Google has removed some 77 percent of reviews for Game Dev Tycoon's mobile port on Google Play. Developer Greenheart Games contacted Google to find out why the (mostly) five-star reviews were disappearing, and was told that the scores were removed on purpose, with little other explanation. Greenheart's theory is that Google uses the same algorithm to police free-to-play game reviews on the Play store that it does paid games; Game Dev Tycoon costs $5 and you can't write a review unless you've purchased it. Free-to-play games, on the other hand, anyone can write a review with practically no time investment.
"We are not engaging in any dubious practices regarding reviews," the developer writes. "We don't incentivize reviews, we don't review the game ourselves and we don't even tell our friends to review it."
Since the game hit Google Play early this month, it's been downloaded between 10,000 and 50,000 times. Greenheart says the reviews started disappearing slowly at first but within the first week, over a quarter had vanished. Each day after that, the game lost hundreds more. Greenheart hypothesizes that if the algorithm hadn't stepped in, Game Dev Tycoon would have around 3,000 reviews by now. Instead two weeks after it was released, there are around 700 -- just over what the game had on launch day.
The silver lining? Its overall rating hasn't suffered despite these losses. Of those 716 reviews, there are only a pair of one-star scores, and the average score is 4.9. We've reached out to Google for more information and will update this post should it arrive.