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Background

I've developed an app in a pretty contested category. It's one of the top three games in terms of quality (out of about 200 relevant games in this category; there are no large publishers with this type of game).

The Problem

While I have the best ratings overall (4.92 of 5 stars; ~1000 reviews), nearly all competing games started to force their users to write 5 star reviews (including a minimum amount of characters). While these apps can't actually verify the rating afaik, most users are fulfilling their demand because of psychological reasons. They even write things like:

This app is ****, but I have to write this review... 5 stars.

Not that good, but I want to get XYZ, so I have to write this review... 5 stars.

Unfortunately the poor algorithms of Google Play will rank an app higher, the more ratings they have (My app does fine in Apples App Store, since the manual review process seems to punish these fraudulent apps).

But with Google, even if you are below a 4 star average, you'll rank better if you have a ton of reviews. Number of downloads and update frequency doesn't seem to count at all.

The Consequences

This all started about three years ago and since then my Play Store ranking is on a downward spiral but I refuse to join this unethical train of fake reviews. Not only that it's a huge financial loss, it's highly depressing. From rank 1-3 my app went down to about 30 for the most relevant keywords.

What I tried

I talked to multiple people from Google, but none of them feels responsible and sends me to the Developer Policy over and over again. Some of them even had the nerve to recommend Adwords to me as a counter measure.

I also reported some of these apps using Google Plays "Report App" feature. Nothing happened.

What I have already thought about

Join the train of manipulated reviews

This would work for sure, but as stated above, it's a no-go to me.

Asking the competitors to stop

This would require massive administrative work and probably wouldn't work out well. Especially since there are many profit-oriented trash developers.

Making my users aware of this issue

Since my competitors already copied multiple unique features of my game, I know for sure they are constantly checking my app for new updates. So they would quickly notice this whiny cry for help, which could lead to a massive backlash and make things even worse. Also it's nearly as dishonorable as faked reviews.

The Question

Do you have any advices how I could preserve my game without risking its, and also my personal reputation?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ When the people at Google directed you to the developer policy, what part did they send you to? There’s a part that addresses exactly this, indicating that those apps are in violation. play.google.com/about/storelisting-promotional/… \$\endgroup\$ – Ed Marty Dec 20 '18 at 2:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ 4.92 is already an truly excellent rating, so I wouldn't worry about them if I were you. Maybe report them to Google, and then ignore them. \$\endgroup\$ – Bram Dec 20 '18 at 17:15
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Stop relying on store ranking systems to drive users to your game. The google play store is broken in several ways. Use other channels to promote your game and send them directly to your store page. That way they will only see the rating of your game and not the ratings of the "competition".

For more tips on how to promote your game outside of the stores, check out some of the many other questions under the tag.

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It's been a while since I've been developing for android, but even a few years ago, it was a violation to offer goods for good (essentially fake) reviews. Unfortunately there are plenty apps that violate rules, and the Play Store does automated checks only, so the only thing you can do for now is report them and wait.

Join the train of manipulated reviews

I mean, you can do that, but your decision means your responsibility. You'd be in the violation of Google's Developer Policy, so at any point they can ban your account and all earnings you have.

Asking the competitors to stop

You can try, you can also ask your local pizza place to stop sending leaflets to the neighbourhood, but that doesn't mean they will comply.

Making my users aware of this issue

If I use an app that says something like "We don't do X, like our competitors" I'd start being suspicious. Imagine downloading an app that says "We don't track you, we don't store your info", sure it could be true, but it would sound suspicious.

The only advice I can give, keep making awesome apps/games that do treat the user well, and do not beg for good reviews. That's your part as a developer. If one day, for example, Google decided that offering money for reviews is allowed, you can't really do anything about it, and would have to accept it. Who knows, maybe one day most of the "malicious" apps out there might get removed.

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