The Developer Strikes Back: Fighting One Star Reviewers

Discussion in 'iOS Apps' started by lftrghtparadigm, Dec 29, 2008.

  1. lftrghtparadigm macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    As a young up and coming developer in the macosx and iphone community, I am very excited about bringing my first efforts to the app store in the future. Not a big deal in the grand scheme, but every developer starts as I am, with a few ideas, a few skills, and nothing but time standing in the way of making a profit off the new "App Store".

    I've been closely studying this new distribution method and its characteristics, and have assembled a basic understanding of psychology of the app store and its marketing power. Its amazing how powerful a simple title, an icon, # of stars, and # of reviews, can really be. This info can be compared to Google Adwords, in the sense that it is the seller-input data that serves to attract a downloader (and eventually close the sale).

    Users (downloaders) have very few means of impacting these marketing data, but the little they have can go a long way toward the success or failure of app. The number one way to impact an app is (obviously) to rate and review it after purchase. For the most part, there appears to be two kinds of reviews that dominate 90% of all reviews:#1. The "4 or 5 star review" which is essentially praise with one or two criticisms which are usually requests for enhancements, #2. the "1 star, this app crashes and it shouldn't because I spent money" review.

    The latter is a huge problem for developers with high quality apps. The #of stars compared to the # of reviews, whether you realize it or not, is what stops you scrolling down the page and ultimately makes you click further to see the screenshots, read the descrip and buy. Conversely, an app you may otherwise have picked up without question may be glossed over due to an intimidating "3 stars" rating, despite thousands of reviews.

    Some of you may be thinking, there are FIVE stars for a reason, not everything is perfect or near perfect. And I agree, which is why I urge people to think back to school days when you were handed a survey or a teacher evaluation, and you had to "rate" something on a scale from 1 to 5. Remember that EACH number 1,2,3,4, and 5 have their own unique measure of quality, and should be chosen from appropriately.

    As the thread title states, there needs to be, IMHO, an effort to correct the stain being left by immature and non-savvy users, who believe any issue is someone else's issue, and there could be no reason why their experience is different because of them or their device. Without getting deeply into it, depending on which of the 4 current devices that can run these apps, how you use it, what condition the battery is in, and how many other items you have installed; there are several reasons why a user can have a "crashy" experience with an app, where others would not.

    Unfortunately there is no way to mentally adjust the people who are unhappy with their buying choices and lash out in the only way possible, to the maximum extreme possible (giving one star with no explanation besides "it crashed on me")......... However, Apple HAS included one simple way to devalue the the reviews and ratings given by the barely conscious...Was This Review Helpful? Yes/No

    If you see a one star review on any app, especially one you know to be of high quality, and the associated comment is "It crashes" with no other legitimate explanation, PLEASE, click the NO option, even if you don't have time to write a counter review. If you have downloaded an app and you like it, do your developers a favor and write positive reviews for them. Something between 3 and 5 stars with helpful criticism. And likewise, if an App is junk, give the developer legit feedback. 1 or 2 star reviews may be acceptable with an explanation, if the app deserves such dejection (there are some).

    If more people keep it in mind to positively review apps they like, and recognize that good ratings for good apps will ONLY lead to developers putting MORE effort into MORE quality apps, for YOU, then things will get better."Click No" for reviews that are indeed NOT helpful; we can only hope that Apple will eventually recognize the epidemic of one star reviewers with no interest in anything besides whining, and adjust the criteria for a published review to better combat illegitimate "app flaming".

    Cheers to all and hope you do the right thing for the Apps you love. I also hope you 10 year olds stop crying about the $10 you spent on app that you finished in 10 minutes. :rolleyes::apple:
  2. shigzeo macrumors 6502a


    Dec 14, 2005
    ive been trying this as there are some really unhelpful reviewers out there who either are shortsighted or silly. however, some are really and truly buggered by the experience and mention so with reasons. those reviews i find helpful indeed.

    i hope your development goes well and that you have some good external reviews to really anchor your sales.
  3. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    Thanks, and to you. I agree, as I pointed out, there is 5 star range and plenty of room for explanation.
  4. detz macrumors 65816

    Jun 29, 2007
    Also from what I've seen the one bad review I've received was not my fault but the fault of the un-stable OS. My app is pretty stable but if you run your iPhone for months playing tons of crappy apps then the iPhone OS does not handle it well and eventually all apps will begin to crash. What sucks is there is no way to tell this to users but I'm guessing a lot of the "this app crashes when I start it" reviews are because of this.
  5. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    I think there's a standards issue here, too. Why shouldn't someone lower the rating on a game that costs $10 and lasts for 10 minutes? IGN and other gaming sites that review games professionally routinely do this. This is like eBay buyers who complain that they didn't receive a positive rating when their customer didn't receive the product and wasn't given a timely refund. Why would you expect a positive rating.

