In a few days, the Google Play rating will get a revamp. This will have a significant effect to both app developers and users.
A month ago I wrote a blog post about how Google Play was changing focus from total downloads to active installs. Today I will cover another change. This one will come into effect in the coming days.
Google play is switching their simple rating system to a weighted average system which favors more recent ratings.
The main reason is that Google wants a “rating based on what your app is today, not what it was years ago” (Milena Nikolic, Google Play Console).
This makes a lot of sense in Google Play store which has become an oversaturated app market with an infinity of apps that haven’t been updated for years and no longer work.
The general idea is to incentivize developers to update their apps with fixes and new features in order to keep their rating high.
An apps rating is arguably the most important metric for an app. It plays a role (together with other factors) in the results position in searches and is visible from the search results screen.
As a user, I must admit that overall app rating is very important when deciding if I want to install an app or not.
So tinkering with the rating system is the best way for Google to nudge developers.
Who are the winners and losers?
As with most changes there are winners and losers. And some that are both. You, as a user, are probably both.
Anyone who uses their big network to boost their apps rating. It is common for developers to advertise their newly released apps to their personal network on social media. Typically asking people to download it and leave a nice review. Even though this will still give an initial small boost to developers on release, the long-term effects are now minimized. It is easy to convince your friends and family to download your app and leave a review once but having them do it periodically will take some convincing if they are not actively using the application.
Similarly, there is another group that is affected. I don’t know if you are aware of this but there are also communities of Android developers around the internet that help each other leaving high ratings in each other’s newly released apps.
If you are wondering why an app about Caribbean beaches that was released this month has hundreds of 5-star reviews from South Asians, this is the explanation (yes, this based on a true story).
There is a giant international army of developers from the developing world that are pushing niche apps to play store that will never be updated and are left to rot and turn into legacy trash.
The third group that has the same issue are people buying reviews. Regardless of moral principles and a clear breach of Google Play Developer Distribution Agreement, some developers do choose to waste money on purchasing app reviews. I have no sympathy for these business practices and therefore I am overjoyed that this change will render their past purchases meaningless. In order to keep a high rating, they would require purchasing reviews quite periodically. I fail to see how this could ever be economically viable. Then again, I don’t see how it is viable today.
Unfortunately, another loser will be you as an Android user. Have you ever seen those annoying dialogs and notifications asking you to rate an app? They even sometimes make it a requirement in order to unlock something. Specially in freemium games. Well, it is about to get much worse. They will not only ask you once anymore but ask you to update your review periodically.
Google is naturally aware of this and is expected to soon announce in-app google play reviews. This is an effort to reduce the bother to end users when having to review apps. Time will tell how this will play out.
Apps that were released while still unfinished/unpolished. We have all tried those apps that launch and have such limited functionality. Various government or big corporation developed apps come to mind. I will not give any examples in order to avoid any chance of trouble, but we have all tried it. Usually a big corporation or government entity makes a big fuzz about something you used to handle in a different way that is now digitalized to an app. Probably followed by a huge marketing campaign. Launch day arrives and the app that is released has less functionality than the previous process (which was retired too soon). Maybe due to executives having “designed” the app in a meeting and underestimated the effort required to implement some unnecessary custom functionality. After launch thousands/millions of users are forced to download the app. The backend hasn’t been tested to handle that enormous influx of users and the app doesn’t work. This usually reflects in the app having a 1.x out of 5 stars rating.
As the state or larger company has a team dedicated to the app, it gets better as weeks pass, and within some months they have an amazing and solid app.
With the new rating system, they reduce the penalty for getting it wrong the first time, if they eventually get it right.
This is a good thing, as it doesn’t matter to you, as a user arriving a few months later, if the app was amazing or horrible five years ago when it was released. You only care if it is working properly now, or maybe if it has been stable this year/month.
And this leads me to the most important winner. You, as a user. The app ratings will now be actual to how the app is today. Not how many friends the developer had in 2013.
Finally, it is also worth mentioning that this helps even the playing field between new and older apps. Hopefully this will incentivize developers to continuously work towards improving their apps.
Feel free to check out my Android Apps and Games.
Please remember to leave a review (or at least a rating) on apps that you enjoy. It is the best way to tell a developer that you appreciate their work and it will probably put a smile on their face.
Specially if it is free.
And if you already reviewed it, update your review. That is a thing now.