Learning from Trolls (2)

As I remarked on Monday, I’m lucky in that most of the feedback I get is positive. The one major — and not unexpected — exception to this is the review section of my Taipan! app’s iTunes page. Taipan! was made for a very specific audience (it’s a faithful port of a 1982 game) and, naturally, someone judging it by modern standards is going to find it … unusual.

Below, I offer some thoughts on what I’ve learned from my reviews; I’m not sure how to summarize them, other than to say that the mind of the reviewer is a mysterious thing.

Good News

Because most of this post is going to dwell on negativity, let me begin by saying that there is good news: my convert rate (the percentage of free downloads that convert to purchased unlocks) is over 15%, and some people seem to really enjoy the game:

Apple2 Classic *****
by Nak99 – Version 1.0 – Jul 29, 2010

A true classic by all accounts! Nice port. A must buy at $3 bucks! Thanks guys!


I love this game *****
by jjfann – Version 1.0 – Aug 15, 2010

It’s a lot like Dark Nova. Except this is a port of an 80s game. Love it!

So, despite what follows, I think the game is serving its target market well.

1 Stars

The game does attract a fair number of 1-star reviews. Actually, just under half of the reviews are 1-stars. This is a little puzzling to me.

I’ve received no complaints that the game fails on its own terms — that is, I have no reason to believe that these reviews are driven by people upset about crashes, bugs, game balance issues, etc. There is one specific complaint I’ll deal with in a moment, but, except for that, I have to assume that most of these 1-stars are driven by simple unhappiness with the game for being what it is; a simple and extremely graphically primitive port of an old game.

I completely understand why people would dislike such a game. What I don’t understand is why they would go to the trouble of downloading and reviewing something that is so obviously not to their taste. Perhaps they’re just offended by the presence of what they view as substandard software in the App Store? I dunno. I’m a bit baffled. I would have expected the ad copy and screenshots to more effectively screen out people inclined to hate the game.


The one specific complaint I’ve gleaned from the bad reviews goes like this:

Deleted *
by Cflbaldy – Version 1.1 – Sep 16, 2010

Says it’s free then after 5 minutes you must purchase or quit. Just be upfront about it. I would probly have paid if it were clear upfront.

Now, it’s hard for me not to have a bad attitude about this. The ad copy clearly states:

Download the game for free, pay only if you want to extend play beyond 12 months game time.

Perhaps it’s not clear how quickly “12 months game time” goes by, but in a turn based game, at one turn a month, you can work it out.

(The accusation of not being “upfront” rankles, as a big part of my decision to go freemium was a desire to be “upfront”. I wanted people to be able to see what they were getting before asking for their money, so that no one would buy a retrogame without understanding what he was doing. Argh.)

On a more practical level, it’s not clear what can be done. I can’t really give away more of the game, as a much longer demo would obviate the need for purchasing an unlock. (Once you figure out the game’s mechanics, you can beat it in under 30 minutes — and a bunch of short games are just as good for figuring out those mechanics as one long one.) And I can’t really be any clearer about what the terms of the offer are. I do wonder if there might not be some psychology here; perhaps people would be more forgiving of this sort of thing in an explicitly labeled “Lite” version.

Although I’m annoyed by the situation, and regret that some potential customers might feel hard done by, I can’t see any way to resolve it. The lesson going forward seems to be that freemium offers, if not sufficiently clear, can actually make people angry if they don’t get as much free stuff as they thought they were promised.


Although purchases have remained stable since the app’s release (or even trended slightly upward over time) review frequency has declined — and, worse than that, the majority of the reviews that do trickle in are of the 1-star variety.

This is distressing because the cluster of 4- and 5-star reviews the app got shortly after launch aren’t associated with the “current version”, even though that version is actually better than the reviewed one.

Given that actual customer satisfaction hasn’t declined (I’m assuming that unlock purchases and conversion percentages are a good proxy for this) it’s unfortunate that apparent customer satisfaction, as measured by reviews, has. I’m not sure there’s much to be done about this, though. Hopefully AAPL will rollout Ping for apps, and somewhere in there something can be done about these problems.

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