Earlier this month an update to the Play Store began rolling out with a brand new ratings widget appearing on the main landing page and within landing pages for each major section (Apps, Movies, Books, etc.) The simple card encouraged users to give a score of 1 to 5 stars on a previously downloaded (or claimed) item in exchange for some suggestions about similar items they might be interested in. While this seemed like a relatively innocuous addition, obviously intended to drive additional downloads, it seems to have had a unexpected negative effect: Several developers are reporting a drastic rise in 1-star ratings on otherwise successful apps.

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Credit: gfactoriser via BadLogicGames.com

Some developers began to notice their average ratings had taken a significant dive around December 10th, nearly a week after version 4.5.10 of the Play Store had first appeared. Upon closer inspections, their apps had been receiving an unusually high volume of low scores, most of which lacked reviews to explain the poor performance. As developers started discussing the issue on some online forums, it became clear that this wasn't an isolated incident and the culprit may be the newly added Quick Suggestions widget.

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The opinion among many developers is that the quick suggestions card is misleading to most users, especially those that may not be taking the time to look at it closely. The fear is that users are only reading the top line and interpreting this as Google asking if it should suggest more apps like the one shown, as is common on other services. It's also possible the app shown may have been forgotten by long-time users and could be perceived as a suggestion. In either case, somebody might be inclined to give low ratings to discourage the Play Store from recommending such apps again. Even if people are reading the less prominent second line, which is more clear that you're actually rating the item, it's not obvious how a high or low score will be used to produce suggestions. It's worth nothing that there is also an overflow menu button in the top right corner that offers a Not Interested option, but the effect of this is equally unclear.

Another part of the complaint centers on reviews, which are not possible from this interaction. After tapping on a star, your score briefly appears as a large number before the card slides away to be replaced by a few suggestions. The only way to give a written review or adjust your rating is to find the item in the Play Store and edit it manually. This poses an additional issue as the widget can capture accidental taps while casually scrolling, but offers no option to undo once you lift your finger. Here's a brief video to demonstrate the flow.

Developers are understandably angry given the potentially catastrophic effect this can have on the high ratings some of them have achieved. Older apps that have amassed a lot of ratings and reviews over time shouldn't be as severely affected, but newer apps could be hit pretty hard. Some have even declared that they will wait until a change has been made before submitting new apps, fearing that they might receive ratings that can't be erased.

There have been a few suggestions for how the widget can be fixed to be more fair. The first simply calls for prompting users to enter a proper review with their rating. This would prevent accidental taps from going on record and should encourage users to give more thoughtful comments for low scores. Another suggestion was to change the widget to simply ask users if they would like to see more apps like the one on display, after which they could still be prompted to give a permanent rating. Hopefully, Google will move to make a fix quickly, as the damage that has been done might not be reversed.

If you're concerned that you've unfairly rated apps in the past and you want to make some changes, you can easily find a list of ratings in your activity feed. Simply open the navigation drawer from the left side, tap on your profile picture at the top and you will see a long list of every rating and +1 you've made.

Thanks, Kovács Béla and Bubblesoft

Sources: Amir Uval, BadLogicGames, Reddit [1 and 2], MakingMoneyWithAndroid