As the mobile gaming industry grows ever more crowded, developers have begun using pop-ups to encourage players to leave reviews and ratings for their games on the iOS or Google Play App Stores, with the hope that more reviews will translate to more downloads. But a new tactic by EA may have taken this trend too far, by employing trickery to steer unsatisfied players away from the official Google Play Store, where their reviews could be publicly seen.
Android gamers noticed last week that EA’s Dungeon Keeper had an unusually designed pop-up seeking player ratings for the game. Instead of a simple prompt encouraging gamers to visit the Google Play Store and leave a rating on a 1 to 5 scale, Dungeon Keeper’s pop-up asked gamers “How would you rate Dungeon Keeper?” and provided two buttons, one for a perfect 5 stars, and another for anything less than that. Tapping the “5 Stars” button took the player to the Google Play Store page for the game, where the player would presumably leave their 5 star rating. But tapping the “1–4 Stars” button instead took gamers to a private feedback window with an option to email EA and let them know “what it would take to make Dungeon Keeper a 5-star game?”
The end result is that less experienced players, who are unfamiliar with the way that the Google Play Store works, are effectively prohibited from giving the game anything less than a perfect rating. Those who know how to access the Google Play Store independent of the game, however, can of course still leave negative feedback manually, something that about 25,000 people have already done.
While many view this situation as a prime example of corporate censorship, EA defends the practice as something that helps the company gather important feedback and address customer concerns on a more personal level. Company representatives explained their rationale to Gamasutra on Friday:
We’re always looking at new ways to gather player feedback so that we can continue to improve our games. The ‘rate this app’ feature in the Google Play version of Dungeon Keeper was designed to help us collect valuable feedback from players who don’t feel the game is worth a top rating. We wanted to make it easier for more players to send us feedback directly from the game if they weren’t having the best experience. Players can always continue to leave any rating they want on the Google Play Store.
EA’s position does have merit, and it’s likely that the company has received more detailed and actionable feedback from player emails than from cryptic comments left in the Google Play Store. But the fact that the game actively prevents users who wish to leave negative feedback on the Store from doing so cannot be overlooked.
Now that EA has been called out on this situation, it’s possible that the company will change this practice. From SimCity, to NBA Live, to Battlefield 4, EA has recently begun to respond to customer feedback in a more constructive way than it has for the past decade. A slew of negative reviews on the Google Play Store, left by gamers uncovering EA’s deceptive pop-up, may also prompt action from the company.
As it stands now, Dungeon Keeper holds a 4.2 out of 5 score based on nearly 97,000 ratings, a relatively high score that EA’s critics place very little weight upon.