Google's App Crackdown Results In Indie Developer Smackdown

from the threatening-innocent-bystanders dept

Recently, we covered an example of the somewhat pervasive mentality that the Android app store is a haven for evil, evil piracy. Nevermind that the claim that Android is "built for piracy" is completely insane. Unfortunately, perception is real enough to cause Google to exert more strict control over it's Play Store, and the resulting hardship on innocent bystanders is as predictable as a drive-by shooting.

Wired tells the story of the Cory and Andrew Trese, two brothers who are the very epitome of indie developers, and how they have found themselves under attack by Google as a result of this crackdown. Let's be clear in saying that these guys are not pirates, they're not some mega-corporation, and they don't have time to fend off unnecessary attacks resulting from an overreaction to a non-problem:

"The Trese brothers are so indie, they don't even know it. Their games are marketed through a simple Blogspot blog and unpretentious older brother Cory Trese routes all of his regular email correspondence through the address of his wedding photography business. Trese Brothers titles like Star Traders and Templar Assault might not feature cutting-edge graphics or revolutionary gameplay, but the ambitious scope of their games and steadfast dedication to constantly improving them has won them a small but loyal following. With a growing reputation for floating above the needs and desires of everyday people, Google's relationship with salt-of-the-earth devs like the the Trese Brothers are exactly the sort they ought to be cultivating. Instead, Google is about to chase the Treses off of their platform."

These are the good guys. The small-business types working overtime everyone likes to talk about. But when Google recently brought their app store under more strict control, allowing them to be more heavy-handed in what they allow on the platform, the Trese brothers began getting messages saying that they were somehow in violation and their apps would be dropped from the store.

"Cory Trese started receiving seemingly-automated emails from Google last week, informing him that he and his brother's games were violating the spam provisions of the new developer terms and conditions. Trese was dumbstruck.

"I was terrified, frankly," Trese told me. "I started trying to figure out how we got flagged. Maybe we update too often.""

 

It should be pointed out that the notion that frequent updates triggered the spam notice from Google is pure speculation...because as Google is now tasked with aggressively policing their app store, they're finding less time to respond to app developers questions via email or the support message board. The Trese brothers have been trying to get a response to no avail as of the time of this writing.

And this is the problem with a shotgun approach in responding to perceived issues with piracy on platforms: you end up taking out innocent bystanders in the process. We saw it with Megaupload, where artists and users used the service legitimately but were caught in the DOJ's ocean-spanning shotgun attack. We see it every time bit torrent technology is attacked, despite artists and users that also use it legitimately. Actions taken against perceived piracy problems need a scalpel approach, so that innocents like the Trese brothers don't have their creative output stifled.

Update: Commentors and Cory Trese himself stepped into the comments section to add some further clarification. It appears that the issue had to do with keywords in the description of Trese's games that still coincide with Google's tightening the ropes on their app store (thanks for the comments, guys!). Bottom line, it would appear that there is still some heavy-handedness and a lack of communication with app developers in this case, though Cory did say that Google reached out to them once news of this had got out.



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    ioppa, Aug 6th, 2012 @ 8:24pm

    yay! Iam the first to comment!

     

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    Gene Poole, Aug 6th, 2012 @ 8:53pm

    So much for Do No Evil.

     

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    Sychodelix (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 9:22pm

    Star Traders is one of the best games on the Play Store period, and Cory Trese is a genius. He's one of the few app developers on there that listen carefully to his customers and his patches frequently add new features and tweaks to make the game better than ever.

    Google better fix this screw up or there's going to hordes of very pissed off paying customers at their throats, and I will be right there near the front of the line. I bought the game, and I'll be damned if Google is taking it down.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2012 @ 9:32pm

    On the plus side, I now know who they are and went ahead to download their games. They got some free advertising out of Google and, hopefully, the issue will soon be fixed.

     

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    jjmsan (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 10:46pm

    update

    Updated 06/08/2012: It turns out that the developers in question were actually censured for keyword spam -- they overloaded their app descriptions and meta data with keywords. This happened to coincide with the roll-out of the new guidelines. You can read more about Google's Play policies here.