    As far as the $10 games are concerned... I really have not seen any evidence that people are buying Spore, Sim City, Rolando, Hero of Sparta, etc, based on their star ratings. People who do any research at all on these games are buying them the same way people have been buying games for several years -- they're reading detailed reviews from IGN, Kotaku, TouchArcade, etc. That's the second best thing you can do for your product. Get detailed reviews out in the internet press -- blogging sites, etc. Once these exist, people will pay little or no attention to your numerical average star rating.

    The first best thing you can do is hold yourself to high standards. Make better products instead of complaining about your ratings.
  6. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    This is a perfect example of one of the many reasons I chose not to detail, but summarize.

    Good points, but in reality, the % of folks getting research from IGN and TA before buying, are the fractional shadow of the actual impulse buyers perusing the app store with their new christmas present, birthday present, new years present, anniversary present, etc.......
  7. kas23 macrumors 603


    Oct 28, 2007
    As an app buyer, I really don't put to much weight on the star rating system. I know I may not be the average app buyer (i.e. I do not own a fart app), but the reviews are where it's at. I will read each review (as long as there are not 400) and will pay attention to the 1 star reviews and see what they are saying. I agree, most of the time the one-star reviews really have nothing to do with the app.
  8. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    This is probably true, but I think it is equally true that the star rating is not the driving force behind the sale of Rolando or most of the other apps that are doing extremely well on the App Store.

    In fact, these are currently the top ten paid apps:

    1. iFart. Average: 3 stars
    2. Sim City: 3.5 stars
    3. Chopper: 4 stars
    4. Crash Nitro Cart: 4 stars
    5. Tetris: 2.5 stars
    6. Enigmo: 3.5 stars
    7. Bejeweled 2: 3.5 stars
    8. iBeer: 2.5 stars
    9. Touchgrind: 4 stars
    10. Field Runners: 4.5 stars

    Only a single paid app in the top ten has an average rating at the 4.5 star level or higher, and it no doubt will be displaced (probably by Rolando) imminently. The correlation between placement on the top ten and star rating is completely negligible.
  9. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    fart app is a good example. i don't own one either, that makes us atypical, since iFart is the #1 paid application. When buying, I'm exactly you. Could care less about # of stars; price, descrip and the sensible reviews are everything.

    But as a new developer with the App store in my sights, the only point of interest is converting sales from the typical crowd. Guys like us will buy things of quality as long as they exist. We need very little marketing.

    The stars do not have a direct, numeric bearing on the top xx. You are right about that. They do however have long term effect on the continued sales of the apps. Enigmo is the most impressive example of an App with sales-longevity thus far, but its only existed for a little over 6 months! Not nearly enough time to gauge how it will sell over time.

    Certain apps like iBeer had high stars for a long while, and its popularity combined with customer satisfaction led to a lot of sales. people buying it just to have this "new rave" toy. Once people came around from their buying stupor, they thought "what a waste" and deleted from their device, probably giving it a 1 or 2 star rating in the end, after having enjoyed it as much as was ever possible to begin with.

    Also, those number lend a bit of credence to my argument. When the top 10 paid apps have average ratings, you can (90% of the time) browse the ratings/reviews and see half 4to5 star ratings, combined with half 1 star ratings. Out of the 1 star ratings, you'll find one maybe two per app that have more than 1 sentence in the review.

    As a result, The greatest app imaginable could potentially never get above 2.5 or 3 stars on the App store due to the mess my first post was about.
  10. mkrishnan Moderator emeritus


    Jan 9, 2004
    Grand Rapids, MI, USA
    This (bold) is an excellent hypothesis, but what is the data in support of it? iBeer seems to be, for instance, a direct contradiction to the hypothesis -- it had high ratings before, and it is on the top ten list now, when it no longer has high ratings.
  11. DreamPod macrumors 65816


    Mar 15, 2008
    The problem is, voting on the helpfulness of a review does nothing at all to its star rank. You could have 0/536 people think this review is helpful, and its star rank is treated exactly the same as if you had 535/536 people. And some people are morons - I've seen a few reviews that said an app was the best thing since sliced bread - and rated it one star.
  12. iFerd macrumors 6502a

    Jul 20, 2007
    I'm not a developer, but I think there are two more related and relevant points to add to this discussion.

