game’s Android release.

By our calculations, if Google’s algorithm hadn’t intervened, we would have nearly 3,000 reviews by now. Instead, 13 days after our release, we have 25 fewer reviews (622) than what we had on the first day. Google seems to have quietly removed at least 77% of all our reviews.

It’s a staggering number. They do note that there were very few people rating the game three stars or lower, so their average, at the time of publishing the report, is sitting at 4.92 stars.

Here Greenheart states firmly, that there were no dubious practices, no paid-for reviews, no self-reviews and nothing of the sort. And so we move on to Google’s response.

Unfortunately for them, it sounds like Google’s response was not much of one. Google responded “within a day,” and told Greenheart that the reviews being removed were done purposely. They also provided a link to their Comments and Ratings policy. Greenheart goes on to note that they have pored over said policy, and they cannot figure out where any of the removed reviews are in violation.

In looking over it myself and examining some of the replies Greenheart have received on Twitter, I certainly can’t find a problem with the reviews, many of which reportedly were a simple five-star rating with no comment, which is allowed on Google Play.

Greenheart speculates that Google’s algorithm for spotting and removing fake reviews on the Play Store is the same for free and premium games. They say that fake reviews are easy for free titles, but for premium games, it doesn’t make sense to pay $5 just to give a positive review en masse. This makes sense to me, though I won’t speculate on Google’s algorithms.

What upsets me most is that this completely disrespects our players. Google lets an algorithm and a machine wipe genuine human expressions from history. Around 3,000 people on this planet not only bought and played the game but then spent extra time to tell others about it. A blink later their voice has been erased forever.

They finish by suggesting Google could be during more to curb piracy on the Android platform, and that’s certainly true. They also note that Google’s algorithm presumably affects everyone else on the Google Play Store, suggesting that their losses are not unique.

Either way, this is a sketchy situation and Google has been notoriously hard to contact and communicate with, especially when something is being disputed. They point to their policies as the clearest and most definitive statement they can make on a matter.

Here, it just doesn’t make sense. It’s a head-scratcher, to be sure.

James Brady
Author

James founded Destination Android and writes about sports for Vox Media's SB Nation. He is a mindless jerk who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

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