Editor’s Choice picks and other promoted content on Google Play have always been a bit … off. It’s never quite clear what is promoted content and what isn’t. Attempts to editorialize over the years have fairly consistently missed the mark as users are bombarded with recommendations based on the metric ton of data they’re giving Google on a daily basis.

It’s not insidious per se, and the problems with Google Play run far deeper than that, but as we enter our own Game of the Year phase for 2017, we were very interested in what Google would do this year. They have launched their hub featuring what they list as their Games of the Year for 2017, as well as a list of games in various categories like “Best Social” and “Best Competitive.” The lists are also different depending on your region, which makes Google Play out to seem unreliable about their definition of “best.”

There could be a number of reasons why games are different depending on region, but we’ve heard reports from users around the world that the lists of games seem extremely odd in some locations.

In the United States, they have crowned CATS: Crash Arena Turbo Stars as the Game of the Year, which is something we’ll talk about, but in some territories, that game isn’t listed while any number of games are showing up. Lineage 2: Revolution is showing up as the Best Game in at least one territory, and that’s where things get a little confusing.

It’s not to say that Lineage 2 is a bad game, but it’s a very new game — releasing on Nov. 15 — and is currently everywhere. Not “everywhere” as in “people are talking about it!” but “everywhere” as in “this game is being advertised everywhere.”

Given the amount of advertising and the lack of a real barrier between paid promotion and editorializing on Google Play, coupled with the exceedingly large amount of people unhappy or displeased with Lineage 2, it seems like a really odd choice. Or maybe someone at Google genuinely loves Lineage 2 and some actual editorial decision-making went into this. I don’t personally know and am not suggesting otherwise, mind you. It’s just a little confusing.

Back to CATS — a fun, polished and creative building game with PVP battling. We’re not going to beat around the bush: it’s not in our top 31 games, but that has more to do with it not seriously catching on with our editorial staff. It is extremely well-made and folks interested should check it out.

But Google’s own editorializing regarding their pick of CATS is disappointing: a single sentence that offers nothing of substance.

This game blew us away with its spellbinding gameplay, glossy graphics, and an impressively intuitive interface.

In past events, Google has been a bit more descriptive with why a given game is any good. This is a disappointing summary for a game that deserves more. Whether or not CATS itself is promoted content is unknown — I could not find any kind of public editorial guidelines or ethics statement for such placements on Google Play.

There are other issues throughout the list. The reasons given for “Most Innovative” are kind of silly, especially when the games themselves are good enough to be featured on this kind of list. I Love Hue, for instance, is a colorful, relaxing puzzle game about arranging colors and nothing else. It’s not a new concept at all, but Google’s blurb flat-out says that it’s something that they have “never seen in games before.”

Another game from that list, After the End: Forsaken Destiny, is one of the absolute best games you can get on Android, but it seems odd to list it in this category because it doesn’t do anything shockingly innovative, even for the mobile space. It’s a 3D adventure game — an extremely well-made one, but a 3D adventure game nonetheless.

Multiple games appear on the various lists despite not being released in 2017, either. Clash Royale, a well-made but infuriatingly monetized game, remains on top in the “Best Competitive” category despite a slew of excellent competitive games that actually came out this calendar year.

In the end, the promotion feels half-baked and rushed. In addition to the confusion regarding paid product placement and actual editorial oversight, the lists are sparse, contain inaccuracies and games that shouldn’t even qualify for them.

This year was a great year for Android games. They are something we here are obviously passionate about — that’s why we launched a website about them. A celebration of these games should be a lot bigger and better-produced than what was ultimately delivered by Google Play. Perhaps they will make some changes to it as the month progresses, but as game pages list their accomplishments in these awards and the public-facing page is live, it’s worthy of criticism based on where it is now.

There are some great games on the list overall, and those reading should definitely visit each of the landing pages and click through to the games themselves. The flavor text may not be very helpful, but there are some great games highlighted there. They’re just highlighted poorly.


James founded Destination Android and writes about sports for Vox Media's SB Nation. He is a mindless jerk who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.

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