Developer Greenheart Games has lost 77% of all positive Google Play reviews for its premium mobile release, Game Dev Tycoon.
After releasing on Android on February 1, the game quickly secured an average rating of 4.95, which Google rounded up to a clean 5.0.
In a blog post, developer Patrick Klug estimated the game would have approximately 3,000 reviews by this point. Writing 13 days after release, Klug noted the game actually had 25 fewer reviews (622) than it had on its first day. It currently sits at just over 800 reviews total.
"We are lucky that despite the culling of thousands of five-star reviews, only a handful of people rated the game tree-stars or lower and so our average is still a respectable 4.92 but even so, the question of Why? burns in our minds," wrote Klug.
Greenheart Games reached out to Google for an answer, but were simply directed to the Comments and Rating Policy page.
According to Klug, any further inquiries were "politely declined" with Google "refusing to be transparent about particular reasons".
Odd, Game Dev Tycoon on Android just "lost" over 400 5-star reviews. This morning we had 1,927. A few hours later there are only 1,489. We heard from other devs, that Google sometimes nukes genuine reviews but that many? Can anyone confirm that their review just vanished?— Greenheart Games (@GreenheartGames) February 5, 2018
After asking users to send in copies of their deleted reviews, the developer concluded that Google uses the same algorithm to identify fake reviews on both free-to-play titles and premium games.
"I'm sure there are heaps of services out there that would add hundreds of very positive reviews for cheap on a free-to-play title because cheaters could setup hundreds of fake Google Play users and don't have to fork out money to purchase a game to review it," said Klug.
"Google probably invented and tuned the algorithm to remove these kind of fake reviews from free-to-play titles, but for a premium title, where everyone pays $5 to even be allowed to write a review, this just doesn't make any sense."
UPDATE: A Google spokesperson has responded to GamesIndustry.biz. While the company does not comment on individual apps, it is "looking into the matter" and stresses that: "We do take the concerns of our developers very seriously."