How Google ruined our dreams by wrong termination of Google developer account

One more open letter from a small indie studio CATS OF DESPAIR to the Android Community and Google Play, Apps & Games at Google management.

Long story short

We are two friends who started to learn game development recently(a bit more than 6 months ago) and it was our very first app.

From the very beginning we agreed to go through all development stages from production to release in Google Play. Studying in practice. We decided to create a Google developer account for our small studio CATS OF DESPAIR. It was our first developer account, we never created it before, we didn’t even know any person who had such an account as it was our first game development experience.

After 6 months of hard work on our first app(a simple arcade game) was ready for publication. We released it for beta testing and it took us several weeks to gather feedback and to implement last improvements. On 8th of October 2020, when app final version was almost ready for public release we received notification letter from Google stating our developer account was terminated, here is quote from the letter:

Reason for termination: Prior violations of the Developer Program Policies and Developer Distribution Agreement by this or associated accounts as outlined in previous emails sent to the registered email address(es) of the Google Play Developer account(s).

Yep, just like this, with no prior notifications or specifying any exact reasons. We were told that we are forever banned without any chance to be reinstated. We never received any letters or notifications beforehand.

At first we thought that there was something wrong with our game, even though it’s a very simple one. Of course we were shocked by such a harsh reaction, especially because we were confused by the complete absence of any specific reasons why our account was terminated.

On 6th of October we followed instruction from the letter and made an appeal to Google through the special form where we wrote that our account termination was obviously done by mistake. We were sure our account would be reinstated right after some real person from Google Play support team would check our case. On 22th of October 2020( more than two weeks after we made an appeal) we finally received some automatic answer from Google: they weren’t going to reinstate our account due to the confirmed association between our account and someone else’s account which had multiple violations in the past. In other words we did not do anything wrong, but somehow Google considered someone’s else terminated account associated with ours.

We sent a detailed reply with a request to share with us at least some information about another account they found associated with ours in order to understand how our account may be linked with someone else. We were never connected with anyone from the IT/game development industry or with anyone who had/has a developer account.

On 21st of October we received another automatic bot reply to our letter saying that they couldn’t add anything to what was written already with a reminder to us to never try to create another account as it would be terminated as well.

One of the most devastating feeling was caused by an absolutely unbeatable Google bot which answered in accordance with standard protocol without taking any details into consideration. They better call themselves the Google Play Bot team rather than the Google support team.

You may find plenty of the same stories about unfair Google developer account termination from other android developers. One of the main issues is the complete absence of any real support service from Google; to get an automatic reply is the best you may count on. Some developers managed to contact real Google employees who helped to reinstate accounts, because some of these situations are so absurd that even a glance from a real person is enough to understand that termination was done by some algorithm’s mistake. It’s obvious that the current control system doesn’t work as it should and requires serious changes, this is what we want Google to pay attention for .

Long story

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way ©

We read many stories from android developers whose accounts were terminated for dubious reasons. It may seem we all are in identical situations, but if we look closer each story has a significant difference. Let me introduce our story.

We started to explore game development in spring 2020 during epidemia. After several studying projects we decided to start development of our small, but full-fledged game to get real development experience: from basics to release.

Android is considered to be accessible and friendly for beginners, so we decided to make our very first game for Google Play. We took the whole process very seriously and tried to work on the majority of aspects by ourselves, except some audio, fonts, promo videos assets for which we purchased licenses or hired people who helped us to produce it. It was crucial for us to make it right also in terms of copyrights and other regulations.

We had released the beta version in Google Play at the end of August and started first beta testing which went very well. After implementing several improvements we launched a second beta test which also went pretty well. We were very inspired by our results so far and excited about almost being ready for the public release of our first game.

An issue appeared almost right before release. Suddenly we couldn’t enter our Google developer account on 6th of October 2020. After checking the email box we saw a letter from Google just sent to us with information about lifelong termination of our account caused by multiple violations of Google Developer Policies. We should mention it was the first such letter we received. We were confused about such a harsh reaction and started to think about what we did wrong and why we didn’t even receive any letters about violations before actual account termination. And what else our simple game could possibly violate, especially without any sign of prohibited content or something like this.

We immediately made an appeal through the special form(link to the form was in Google letter) to get any clue why it happened with us. We got a reply only in two weeks(on 22nd of October 2020). According to the reply they confirmed some sort of association between our developer account and another developer account which was terminated for Policies violations. So it wasn’t even related to our account!

We made a detailed list with questions to clarify the situation which seemed absolutely absurd and wrong, because we have never created any accounts before, it was our first and only account. Moreover we don’t even know any people who had or has such an account! How could we be associated with something that doesn’t exist?

Next day on 23rd of October we received standard bot reply to our letter(all our questions were completely ignored) that they had confirmed the initial decision and our account remained terminated without any right to register a new one in the future. As we understood many other developers get exactly the same answer. And this is one of the most terrible things in this situation. When you don’t have the opportunity not only to justify yourself and protect your reputation, but even to understand what you are to blame for, what kind of account is it and how you can be associated with it? No one will tell you. You are guilty, get a life long ban!

If you bring a similar situation to any other area of our life it will be a perfect plot for sci fi dystopia. Where a lifeless robot finds you guilty without any trial. And you don’t even have basic rights to justify yourself. You are guilty, it’s lifelong. NEXT!

Just imagine you study medicine, spending plenty of time and effort, making plans for the future and finally you are a certified doctor…and next day you are told that your license is terminated, because your neighbour had a dog a long time ago which barked all night long. And when you ask what does this have to do with you? They won’t even honor you with an answer. You will never be a doctor, because they say so. And this is the informational maximum you can count on.

The whole absurd of this situation makes it unbelievable, but only until you face it yourself. We know Google as one of the most friendly and modern companies: next gen corporation which helps society to grow. However, we saw its different side — terrible level of bureaucracy, lifeless and categorical. If just one real Google employee looks at our situation there wouldn’t be any doubts that it’s impossible for us to be associated with anyone else’s developer account or suspicious developer.

Here we would like to address all other developers. Unfortunately, while these practises exist no one can be on a safe side. It doesn’t matter whether you are at the beginning of your path or you have published many apps. Your account can be terminated forever due to absolutely absurd reasons and you will be excluded from the profession. No one will present any proof, no one will tell what exactly you are blamed for. It’s obvious that such practices are not acceptable in modern society and it differs from the image Google is creating for itself. And if they truly want this image to be what they are they need serious changes to be made in these processes.

We are desperate in our attempts to reinstate our account and seek your support to deliver our story to real Google employees who can handle our case. Since we received the “termination” letter our motivation to move forward and to overcome new challenges is ruined. There is no worse reason rather than punishment based on false accusation, on something you never did. We basically lost 6 months of our lives we spent on development(apart from financial losses). And what is even worse to get a life long ban for doing mobile games(let’s be honest, without access to the best distribution platform it doesn’t make a lot of sense).

We live in very difficult and dark times(you know why) and its people’s and companies’ obligation to support each other, to help each other to get through it with minimum losses, but our story with account termination is completely opposite to it.

Indie game developer in Cats Of Despair studio