December 4, 2014

The Mobile Marketplace Has An Integrity Problem

We just received an e-mail that we wanted to share and discuss with our community. This is the tail end of it:

I offer many services concerning your app, if you are interested feel free to contact me. 
1. App Store Ratings & Reviews :Ratings/Reviews Price 
50 ratings and 10 reviews - 99 USD 
75 ratings and 15 reviews - 149 USD 
100 ratings and 25 reviews - 199 USD 
125 ratings and 30 reviews - 249 USD 
150 ratings and 35 reviews - 299 USD 

The premise is paying some fixed amount to receive reviews and ratings for your mobile title - and receive these types of offers almost daily. We have never used these services and we never will. But it does speak to a larger problem: integrity.

The ability to essentially purchase buzz for your game is nothing new, but on the mobile marketplace your rating and reviews are absolutely critical to success. And, to make a baseball analogy, paid reviews are the equivalent of steroids. It's not cheating because it's not illegal but it makes everything you see in the store suspect.

For mobile it has become increasingly a strange world that has nothing to do with "games" as we would classify them. Products built from the ground up to entertain and challenge players. This is just no longer the case. Larger companies build games from the ground up to be money producing machines not based on the merits of the gameplay but on the model of the challenge. IAP aren't inherently bad (there are many great examples of freemium games) but the culture on mobile is always suspect. There is no integrity.

Popularity can be purchased. Reviews and ratings can be fixed. Games sell one model then quickly pull the rug out to reveal much less genuine intentions. None of this is new - but it is becoming increasingly discouraging.

That is not to say this is limited to mobile. This is something that the game culture as a whole is wrestling with as well. GamerGate is all about the integrity of the reviews we are given. Can we trust the numerous sites, blogs and youtubers to give us honest evaluations of our favorite hobby?

One of the things that makes this complex is the rise of indie games. The front page of Steam at any given moment is more than 50% indie titles - which is great. But it also makes it extremely difficult to figure out what is worth the investment. The most interesting element about the state of gaming is that most players don't even play the games they purchase. It's not longer about "can I get it?" - it's about your most valuable asset: time.

And this is why integrity is so important. There are hundreds of titles released and we all only have so much time. Gamers want those amazing experiences: building your first hole in the ground to escape the night in Minecraft; using a uber-medic combo to push your team and the cart to a victory in Team Fortress; getting the shit scared out of you for the first time in Amnesia. Our time is valuable and we want to pour it into the titles that give us the most return on our time investment.

The mobile market place has a serious problem with this right now and the business model isn't helping. The most heartbreaking thing about the whole environment is that could have been the next great mobile platform. Better than the 3DS, more adopted than the PSP and more accessible to indie developers than any other system before. Instead we have a system where discoverability is extremely difficult, reviews are always suspect and a games place on the top 10 chart can simply be purchased instead of earned. That is to say nothing of the copycat of mechanics that, frankly, were well established and refined in the late 90's.

Don't mistake this as us ejecting from mobile development - nothing could be further from the truth. But as gamers and developers we have concerns. We love the potential of the platform and don't really have answers to some of these larger problems. Maybe with time the market will mature and begin to self-regulate itself - who knows.

If there is one silver lining it's the community itself: gamers overall tend to be extremely reasonable, passionate people that really just enjoy having fun. It's rarely about ego, social standing or any other existential facet that can plague other hobbies. We have utter faith that the community will find a way to make things "right" and bring the integrity of gaming back.

That's all. End of rant.

Cheers,
Jordan@Warballoon