updated 03:05 pm EST, Sat February 8, 2014
Game hinders users ability to rate lower than five stars
Information has surfaced about the new free-to-play Dungeon Keeper game that has lead to a public outcry against Electronic Arts by gamers and fans of the series. In information reported by Gamasutra, the game uses questionable means in order to secure five star ratings on the Google Play.
Like many games that are free-to-play from iTunes and Google Play, the game features micro-transactions (in-app purchases) and will eventually ask users in a prompt if they would like to rate the game. In the Android version of the game, users are given two options: either to rate the game from one to four stars on one button, or rate it at five stars on another.
If the one to four star rating button is selected, users are then routed to provide feedback to the company, without a way to actually provide the rating from inside the game to the Play store. Thus, users who press the "rated five stars" button are allowed to proceed to the store and leave their rating and comments.
While Dungeon Keeper also has its issues with playability without spending money on in-game currency, the issue of potentially inflating the game's score on Google Play by not allowing users to give ratings within the game itself is a larger issue -- albeit not unique to Dungeon Keeper. Free-to-play games can range from casually asking for ratings to full blown annoyance if not complied with.
Dungeon Keeper, like Facebook and some other apps, does its best to stop users from giving it anything but the best rating through these prompts, which would get the app banned if it happened on Apple's App Store. Given human habits, people are most likely to give the maximum rating if it means the game no longer asks them about it after attempts to provide lower scores are stonewalled. It should be noted that if players press the "five star" button and are taken to the Play store, they are free to change their rating -- but of course players would not generally be aware of this, and thus only buyers already willing to give a five-star review pass the "test" and get to post their rating to the Play store.
Scores of the game on Google Play unsurprisingly suggest an inflated five-star score, most likely to users complying with the feedback request to remove the prompts. Currently, the Google Play store shows 91,945 total rankings for Dungeon Keeper with cumulative rating of four stars. Five-star reviews show a staggering result, with 68,541 user submissions and 74.5 percent of the overall scores. In comparison, Dungeon Keeper has only garnered 12,263 votes for one star. This puts the ratings at about 5.58 five star ratings for every rating for a single star, which in no way matches the independent critical and fan reaction to the game.
By way of contrast, Metacritic helps to reinforce that something appears off. From a critical perspective, Metacritic has an overall score of 46 for the game from 18 critics. The user score marks a 0.30 rating by 311 users. Reading comments from any other source will certainly tell well-informed gamers that the rating on Google Play is not truly reflective of the game's actual merit.
Responses to Gamasutra's questions from EA have left little question that the company sees nothing wrong with this practice, stating that the outcry is most likely derived not from the deceptive rating practice, but from the game not living up to the expectations of fans who loved the original version Dungeon Keeper (an updated version of which is still available, incidentally, from GOG.com). Lower scores for the current version of Dungeon Keeper could at least in part be tied to this, as the nostalgia doesn't reflect the way games are currently sold on the market.
Players often complain that they would be happier with a full version of a game without micro-payments, but by the same token experience has shown that games with higher price tags (anything much over $5) and no IAPs rarely sell as well, with rare exceptions such as the Square Enix titles in the Final Fantasy series.
A spokesman for EA told the publication that "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." While requesting feedback is common in business, forcing users to give a top rating or to be continually annoyed has nothing to do with making the game any better, in our view.