About 5 days ago, I noticed something odd. After hanging out around the #6 top rated slot on the Xbox Live Indie Games US dashboard for a month or two, our game's rating started to drop very quickly. In less than a week, our game went from being #6 top rated to our current spot of #11.
I did a little investigating and it turns out that 5 days ago, the "College Lacrosse | The Video Game" Facebook page
(which has about 175,000 fans) requested help from its fans to raise the ratings of their games. Now, there's nothing wrong with asking your fans to rate your game positively, but it looks like some of their fans were overzealous and started 1-starring other high rated games in attempt to make it easier for the Lacrosse games to rise through the ranks.
Now for something like Z0MB1Es (the #1 rated game) which has over 50,000 ratings, a sudden influx of 1-star ratings isn't going to do much, but since our game has been out for less than 3 months and has far fewer ratings (about 1500) than the other top rated games , it affected us big time and we dropped 5 ranks. In contrast, the Lacrosse games which were in the middle of top 20 best rated (I don't remember the exact positions) are now ranked #4 & #5.
Note, that ranking isn't just a matter of prestige, it's also a matter of money. The higher rated your game is, the more likely it is that you'll continue to get long-term sales. Our first game, Breath of Death VII, has sold nearly 50,000 copies in the year or so it's been out and the vast majority of those sales (over 75%) occurred after the first 30 days. Before the ratings attack, we had one game that was easily visible in the first screen of top rated #4) and one that was partially visible (#6). Now, we have one that is partially visible and another that you have to scroll over a screen or two to see.
If the Lacrosse developers had explicitly told their fans to attack other games, that'd be one thing, but as far as I can tell, they didn't. They just told their fans to rate their game highly and gave instructions on how non-XBox 360 owners could create a free account and use it to rate the game. Of course that raises another question - should people who don't even own the system be able to rate games on it? With the current system, anyone can rate anything - even if they have never even downloaded the trial. Should this be changed so that only people who have played the game or tried the demo can rate the game?
I have no idea how this sort of thing could be prevented, but I'm really upset. We were really hoping that the upcoming enhanced version patch for Cthulhu Saves the World would give our game the little push it needed to finally stabilize in the top 5 rated. Now, it looks like we'll be lucky just to get our old rank back.
What is to be done about such situations? Starting a rating war with fans of other games 1-starring the Lacrosse games is no good - that'll just make the mess even bigger. What is to be done?