    One is the human tendency to register dissatisfaction but to remain quiet about satisfaction. More needs to be done to encourage happy users to write reviews.

    The other is the introduction of the invitation to give a star rating when you delete an application directly from the iPhone. There is no opportunity for comments at all when that happens, and I expect that deleting an application means most of the time that the user was not satisfied. I know that I have downloaded applications to look at and have deleted them almost immediately once I have a chance to see how they compare to my current choice in a category. If I don't give an application more time than that, I most likely have nothing truly useful to say about it. And allowing a rating by users who are deleting their apps directly from the device needs to be recognized as a factor in driving the average ratings down (and I'd wager never up), without providing any useful information to anyone.

    I have made it a habit to never rate an application while I am deleting it from my iPhone. And I try to keep up with writing a few sentences about the applications I keep or have used and decided not to keep.
  13. macfan881 macrumors 68020

    Feb 22, 2006
    They also need to mod people complaining on the price.
  14. KRAPPS macrumors 6502


    Nov 9, 2008
    Good points and thanks for sharing. One thing I would advise developers, do not b*tch, whine and moan about negative reviews in your description ... too many times we read "if you don't like this app, please contact us before leaving a negative review" (or something along those lines) ... that is such a turn off and you are just putting a huge target on your back from guys like us ... heck, there is even one description that blames the users, not his app, for crashing the iPhone ... I mean come on, it's the users fault his iPhone is crashing :confused:

    Very true! That is just a simple business fact ... higher propensity to register a complaint than a compliment ... sad, but true.
  15. decksnap macrumors 68040


    Apr 11, 2003
    Not only is every app susceptible to low ratings, but they are also the beneficiary of unwarranted five-star ratings. I don't see the problem. Every app runs the same gauntlet.
  16. Solver macrumors 6502a

    Jan 6, 2004
    Cupertino, CA
    This is one of the greatest apps ever - (1 star)

    Somehow there are multiple glowing reviews that have one star tagged to them. Maybe they are thinking one star is the best. Apple may need to update their review page with "5 stars is best."

    I document some of the "worse" reviews for a game:

    “Very awesome”

    “Would have paid.”


    “Great Game”

    “4 of 5”

    “Free so why not”

    “Excellent game”



    “Best Game app out there”

    Note: All of the above rate one star (or less)
  17. Night Spring macrumors G5

    Night Spring

    Jul 17, 2008
    I read somewhere that if people write a review, but forget to pick a rating, the review defaults to one star. Very stupid of Apple. If people forget to pick a rating, it should remind them to pick one!
  18. diesel macrumors 6502a

    Aug 3, 2007
    i think developers need to spend less time complaining and bemoaning those who have given them 1 star reviews, and SERIOUSLY address the reasons behind such a review. Yes OP mentioned vague reasons such as "app crashes", however, how much work have you honestly done in debugging or ruling out any possible app crashes within your app? Also, i've read others mention that app crashes could be due to OS issues, and not the app itself, and I would just like to say that's possible but it's like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. With the same OS baseline, there are far more apps that don't crash then apps that do crash, so the question is why is it that YOUR app is in the category of crashing more often? of course the OS might not be helping your situation, but perhaps you could have coded your app better, optimized it more efficiently so that the issues with the OS won't affect your app as much.

    Also, developers need to not only stop complaining when it comes to users who PAID for their app, but need to do more to reach out and interact with their users. I'm always shocked at how few developers have forums or blogs where they can interact with their users on a regular basis and keep them abreast of future developments as well as to take in feedback and help develop a "two way" conversation with their user base.

    I have to agree with decksnap in that every app runs the full gamult of reviews from 1 star to 5 star reviews, whether warranted or not. However, as i mentioned earlier, it would behoove you as the developer to give users what they EXPECT from your app and users will respond with the 5 star reviews that you would want. Beejive is a perfect example, with nearly 800 reviews, it has retained it's 4.5 star average, so to say that only dissatisfied people are likely to leave a review is probably true, but it's not to say extremely satisfied people won't respond in kind.

    good luck with your app, and remember, LISTEN TO YOUR USERS. you might be smarter then them, but they're the ones paying your bills.
  19. DreamPod macrumors 65816


