iPhone App “What’s the Word?” Paying Customers For 5-Star Ratings

Let’s see what titles are topping the charts in the App Store’s free section. (More and more often, “Free” means that you’ll be asked to pay for something within the first 10 minutes of play.)

At number three as of this writing we have What’s the Word?. It’s basically a remake of the test questions you had in elementary school, where 4 random images with one thing in common are shown on the screen. A jumble of letters appear below, and you must fill in the blank with your answer. It’s a rudimentary Facebook-style time waster, and apparently the next mediocre craze in the App Store. We went from tossing animals at bricks, to burning ropes, to free running, to drawing something, to this thing…

The game is…fine. After blasting through 15 or so image puzzles however, I received the traditional plea from the developer to rate their title. No biggie as better ratings=more downloads, and it’s a fair trade for the user of a free title to spend 15 seconds typing up what they think. However, the pop-up that asked for your time and opinion did something I’ve never seen in an iPhone app:

Whoa...really?

Whoa…really?

Wow. They don’t want just any old rating. They want 5 stars (who doesn’t?), and in return they’ll hook you up with 100 coins. Coins are the in-game currency that you can use if you get stuck on a puzzle. You get 2 measly coins for each puzzle you solve, meaning you’ll need to solve 20 to have even have enough to remove a letter.

Please sir, could I remove a letter?

Please sir, could I remove a letter?

If you get stuck on a puzzle before you have enough coins to help you solve it, then you have 2 choices. You can stop playing…forever, or you can purchase coins with real money.

That’s where this whole deal rubs me wrong. What’s the Word? offers you coins if you give them a 5-star rating. You can also buy coins with real money if you feel inclined to do so (or if you want to continue but don’t have enough to help solve a tricky puzzle). This is a straight up bribe in an attempt to artificially inflate their review score. If you look at the ratings for this title, most of them are 5-stars, many of them with quickie reviews like “Good!” Obviously they were just pumped out for people to get their free coins. Honestly I haven’t rated this title, as the pop-up plea for 5 stars turned me off.

So, they get a disingenuous high score, more people download it when they see the score, and more people are potentially out there to purchase more in game currency. Did their gaming of Apple’s App Store work?

I’d say it did, as they currently have the 12th spot on the list of Top Grossing games. More ratings = more money…

What's the word? CHA-CHING!

What’s the word? CHA-CHING!

I hope that Apple steps in before this becomes the norm on the App Store. People on the lookout for interesting new titles already struggle to dig through the clones and unoriginal content. Also, I’m afraid that developers trying to be successful will see this as the way to make it.

P.S. I personally wouldn’t buy in game currency for this one, as YouTube is your friend.