     

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    Cory Trese (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 11:07pm

    Game Developers and Descriptions

    Thanks for this post, I appreciate everyone's support.

    Regarding our "censured for keyword spam" I just want to mention a few things I thought were relevant -- one, we hadn't changed the game descriptions in 15 months.

    Two, Google refused to explain the issue for over a month -- total radio silence from Google support.

    Third, our "keyword spam" was perhaps bad form but it wasn't intentional. Was it wrong? Judge for yourself -- here is one of the lines that got us in trouble:


    "If you enjoy adventure, Action RPG or SciFi RPG with complex depth (such as Master of Orion or Mass Effect) you may enjoy Star Traders space role playing game."

    and this one too

    "Fans of games like Syndicate, Fallout Tactics and ShadowRun for SEGA should enjoy this turn-based quest for urban power."

    Fortunately for us, the day after Wired ran the story Google started writing us back and explaining how we could fix the text.

    Fix it we have and hopefully we can stay on the good side of Google going forward.

    To everyone who was disappointed in our story, I apologize.

    To everyone who has supported our games, I thank you.

    We never intended to violate Google policy or manipulate rankings, only to describe our game in a way that was accessible to players who had never heard of us.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2012 @ 11:22pm

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Yup, I would say you have keyword spam. Specifically, your description is done to target other games, and to get visitors as a result of searches for those other games.

    It might have be acceptable in the past, but Google's rules no longer allow for it.

    Too bad you got caught. Too bad that Tim turned it into a bit of a federal case here, when it's really your own fault.

    As for Google and radio silence, they are like that at the best of times. They are NOT talkative. Self-diagnostics are the best way to deal with them, because if you wait for feedback, you will just get old.

     

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    Cory Trese (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 11:37pm

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Thanks for the feedback. We are trying to improve and I value your input.

    However, I *really* do appreciate Tim's post and the attention it has brought to the issue.

    A few minutes after it went out, Google wrote us back and clarified the issue at hand.

    Thank you for taking the time to reply to my post with your opinions. Much appreciated!

     

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    lfroen (profile), Aug 6th, 2012 @ 11:42pm

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    As already pointed out, this is keyword spam. And yes, this is bad thing, please don't do it.
    Google decision to clean up their AppStore is good idea; isn't a selling point of Android is ability to choose your own source for apps?

    Mike's post makes almost no sense: the very point of Android is free/open system - choose another store if you don't like Google's approach. What keyword spam and another app-trash has to do with DOJ/piracy/etc? Absolutely nothing.

     

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    Keii (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 12:23am

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Not going to take sides here and while your game isn't for me, I really hope you folks get everything squared away. Good luck!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 12:32am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Mike's post?

    Lurk more - Tims style differs significantly from [insert piratical ad-hominem here *waves* to the usual suspect] Mikes.
    (and they list the author)

    :)

    Oh yeah!

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 12:37am

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    "If you enjoy adventure, Action RPG or SciFi RPG with complex depth (such as Master of Orion or Mass Effect) you may enjoy Star Traders space role playing game."

    and this one too

    "Fans of games like Syndicate, Fallout Tactics and ShadowRun for SEGA should enjoy this turn-based quest for urban power."


    Weird. I don't see that as keyword spam. Personally, as an Android user, I've actually found some useful apps after devs did similar things, allowing me to find alternatives for apps that were out there that I was looking for. Surprised that Google reacted the way it did.

     

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    Terra Ezeri (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:03am

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    I honestly don't see how this is "keyword spam". As a gamer, I appreciate such comparisons when looking for new titles. I would have never found some of the games on my iPad and TF101 without them, actually. For example, I found "Junk Jack" while looking for Minecraft clones. Even more, a close friend and senior editor at a fledgling gaming news site will even tell you that those types of descriptions REALLY help when trying to explain new titles to their readers.

    Cory, I wish you all the luck in the future with your games. It's sad that you were punished so severely for what is a very minor "problem" in the eyes of some people.

