App ratings in mobile app stores are really broken. This post is mostly about the Windows Phone Store and Windows Store but may apply to Android and iOS as well.
When I was scrolling through some Fruit Ninja reviews in the Windows Phone 8 marketplace I noticed something that really bothered me: a lot of people had given the app ($0.99 with an unlimited trial) a 1/5 rating because the Windows Phone store only supports credit card payments and most Dutch people don't have a credit card (so they can't buy the app). Here are a few quotes (translated from Dutch to English):
1/5 - "Very fun game, but I don't have a credit card so I can't buy it. Make a free version!!!"
1/5 - "Don't have a credit card so I can't buy it!!!"
But ok, even though that's pretty dumb feedback (since there is a free trial so they can play it), it's feedback that can be useful to some degree. But there's a lot of feedback that's even more useless. A friend of mine created a Queensday app for the Dutch official holiday Queensday. He received this feedback (again, translated):
1/5 - "Doesn't work for a republican"
Right. Why would that be a reason to give the app a 1-star rating? This is feedback that absolutely cannot be used to make the app better, it's just utterly pointless.
But the biggest problem of all: the Windows Store and Windows Phone store support ratings without an additional message/description of the problem. This means that from time to time people will give your app a 1-star rating without giving you feedback on WHY they think the app is bad. Again, no room for improvement. This happened to most of my apps, most importantly my Windows 8 wordfeud solver.
All these bad ratings are a real problem for your app's rankings. Since app ratings play a big part in the rating algorithm of most app stores, a lot of bad reviews will make your app drop down the rankings quickly, meaning that it's less visible, thus generates less downloads and makes you less money. This image that I nicely borrowed from bluefountainmedia.com illustrates that ratings are an important part of iOS app rankings:
If you're a starter without a lot of ratings a couple of 1-star ratings can quickly mean that your app is thrown out of the picture, never to be resurrected again.
Another thing that is broken about this whole app rating thing (at least on Windows Phone Store and Windows Store) is that you can't provide feedback to customers. Sometimes customers will give you a 1/5 rating because they did something wrong. For example: they are angry because they think your app doesn't support a certain feature, but that feature is actually supported but the customer is looking in the wrong place. Or maybe people report an issue (by giving a bad rating) and you'd like to let them know that you've solved the problem. It would be great if you could comment on every rating to let people know that you're working on their problem, or help them out.
A lot of people give very bad ratings to apps for no good reason, and it's impossible to provide the customers feedback to help them out. It would help a lot if descriptions would be mandatory, so that the app developer always has SOME feedback on why someone give her a 1-star rating. It would also be great if app developers would have a way to communicate to their customers.