    Mar 15, 2008
    The problem is, the OS is designed to purposely crash apps. If the system is running low on memory, it automatically closes the currently running app, to make sure the phone app always has enough memory to run. How much memory is available to an app is unknown to the app - the OS tells the app when it's about to be killed for running low on memory, but that's it; your app can't look and see that there's only 20MB RAM left, time to start cleaning things up (heck, Apple doesn't even tell developers how much total RAM the system has in any of the documentation). And sure, to an extent you can try and optimise your app to not use much memory, but you still can't control things, like the fact that Safari uses a whole ton of memory if the user visits large websites or keeps 5 or 6 pages open at once (Safari stays in memory when you close it). And the average iPhone user doesn't realize this, doesn't know that if apps are crashing over and over that they should try fully turning their iPhone off and on (not just putting it to sleep).

    I dunno about the average iPhone app developer, but having worked for big developers in the past, their PR departments didn't allow us to post in forums or blogs. PR departments are paranoid about things like that.
  20. akacaj macrumors regular


    Dec 21, 2008
    I am a developer and I agree with all of your points. My app is suffering similarly especially from the rate on delete reviews. However, you have to realize that if you want thousands of people to buy your app, you are going to have to deal with thousands of different opinions. You cant possibly make an app that will satisfy every single user but you CAN filter out who buys your app! You do that by charging a fair price and not underselling your self.
    If you want impulsive buyers to purchase your app at $.99 you will get all sorts of opinions. If you want people to seriously think before buying your app then sell it at $5 or higher. Sure you are going to turn down lots of potential buyers but thats ok, at the end of the day you will make more and have less users to support.

    I have first hand experience with this because I have tried every price between free and $5. All was fine and dandy with about 30 5 star reviews on my app until I gave it away for free 1 day only. Thats when my rating went down the drain. In fact I knew this would happen from day one, that is why I chose to charge $5. My mistake for going against my intuition.

    Pick a target audience, make your app, charge a fair price and stick to it! What do you think the rating of tampons would be if you gave them out to a bunch of guys and asked them to rate it?
  21. anjinha macrumors 604


    Oct 21, 2006
    San Francisco, CA
    This issue really bugs me as a customer and not only in the app store. When I'm browsing the music store I've noticed that a lot of people give low ratings to albums when they can't buy individual songs and blame apple for it. That really annoys me because I read reviews to know if an album is good and that has nothing to do with it. Also, that is not even an issue with apple, it's with the music labels.

    Sometimes people are just really petty when things aren't just how they want them.
    Once I bought a DVD from ebay and it took quite a while longer than it was supposed to for me to get it. Also the seller told me he would send me a tracking number and he never did, and never responded to my emails after that. Still, I got the DVD in the mail and it was in impecable condition. But because it took so long for me to get it and because it was hard to contact the seller I gave him a neutral feedback and explained my reasons. And because of that he gave me a negative feedback. That really annoyed me.
  22. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    Thats correct, what I meant to say was hopefully over time Apple will adjust the rating and review system (as they have one already) to improve it, in favor of the developer. If they can see, as you say, 0/536, maybe they'll consider having that particular review/rating count for less. It should, after all.

    Maybe it will have a trickle down effect to the account, where if a user receives such bad feedback from a review that their review privileges dwindle or disappear after enough useless contributions.

    I mean, if you write a review and 0 out of 1000 readers find it helpful, you shouldn't be writing anymore reviews anyway.
  23. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008

    Yes and yes. All good points. Happy users need to write more positive reviews. We ALL have apps we use at least a few times per week that we haven't reviewed yet.

    The rate before delete needs to GO. Yesterday. It has the potential to help weed out useless applications, but I think thats greatly outweighed by the potential for cranky ratings.

    People who delete an app from their device are people who either need it or want it GONE, and if u want it gone, you probably aren't happy with it for one reason or another. That doesn't mean its a bad app, it means you aren't happy. If you had to then wait, at least the few minutes it would take to bring up the Write a Review page in iTunes, you might be a little less angry and little less frivolous with your app rating.
  24. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    No so sure about that. Price is the age old competition method. EA doesn't need to release its titles at $9.99. Some of them clearly are not worth it. Granted some games earn every penny they cost, others are a major disapointment...not because of the content, but because of what the content cost.

    ie: Force Unleashed: awesome little game, pathetic for $10, when compared to other $10 titles.
  25. lftrghtparadigm thread starter macrumors 6502

    Oct 12, 2008
    This I did not know, and have researched and confirmed in fact it appears to be true. I'm writing Apple about it right now.

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