     

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    Terra Ezeri (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:03am

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    I honestly don't see how this is "keyword spam". As a gamer, I appreciate such comparisons when looking for new titles. I would have never found some of the games on my iPad and TF101 without them, actually. For example, I found "Junk Jack" while looking for Minecraft clones. Even more, a close friend and senior editor at a fledgling gaming news site will even tell you that those types of descriptions REALLY help when trying to explain new titles to their readers.

    Cory, I wish you all the luck in the future with your games. It's sad that you were punished so severely for what is a very minor "problem" in the eyes of some people.

     

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    Josh (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:25am

    I wouldn't call what happened to Megaupload a shotgun attack so much as a Nuclear ICBM attack.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:34am

    Google's attitude, typically, sucks. they only responded after the article was run on Wired. they should respond in a timely manner to all queries, not ignore them or the people using the service, until bad publicity calls them out. they forget that without people using their services, Google wouldn't have services to offer!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 2:37am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    If that is spam, I am the king of spams because I use other programs names as reference to explain what others do all the frigging time.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 2:46am

    Re:

    Well, than you never had to reach out to Google, because then you would know they rarely if ever answer anything to anyone.

    They suck at customer service, they are the worst company at that, but I can still respect Google, although it has been getting a bit difficult lately.

     

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    drew (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 2:53am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Non-gamer and non-techy view point here, so apologies if I'm missing a key point, but I'd have read them as useful descriptions rather than keyword spam?
    A bit like the "other people who bought this also bought" stuff on Amazon, a feature that, as a customer, I find really useful.
    I guess I'm missing something though?

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 3:12am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Which drives us to the point of the article and reminds us of the insanity of the MAFIAA trying to make word filters mandatory on cyberlockers and search engines.

    I like Google overall but messing with Google Play store is a bad idea. And as always, their customer service sucks. Google is one good case study of how NOT to run a customer service.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 3:19am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Mike, you may not see anything wrong with it, but it is keyword stuffing. Basically, when you search for something, it looks at titles and descriptions. So if I was looking for Master of Orion, I would also get Star Traders coming up.

    Now, you may feel that is a good thing, but in reality it is not. What happens is people use the titles of other successful products to try to get better search rankings, often with stuff that is entirely not relevant.

    Google decided that this type of keyword spamming is not acceptable in their system, and as a result, these guys got hit by a relatively automated filter that said "yup, keyword spamming".

    Google didn't react SPECIFICALLY to these guys, they addressed an issue. In the same manner that their Panda and Penguin updates in theory address issues in their SERPs. Innocent sites get knocked out of the search results because they run afoul of whatever Google has decided is wrong today.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 4:49am

    However, I hope that a certain IP jealous game company does not look too hard at Templar Assault, it appears to directly borrow things from some of their games. And they have shut down non profits before, let alone people selling stuff.

     

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    Wally (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 4:54am

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    I know I'm going to catch rat for this, but do you guys have the games availible in iTunes?

     

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    Wally (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 5:10am

    Re: Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    I like Google too, but I'm starting to see how shady their practices have gotten lately. This is the second instance this month of things they've done that made me literally go "wtf is wrong with you Google?".

    Google has blocked 3rd party extensions in Chrome from their servers....this means AdBlock Plus:

    http://www.h-online.com/security/news/item/Google-blocks-Chrome-extensions-from-third-party -servers-1643537.html


    Ninja, you're cool, no worries :-)

     

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    Colin, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 5:47am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Uhhh, what? Saying "If you enjoyed X, you might like Y" is spam now?

    And way to be an asshole. "Too bad you got caught"? Like their intent was to be malicious and deceptive?

     

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    Kevin (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 7:52am

    Para What

    Good ole USA paranoia. Everyone is an enemy, unless they are part of the corporations.

     

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    Scott Schultz, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 8:25am

    Seriously now...

    When I search the Google Play store on my S3, I put in the keywords "Master of Orion" and I get Star Traders (which I own, incidentally) and Star Colonies games.

    You know what I DON'T get? Master of Orion. There's no Android app for the game.

