How Google Buried Weed Games On The PlayStore
We’ve been getting quite a few emails asking us why we removed our Weed Shop games from the Play Store and how come we don’t release any new updates. The thing is, all the weed games are still on the Play Store but you probably can’t find them since Google buried them in the search results. While we have no idea why, here’s our account of what happened.
On September 2nd, 2016, our Weed Shop games disappeared from the PlayStore search results for all relevant keywords like WEED, WEED GAME, MARIJUANA APP, etc. At the same time, our 2013 title Weed Planet jumped up the search ranks by 20 spots. At first, we thought it was just a glitch in the search algorithm since it affected all the other major developers in the same vertical. Weed Firm, Pot Farm and Ganja Farmer (all marijuana-themed games with millions of downloads and high ratings) were completely gone from the search results as well, while mostly low quality and irrelevant apps were at the top of the search results.
The above screenshots courtesy of the leading PlayStore analytics provider – AppAnnie, paint a pretty clear picture of what happened. Weed Firm 2, Weed Shop and Pot Farm ranked #1,#3 and #4 for the keyword WEED GAME on September 2 and were completely gone from the search results the next day.
After waiting for over a week with no fix in sight, we’ve contacted Google Developer Support describing the issue in as much detail as the character limit allowed. Within the next 48 hours, the games re-appeared in the web PlayStore search results and were moving up and down the search ranks, as if the search algorithm was recalibrating. Everything was looking up, till we received a perplexing response from Google Play Developer Support.
Hello,We reviewed your appeal and will not be reinstating your app. You may contact the original complainant at the email address provided in your Google Play Trademark Notice…
This left us scratching our heads since we haven’t received any Trademark Notices or filed any appeals since early 2014. In our response, we tried to clarify the issue and even included all the analytics data to illustrate it better. Here’s the response we got:
Hello,Thank you for your reply.There have been no changes made to your game on our end recently. The only note we have on file for your app is a notice you should have received on March 11th.As the stats you are using are from a third party we cannot comment any further or offer assistance regarding that matter.Regards,GaryThe Google Play Team
Hi,Thank you for getting back to me.I just wanted to double-check one last thing. Regarding the app notice we should have received, did you mean the one sent on February 11, 2014? If not, then could you please provide more details on the notice since it’s the first time I’m hearing about it.Kind Regards,Chris Oseto
Hi Chris,Thank you for your reply.I do not see any records of a notice sent on February 11, 2014. As there have been no changes or other notifications regarding your app on our end and your concern regarding missing statistics is through a 3rd party service, 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.
If you have a different question about the Play Developer Console, please let me know.Regards,GaryThe Google Play Team
After a receiving the 3rd cookie cutter reply, it became clear that even if Gary was a real person and not just a Google Support Bot, he wasn’t going to provide any useful assistance. However, since at the time, the search results were sort of back to normal, we decided it was best to let the issue go and go back to business as usual. That didn’t last long, though, and a week later all the major weed games were once again scrapped from the search results and remain scraped to this day.
Currently, the PlayStore search results for WEED GAME stop being relevant after 20 spots and feature such gems as Granny’s Finest Pot, Meme Soundboard and 8 Ball Pool. With no official word from Google, all we can do is speculate as to why one of the most progressive companies in the world started censoring weed search now.
Theory #1: There was a glitch or a bug in the September’s update to the search algorithm and Google is simply not aware of it.
Theory #2: The mentioned games lost their appeal and user base overnight which resulted in all of them dropping out of the search results the same day.
Theory #3: Google is trying to become more like Apple circa 2014 (Apple actually got with the times in 2015 and started approving Marijuana themed apps) and “clean up” its PlayStore. It knows that if it were to simply remove all the weed apps from the PlayStore it would face unprecedented backlash and bad press (just like Apple did when it first removed Weed Firm from the AppStore) so instead, it’s trying to bury them in the Search results just like it did with PhotonMail.
Conspiracy theories aside, it’s pretty sad that in this day and age when Marijuana is being decriminalized and legalized all over the world, Google is moving in the opposite direction and what’s even more troubling is the lack of transparency. At least when Apple rejects an app and an appeal is filed, the developer gets a callback from an actual tech support person who then tries to explain how the application is against Apple’s TOS. With Google, all you get is automated replies that leave you with more questions than answers and, if you’re a weed app developer, an uncertain future…
If you’ve been affected by Googles search result purge, have some additional data or know anyone at Google who could shed some light on this matter, please get in touch with us or leave a comment. Thanks!