Dark Patterns: The Game That Makes You Give it 5 Stars


In an earlier post, we talked about the concept of dark patterns. A dark pattern is a navigation or action path that leads a user to a choice that doesn’t really benefit him or her, but seems to benefit the site or app owner.

Another recent example really illustrates this process. Recently EA released a remake of classic videogame called Dungeon Keeper. The new version is a mobile app for iPhone and Android. The original was highly regarded, but the new release has been panned by critics and trashed by users on social media.

Yet the game has 4.5 stars on Google Play. There are few negative scores. How could this be?

According to Gamasutra, the answer is that EA is using a dark pattern, within the app itself, to generate 5 star reviews. Users are asked if they want to review the app, then are given two choices: 1 through 4 stars or 5 stars. Clicking the 5 star option takes you directly to the Google Play store where you can rate the game. Clicking 1 through 4, however, takes you to a feedback form instead.

From Gamasutra

One of our own team tried the game and noted that the request for feedback comes pretty early on, during a high point of play—before the real problems in gameplay are revealed. This also reinforces that tendency to get 5 star reviews up on Google Play.

Does EA benefit from this use of a dark pattern? Maybe, at least in the short run. However in the long run, it hurts the game, the company, and the online platform itself.

  • The game suffers because all the legitimate criticism is ignored. Game designers are convincing themselves that all the criticism is merely nostalgia. They point at the falsely generated 5 star reviews and tell themselves they don’t need to fix anything. Meanwhile, users are getting more frustrated and abandoning the game in droves.
  • EA gets another black eye. Already suffering from bad handling of the Sim City rollout, EA is being portrayed across various social media channels as a company that will sacrifice the game to squeeze out every bit of revenue.
  • The Google Play store is also a loser. The user feedback system is an important part of the overall platform. If one of the worst games in the system can generate a high star rating, people will lose trust in the platform itself.
  • Ultimately, gamers lose. Not just those who download Dungeon Keeper thinking it is better than it is, but because the ability to find good information about the next game is compromised. This will lead to a decline in the industry.

Dark patterns are chosen to accomplish very short-sighted goals. Pumping up metrics, hanging onto visitors longer than they want to be there, achieving apparent goals. In the long run they always cause damage.