    When I search for "Mass Effect", you know what I get? A dozen Mass Effect-related apps, followed by a hundred non-related apps, none of them being Star Traders.

    Explain to me again about this evil keyword stuffing that the Trese Brothers are guilty of? Google changed their policy or at least their policing. That's no reason to be an asshole about responding to the article, unless maybe you live in a world where nobody ever compares anything to anything else in order to describe it. Man, it's a good thing that Madison Avenue never makes any commercials that say "If you like X, you'll love Y!"

     

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    Wally (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 8:29am

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    ""Fans of games like Syndicate, Fallout Tactics and ShadowRun for SEGA should enjoy this turn-based quest for urban power."

    Hang in there Cory ^_^ That statement is more akin to "Useres who rated this game this way also enjoyed this game". Apple seems to do that automatically in iTunes. I'm not trying to sell you on that idea of going to Apple, just pointing out that you've done no wrong in your statement.

     

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    Scott Schultz, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 8:33am

    Re: Seriously now...

    Just to drive home the point - the couple of times that I've described the game to someone else, I didn't give them a five-minute rundown of the gameplay. I said "Did you ever play Elite, back in the Apple II/C-64 days? It's pretty much like that."

    If mentioning any other proper name than your own is keyword stuffing then Google is creating a whole bunch of needless verbiage in order to describe something that could otherwise be easily described in a few words.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 9:13am

    And yet the anti-techdirt trolls will still claim Mike is being paid by google.

    Hell, they started that shit AFTER Mike had already criticised them in the past.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 9:20am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    But is it keyword spam if those games he is referring to don't exist on that platform?

    I found one of their games through an idle search of the google apps to see if anyone had made a shadowrun game. (Shadowrun is a pen and paper RPG from the 90s)

    Nope.

    I did however find the Trese brothers, and it was the sort of game I was looking for.

    IMHO, putting a couple of related or similar games, which importantly are not available on that platform, into the description of their app isn't any different than a movie review comparing say Dark Knight to Avengers in terms of summer blockbusters.

     

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    Lord Binky, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 9:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    I think keyword stuffing is less annoying than having to do multiple searches for generic descriptive words hoping you pick the correct phrasing that is in the discription. If you search for "" and the actual game is not first, that's google being stupid for not prioritizing title over description text, which I'm sure isn't the case. What if I want to find games inspired or similar to 'nethack' specifically? I would rather have a system to punish/downrank apps that do that innappropriatly than limit the descriptions.

     

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    peterjohn (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 9:33am

    Play Store /= Android

    Aside from whatever policies may have been breached, etc, etc, etc...I'm a bit perplexed. Why do people still insist that the Play Store approval process is equal to 'Android'??? ??

    You can install Android without any of Google's branded services (Play Store, Gmail, Maps, etc...). Afterall, there are other app stores available for the platform (as well as sideloading).

     

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    calicojones (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 9:48am

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Comparing a new game to existing games is as old as games themselves.

    Pong? Ping-pong, but on your TV.


    Hell, it's not even limited to video games. EVERYTHING that's sold does this to some degree.

    New author? The new Stephen King.


    Step off the high-horse and quit acting like this was some nefarious plan. OF COURSE it's used to drive potential users to your program. As long as it's accurate (your program can logically be compared to Masters of Orion, for example), then it is in no way keyword spam.

    This just smells of Google trying to use a crawler with no human intervention. Keyword spam is not black and white. It takes judgement.

     

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    Todd E, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 11:36am

    Re: Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Shadowrun is still in production, though it's foundational company has changed a couple of times. This site has support for the tabletop and video game variations.
    http://www.shadowrun.com/?lang=en_us

    Catalyst Labs is apparently working on a new video game version currently...

     

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    Rapnel (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Agreed (apart from the "Mike's post" part).

    All the app stores have gone mad. There is a vicious cycle of progression towards "permission" controls.

    Andoid can be sort of open, iOS can be made open, WebOS was way open (came fully enabled and root accessible upon possession)

    "Your (insert thing here) does|did|will not meet our guidelines|policies|rules|whims."

    Official branded app stores officially suck.

