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Google Changes ‘Discovery Algorithm’ on Google Play, Leading to Panic From Some Devs

Update: A sudden drop in install rates for some apps and games on the Google Play Store noticed by worried developers this week is the result of recent changes made by Google in the store’s recommendation systems, the company tells Variety.

“Over the last year, we’ve been enhancing our search and discovery algorithms’ consideration of app quality and user engagement,” according to the company. “This means that apps and games that have high retention rates, low crash rates, low uninstalls, and many other factors, are recommended more often. Recently, we increased the importance of engagement and app quality in our recommendation systems and users reacted favorably to the changes. With more high quality titles being surfaced in the Play Store’s recommendations, people are playing the games they download more often.”

The change was noticed almost immediately by a growing group of developers who went to the Unity forums to express their concern.

The original post to the Unity thread states that one developer’s average install rate dropped from 12,000 per day to 5,000 per day, even though the game has not decreased in the search rankings of the Google Play Store.

“The issue has already been escalated and our relevant team is investigating it,” Google responded to one of the forum members in a live chat on Monday. Since then, Google’s response has remained insufficient for developers who use the conglomerate’s mobile store, as it was noted on Tuesday that most who had sought information from Google were simply told “we’re looking into it and we’ll get back to you later,” according to the forum post.

The developers have since created a Discord server to track the issue, which has over 1,000 members as of Friday.

A blog post on Gamasutra opined that the change was due to an overhaul of the Google Play Store’s visibility algorithm, with developers reporting drops in install rates, ranging from 70 to 90 percent. But Google said that isn’t the case, that it’s the company’s “discovery algorithm” that’s changed.

They also said they stand behind the change which the company believes will be for the best.

“We believe that providing great experiences for our users on Google Play will encourage a healthier, growing Android ecosystem. We encourage all developers to review some of the suggestions in this post and on developers.android.com for guidance and best practices.”

Google has been in the process of modifying the visibility of apps based on their quality for the past year.

“As part of our continued effort to deliver the best possible Google Play experience, we recently enhanced our search and discovery algorithms to reflect app quality. This results in higher quality apps being surfaced in the Play Store more than similar apps of lower quality (eg: apps that exhibit more frequent crashes). The change has had a positive impact on engagement — we’ve seen that people go on to use higher quality apps more and uninstall them less,” states a post from 2017 on the Google’s Android Developer’s Blog.

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