Google Shifts Weighting of Game Ratings on Play Store

Google has revealed subtle tweaks to the way mobile games on its Android Play Store are rated.

Google detailed its new plans for rating games at its own I/O developer conference this week. The changes have been enacted to help – or perhaps favour – games by developers that continue to maintain and update their releases.

As reported by Gamasutra, from August this year the way Play Store builds average overall ratings from customer reviews of a given game will emphasise more recent reviews. Put another way, recent user ratings will be more important to a game’s average Play Store rating than older reviews.

In the era of games-as-a-service, it’s a logical approach. As so many mobile titles are constantly updated and maintained, they change over time. In that context, ratings from a heavily updated game's early days may represent a very different product. Indeed, it could even be deemed inappropriate - when building an average rating - to consider the scores granted to an early, legacy version of a game that has been iterated on many times over.

“Many of you told us that you want a rating that reflects a more current version of your app, not what it was years ago – and we agree,” wrote Google Play Store product lead Kobi Glick, in a new Google blog post. “So instead of a lifetime cumulative value, your Google Play Store rating will be recalculated to give more weight to your most recent ratings. Users won’t see the updated rating in the Google Play Store until August, but you can preview your new rating in the Google Play Console today.”

Google has also made changes to the Play Store that allow developers to respond more readily to issues users bring up in their game reviews, in part using semi-automation. That ability should – so the theory goes – enable developers to meet concerns and misconceptions, with a view to improving overall rating.

“Every day, developers respond to more than 100,000 reviews in the Play Console, and when they do, we’ve seen that users update their rating by +0.7 stars on average,” reveals Glick. “So in addition to the ratings change, we're making it easier to respond to reviews with suggested replies. When you go to respond to a user, you’ll see three suggested replies which have been created automatically based on the content of the review. You can choose to send one as-suggested, customise a suggestion for more personalisation, or create your own message from scratch. Suggested replies are available in English now with additional languages coming later.”

At TheGamingEconomy we expect developers to respond fairly optimistically. There are, however, many mobile games that are not delivered as a live or updated service. While updating and maintaining games is largely deemed essential to maximise monetisation, premium games with no IAP (in-app purchases) continue to carry a certain status with large demographics of gamers, and prove popular with those that are cynical about free-to-play. Those games may have seen much more review and rating activity at their launch than in the months or years thereafter. While it isn’t clear how the Play Store will rate games that have lower numbers of contemporary reviews - and while linking release date with more favourable reviews is a little tenuous - some premium developers may be concerned about losing rating averages from their title’s heyday.

How the new ratings system will impact app store optimisation convention is yet to be seen.