    Any indy app developer, one can hope, will have some sort of alternate means of distribution (You know, if they're allowed to) because it is painfully clear that somebody in any sort of control over any sort of thing will aim to further and solidify that control. Apart from the consumers of course who, more and more every day, get no fucking say whatsoever apart from their combined purchasing power.

    Google, in short, is starting to suck just as much as the next guy. And yes, they're awfully and woefully inadequate on their communications and support abilities.

    The current platform paradigm is doomed. The peak is already in sight imho.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Their descriptions had been written before Google changed the rules, so they didn't "get caught", they got fucked. Too bad you don't understand that the other kid taking his ball and going home doesn't make him the winner.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    Re:

    Star Traders is one of the best games on the Play Store period, and Cory Trese is a genius.


    I agree. There are only two Android games that I play regularly, and Star Traders is one of them. It's one of the finest strategy games available on any platform.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:36pm

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Specifically, your description is done to target other games


    I guess one man's spam is another's helpful description. It was this description of the game that made me check it out. That description actually game me an idea of what the game was about -- something that almost no other game description successfully does.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:48pm

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    As already pointed out, this is keyword spam. And yes, this is bad thing, please don't do it.


    I truly don't understand. What makes it keyword spam? Why is that description bad?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:53pm

    Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    For real, fuck you.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    Re: Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Don't get too used to that! Dipshit here has declared that spam!

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Now, you may feel that is a good thing, but in reality it is not. What happens is people use the titles of other successful products to try to get better search rankings, often with stuff that is entirely not relevant.


    I don't think this is keyword spam because the description is legitimately helpful and descriptive of the product. If it were just a list of other titles that weren't actually describing the product, it would be spam. This is not that.

    The bad thing is if descriptions like that are not allowed as a blanket matter. But, in another sense, it doesn't matter -- describing software, especially games, briefly is incredibly hard.

    But in another sense, it doesn't matter. There has been many times when I'm looking for an app that I know exists, but don't remember the name of, and find that it's impossible to find by searching the Play Store. As a result, I end up googling for it instead, which locates it easily. This has happened enough now that my first stop when looking for, or even just browsing for, apps is not the play store at all, but google.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Play Store /= Android

    Because the Play Store will be the only one most Android users will ever use (except maybe the Amazon store). They will either never learn the other exist, or be too afraid to try them.

     

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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Aug 7th, 2012 @ 2:07pm

    Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    I have played your free version in the past and liked it a lot, but after a few rom changes on my android phone I kind of forgot about your game. Sorry.
    To make up for it, I just bought the elite version.

     

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    Chargone (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 2:05am

    Re:

    wasn't it 'don't be evil'?

    not quite the same thing, all in all.

     

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    peterjohn (profile), Aug 8th, 2012 @ 9:12am

    Re: Re: Play Store /= Android

    "...(except maybe the Amazon store)..."

    So you agree with me? Again - Android is a platform. The Play Store (and any other store for that matter) is an app distribution platform. The two are not synonymous.

    The way this article starts out - "...pervasive mentality that the Android app store is a haven for evil, evil piracy..." is only furthering that naive notion.

     

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    Joe, Aug 13th, 2012 @ 4:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Game Developers and Descriptions

    Actually this is Spam. They are saying its similar to multiple big game titles. Basically they are name dropping when it doesn't help the description. I know for some they would like to know if the game relates to another but it doesn't need to relate to multiple titles.

    If they had used one title to refer it to then it should have been fine. The following should be ok:

    "If you like minecraft then you will like this game. This game has......"

    Dropping a bunch of big title games means you are going off track in the description. You have stopped explaining the game and are trying to show up under searches for those keywords. The following example is keyword spamming.

    "If you like MineCraft, Farmville, Sims and Command and Conquer, well let me tell you folks...."

    Even if you use one title (which I think is ok) but use it multiple times, it can also be spam. This example would also be considered spam. The terminology is keyword stuffing.

    "If you like Minecraft then you will like this game. Much like minecraft you can build stuff. Also like Minecraft you can fight zombies. The difference is that this game is better than Minecraft."

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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