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Google Play Store Gamed by 'Dungeon Keeper' Trickery


Electronic Arts' microtransaction game "Dungeon Keeper" directs users away from the Play Store if they rate the game under 5 stars.

Anyone who's swiped a row of sour balls or tapped Homer Simpson into taking a nap knows about the boom of microtransactions in mobile gaming. Typically found in free-to-play games like Candy Crush or The Simpsons: Tapped Out, microtransactions allow players to pay for special items or to bypass arbitrary delays in gameplay.

Can't seem to pass a particularly difficult Candy Crush level? Don't feel like waiting for an upgrade in Moe's Bar? Fork over a couple bucks and the gameplay can continue unabated. And as a bonus, items that players would normally collect through skill and determination are just a quick micropayment away.

Although in-game microtransactions are nothing new, they've been thrust into the harsh spotlight by a game released by Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA), Dungeon Keeper -- available to play on iOS (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) devices.

A modern update to a popular PC franchise from the late '90s, Dungeon Keeper lets players construct and manage an expandable dungeon through spells and a legion of devoted minions. But while the original series was very well-received, the latest mobile version has suffered through a heap of criticism for being essentially unplayable without plunking down in-game gems (which can be bought for real money, of course) to eliminate the delays in play.

Check out one such profanity-filled rant about those microtransactions below. (NSFW)

But even though Dungeon Keeper has sparked anger in gamers sick of in-game payments, visitors to the game's profile on the Google Play Store would never know such a controversy ever took place. As of this week, the Android version of Dungeon Keeper enjoyed a healthy 4.5-star rating according to over 84,000 user reviews. Are players that forgiving of microtransactions or is there some trickery afoot?

Well, according to critics, it's likely due to some underhanded behavior by EA.

After about 20 minutes of gameplay, users are invited to rate Dungeon Keeper. However, the screen below -- courtesy of PocketGamer -- shows what options players have.

Clicking the "5 Stars" button takes the user directly to the Google Play Store product page to complete the rating process. If users select the "1-4 Stars" button, they're taken to an intermediary screen which invites them to email EA and inform them of "what it would take to make Dungeon Keeper a 5-star game" -- a task few players are willing to do in the middle of a game. Fortunately, EA gives them a "Not Now" button so the player -- and the game -- is relieved of a scathing review.

To be sure, after pressing the "5 Stars" button, users are actually free to rate the game however they want, as they would if they navigated to the product page from their Web browser. But many users wouldn't know that, meaning sub-5-star reviews are effectively blocked from appearing on the Play Store page.

This sneaky behavior by EA has set off a huge backlash against Dungeon Keeper, which now bears a sea of 1-star reviews on the main profile page. User Jonathan Harford writes, "EA has taken a wonderful classic game and turned it into a money-grubbing grind. Were EA to release a full version of this, I'd pay $7 for it. But this is garbage."

As such, an EA spokesperson was forced to play damage control. Speaking with Eurogamer, the company rep writes:

We're always looking at new ways to gather player feedback so that we can continue to improve our games. The 'rate this app' feature in the Google Play version of Dungeon Keeper was designed to help us collect valuable feedback from players who don't feel the game is worth a top rating. We wanted to make it easier for more players to send us feedback directly from the game if they weren't having the best experience. Players can always continue to leave any rating they want on the Google Play Store.

But considering Electronic Arts has earned the honor of being the "Worst Company in America" two times in Consumerist's annual poll, this backlash has "threepeat" written all over it.

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