Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Frustrated developer diary: my game anticipated Minecraft Earth but PlayStore see it as a misleading content

Is the PlayStore overprotective towards big brands bullying small developers?This is my experience.

Wrldcraft is a massively multiplayer AR blocky sandbox and exploration game where the contents/buildings are persitently geocached in a seamless grid covering the entire earth for Android and iOS devices. It was avaiable for the public since this March when it was put in open beta and it was officially released this June and then updated often. It is going quite well on the AppStore receiving lot of love from iOS users. In the last eight months the game was updated dozens of times with lots of contents, bug fixing and updated store listing assets or screenshots.
Even though it was announced and released before, spoiler alert, Minecraft Earth this is what happened.

The story:

Few days ago I did a simple category change on the Wrldcraft PlayStore developer console app listing: from "action" to "simulation".

I received an automated mail telling me:
Issue: Violation of Google Play policy
Google reserves the discretion to include or remove apps from Google Play. We may take action based on a number of factors including, but not limited to, a pattern of harmful behavior or high risk of abuse. We identify risk of abuse using various items such as previous violation history, user feedback, and use of popular brands, characters, and other assets.

Ok, fine, it is an error and this not the first time they stop an update for this game, as said before the only thing I changed was the "Category" how can this violate a Google Play Policy?

I made an appeal asking to reinstate the update and asking to know which content is under investigation/accusation.

This the reply:

"We advise you not to try to imply an affiliation with another entity where none exists.
For example, as stated in our previous email, your app's store listing information contains third party contents that are prone to abuse: Minecraft"

Obviously I was very meticolous in avoiding such a contents and every single pixel was handmade expecially for the blocky part.

I tried to ask to again to the support wich content on the listing is bad for them but the reply was:

 "I’m not able to provide any more information or a better answer to your question. In our previous email, I made sure to include all the information available to me."

What? Are you kidding me? You don't know which content isn't good for you? Is a screenshot? Is it a sentence in the description? Is it the video? Is the game itself? Is a texture?

It's like being accused of a crime and you must prove your innocence but nobody tells you what is exactly your crime and neither when or where. There's a Kafka's novel like this, it worths your time.

Now I'm in the position where they refuse every update and I'm doing tries changing a screenshot or a text until I find the one they THINK is a violation. I'd even removed tags or reference to Minecraft from the game blog in case their powerfull and soulless search engine is going to dig there to find a just cause. Ridiculous and frustrating.

After more that 20 attempts and after I removed almost everything in the game PlayStore listing the "update" was approved and I received this mail from the Google Play Team:

"I could see your app WrldCraft was resubmitted earlier and has been published on Google Play.
For your reference, we don't allow apps that imply an affiliation with another entity without proof of permission to use third party's assets that may result in misleading users."

I don't still know what was the offending content.

Some facts I want to shout out: (because I don't simply roll over and die)

I know what do you think now: "Wrldcraft is a Minecraft Earth clone, you deserve this even if  there is no actual violation."
False. Wrldcraft was announced, revealed and released to the public months before ME was announced. When Microsoft/Mojang announced Minecraft Earth my game has been in public open beta for two months. More details and evidences here, it is all well documented. I'm not not a guy telling "hey, I thought that before any other" because I DID this before any other. There are builds, posts, reddits, press releases, video and players confirming this all over the internet. I don't say that M.E. copied my concept, but at least it's fact that I didn't ripped off their.

I knew the mood "it's a Minecraft Earth clone" could be an issue in the very moment, this summer, I asked to feature my game between AR titles, or at least give it the listing it deserved, and I was told that it was too similar to a well established IP. 
What IP? Minecraft? It is pretty different and Wrldcraft was a geolocated augmented reality game. Maybe Minecraft Earth? It wasn't even closed beta at that time. Consider as well that Google play features lots of blocky games. Now, this sounded like "your game is a serious threath for that well established IP" to me, that is good for my ego as developer but very bad for my game possibilities to succeed on PlayStore.


PlayStore is getting, in my opinion, too overprotective towards well established IP's and big brands. They must also consider that the voxel blocky games are a genre today, like FPS or platforms, or is it Call of Duty still a Doom clone?
The really weird thing is that PlayStore often highlights, promotes or reccomends blocky games that are barely Minecraft reskins, so or they have an issue with my game or their algorithm hates me. You know, a
lgorithms have feelings, I'm a programmer, I know.
It's very frustrating being bullyied and punished because you, a sole little indie dev, anticipated, of months, the newest big brand game concept, doing basically the same thing they do before they even announciated the title and with some feature ME don't have (still). (example given: Wrldcraft don't have that pretty limited "plateau" concept, Wrldcraft subdivides the entier Earth in a seamless  geocached half square meter grid and building are connected seamless as well, all over the globe surface)
While I'm speaking about block size: did you noticed that in Minecraft Earth the block size changed from the original Minecraft's one? Guess what's the new (full scale AR) size?

Conclusion (for real this time)

Come on Google Play Team, be kind with my game. How could a small indie solo developer without a well known IP and very limited resources be a threat for a multi billion giant game studio with unlimited resources? I just want to fight in the PlayStore arena with both hands free but instead I feel like someone is holding me down while a titan is beating me and a sniper targets me.