You need a new camera app; you open Google Play and find 50. Naturally, you install the highest-rated one. Guess what? You just got tricked. Google Play’s rating system is broken beyond repair, and you need to understand the details to make informed decisions about the apps you install.
What’s Wrong With 5 Stars?
A five-star rating scale is questionable in the first place because people tend to rate an app either five stars or one. You’ve probably seen this: most positive experiences are given five stars, while one star is given if any problems are encountered, however minor. Instead of being honest and considering what the app deserves, people associate a five-star with “good” and a one-star with “bad.”
Further, a review can be left in Google Play with stars only and no written feedback. How much can you, the user, really trust a review that was left with only a moment’s consideration?
Often, folks leave a scathing review due to problems they experience that aren’t the developer’s fault. For example, a game may not be supported on their device, or the app might not be what they thought it was. It’s the user’s responsibility to avoid these problems, yet they ignore them and leave a poor review for the app. For example, check out this review of a flashlight app.
This review is completely unjustified. This user’s tablet doesn’t have an LED flash, so the flashlight app only brightens his screen instead of using the LED like it should. This is no fault of the developer; the user should not expect an app to do something that his hardware can’t support. This is just one example of how unwarranted feedback can hurt app developers.
If you think this is outlandish, have a look at this review.
This Wheel of Fortune game was given a mediocre rating not because it is boring or poorly designed, but because the reviewer disliked the absence of a character. This provides zero help to you, the potential user of the app. It doesn’t tell you if the game is worth a purchase or if its multiplayer mode is fun; instead, it simply complains.
Even worse, a lot of the time reviews are practically illegible. The rating can’t be taken seriously when the review accompanying it is unintelligible. Don’t take my word for it, have a look:
Let’s dig into some more specific issues.
Greedy and Dishonest Developers
Dungeon Keeper – Human Greed At Its Worst
Not content with creating the flagship app for overbearing microtransactions, EA decided to become even more despicable and weed out any user reviews under five stars. After a bit of playing Dungeon Keeper, you’ll see the following screen:
If you click the “5 Stars” option, you’ll be taken to the Google Play page for the game, where you can rate it. But if you click the “1-4 Stars” option, you’ll be taken to a screen where you can leave feedback directly for EA, via email. By filtering out any possible low reviews, they artificially increase the rating of their game.
On the iOS version of the game, and in recent updates of the Android version, the screen has been changed, likely due to outcry against the practice.
Simply put, this is abuse of ratings. If there are problems with the app (and there are many; it meets many of Matt’s criteria for money-sucking freemium games), they should be honestly reflected in reviews so that others don’t have to waste their time. Instead, EA is free to disregard the feedback of unsatisfied users. Sure, you could click the “5 Stars” option, be taken to the Google Play page for the game, and then give it a low rating, but many people won’t think to do that.
The rise of the Aliens – Cheating Their Way To The Top
Instead of forcing its users to give only positive feedback, The rise of the Aliens employed the services of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk workers. If you’re unfamiliar with this service, Ryan has covered how it works. Suffice it to say that it allows anyone with spare time to complete small, menial tasks posted by others for a small amount of money.
The developers of this game decided to create a task for MTurk users to rate their app 5 stars. Nothing else was required; they didn’t even ask users to actually play the game and give an honest opinion. This skyrocketed the app to a 5.0 before it was taken down due to multiple violations of Google Play’s policies, as well as some of Amazon’s rules for MTurk.
Once again, useless reviews don’t accomplish what they’re supposed to do: help others make a decision about the app. Though not necessarily linked to MTurk, nonsense reviews are still a problem in the wild today.
Google Play’s Recommendations – Know What You’re Rating
If you’ve used Google Play recently, you may have seen something like this:
What this screen attempts to do is ask you to rate an app that you’ve recently installed, and based on that rating you’ll receive recommendations for other apps. Sounds like a great idea, but there’s been a big misunderstanding.
Many users think that they are being asked to rate the recommendation itself or if they wish to see similar apps. Many times, they give apps that they love a 1-star review because they aren’t looking to replace them – for example, if you have a favorite SMS app, you’re likely not looking for another, so you’ll rate the recommendation poorly. Below, when rating a flashlight app 5 stars, you receive recommendations for others, which is virtually useless.
What’s more, the recommendation card rating doesn’t allow for a detailed review, just a star rating. Once it is rated, it slides away to reveal recommendations. If you want to edit your review, in the case of an accidental tap or to add a description, you have to find the app on the Play Store to rate it.
Lots of hard work from developers is being undone by this feature, and while the premise is innocent, something needs to be done to fix this problem. Interestingly, the input many users are trying to give is actually possible in the pop-up: if you click the three dots in the upper-right hand part of the card, you can choose “Not Interested” and the recommendation will disappear without a review being given.
“Most Helpful” Reviews – Vanity On Display
By default, Google Play sorts app review by “Most Helpful” instead of by rating or time. It’s unclear how “Most Helpful” actually sorts the reviews, but it seems to put “controversial” reviews first, meaning that highly rated apps will feature one-star ratings as “most helpful.”
This is a problem on the Turkish Play Store, with a great percentage of the top reviews on Where’s My Water 2 being one-stars that carry reviews like “Super! I gave 1 star so that my comment is shown first but I actually liked the game.”
While not as common on the English Play Store, examples can still be found. Here’s a review of Adobe Reader, which has a 4.3 average:
As has been seen, the 5-star system is in need of an overhaul, both to prevent abuse and for apps to be properly represented. A more involved system would likely discourage spam-type reviews and provide more valuable feedback to potential users of the app.
This may seem like a problem that only concerns developers, but it’s important for all users of Google Play. When app reviews and scores are unreliable, it hurts you as a user. You could waste time and even money. Until change is implemented, though, be sure to check out some alternative resources for Android app reviews.
Know that a low amount of stars doesn’t necessarily mean the app is bad or not worth your time. It would perhaps also be beneficial to read full reviews on other websites instead of user reviews on the Play Store before jumping into an app.
Have you been a victim of bad reviews? What do you think of Google Play’s current rating system? Do you have any ideas about how the ratings system can be improved? Please let us know in the comments; I want to hear your thoughts on this one!