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How Indie Developers Can Fight Negative Reviews

It’s no secret, life as an indie app developer is not getting any easier. With user acquisition, retention and monetisation all proving a daily struggle, you now have to work harder than ever to make a living in the mobile ecosystem.

Many of these challenges are widely recognised and accepted by the developer community. However, managing consumer expectations also poses a considerable issue for indie developers, and this is often overlooked.

In this blog post, I am going to look at what users currently expect from mobile applications, and how 2 developers have attracted negative feedback from users in their bid to monetise their products.


Monetisation Meme

What Customers Expect

Freemium apps now dominate the app store charts. At the time of writing, there are just 3 paid apps in the top 100 grossing chart on the US App Store, and on Google Play, it has been reported that 98% of revenue is generated by freemium products.



There is no doubt that the freemium model has been profitable for a number of developers, particularly the larger games publishers that can afford to invest millions in creating the optimal monetisation strategy. However, the sheer popularity of free to play games has led to users expecting high quality content for free.

Monument Valley, arguably one of the most beautiful mobile games ever built, caused outrage in November 2014 by asking users to pay for their expansion pack. The app is currently available to download for £2.99, and users are then asked to pay £1.49. This is the response from users:


Review 1
Review 2

ustwo, the developer behind Monument Valley, has to be given credit for being brave enough to invest huge amounts of time into building a high quality game in which they expect users to pay for the updates. If you look at other console platforms this pricing model exists, and it works. This is how ustwo responded to the criticism from customers:


Tweet Response 1
Tweet Response 2

How to Deal With Negative Feedback

ustwo aren’t the only developer to come under fire from users for their pricing strategy. Many indie developers have also had their fair share of user complaints about price increases or monetisation strategies.

Receiving any form of negative feedback from a user is always disheartening. However, how you handle this feedback is important. Whilst it is very tempting to shoot over to Twitter and complain, unless you are a well known/respected developer such as ustwo, this rarely ends well.

On Amazon and Google Play developers are given a voice and are able to reply to reviews on their application. Below is a great example of how to respond to negative feedback. The developer involved is Per Haglund, a children’s games publisher based in Sweden…




On iOS, you are not able to reply to reviews in this way, meaning developers have to resort to social media in order to interact with consumers.

If you are struggling to manage your user feedback, then you may want to consider using a third party plugin in order to help improve customer reviews. Services such as Helpshift and Apptentive are good options for this.


Developers Need To Make A Living

The big problem here is that users expect applications to provide hours of fun at a very low (or no) cost, whilst indie developers deserve to make a living from the software they build. Yes, the vast majority of developers create applications as a passion, but there are also bills to pay and families to feed.

It would be wrong to assume that consumers have a full understanding of the effort and planning that goes into producing a mobile application, and this lack of understanding is why many users are so quick to complain when prices are a little higher than they expected.



It’s not easy to make enough money to cover your costs whilst also giving users a sense of value for money. Consumers can be easily aggravated when being asked to pay for even the highest quality game updates, such as the expansion pack in Monument Valley, that it leaves many indie developers questioning how they can monetise their user base.

With user reviews now widely reported to be having an effect on app ranking on iOS, avoiding negative feedback is of a higher priority than ever. For this reason, if you’re going to opt for a paid or paid with in app purchase price model, then you have to make sure that your app really is providing value to your users, or you will soon attract negative reviews.

Remember users now either expect an app to be extremely high quality if paid, or expect to gain a lot of value from a free app prior to having to upgrade.

A big thanks to Per Haglund for providing his example of user feedback on Amazon. If you have your own experiences of dealing with negative feedback on your app, then please share these in the comments section for this article.

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