The plying game: An inside look at the voracious, insatiable world of App Store reviews

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And then there’s good old-fashioned direct contact. While Scrobov and Zhadanov both have had good results targeting heavy users of their apps with requests for ratings, I found one app that takes it a step further. Instead of simply asking for a review after using their app, Shoeboxed offered me $5 to write one. It’s unclear how users are selected for the benefit or whether you need to meet certain criteria to qualify, but a week or so after I downloaded the app, I received an email offering an Amazon gift card in exchange for writing a review. I was suitably skeptical, but upon leaving an honest 4-star review with a bit of criticism about upload speeds, sure enough, I got my reward. I’m not sure if this is a common practice used by the company—which declined to be interviewed for this article—but the receipt-tracking app is hardly starving for reviews. The current version (updated January 15) already has 149 reviews, averaging four stars. 

The developers I spoke to who were using marketing campaigns all aimed to keep costs under $1 per install, so offering $5 for a review of a free app (albeit one that offers a paid subscription plan) does seem excessive. But it shows the lengths smaller developers will go to, just to build up their profile. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in the App Store, and without a solid rating it’s easy to get lost and, eventually, swept away and forgotten. 

But still, the practice doesn’t sit well with Monument Valley’s Wong.

“I think annoying, pestering, and bribing players is a bad habit,” he said. “It’s a desperate attempt to compensate for lackluster, uninspiring, repetitive experiences. I’d much rather have a relationship with the players where we provide them with an experience that’s polished and special enough that they leave us a rating or review of their own will.”

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