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Intern Saga: Banned on iOS
by Ryan Wiemeyer on 03/07/14 11:11:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

originally posted on our blog: http://www.hatsproductions.com/blog/features/intern-saga-banned-on-ios/

Apple

We launched Intern Saga: Trademark Lawyer on both our site as well as Android on February 6th, 2014. We waited to do a full marketing push for the game until it hit the iOS app store because we know that the majority (roughly 70%) of our mobile downloads would come from there.

The timeline of our submission process proceeded as follows:

  • Feb 6th - Intern Saga submit to iOS app store
  • Feb 14th - Apple indicated that "Your app requires additional review time"
  • March 4th - We email Apple, asking what the hold up is
  • March 5th - We receive a phone call from Apple

Hats: Hello, how are you?
Apple: Hello. We've rejected your app for sale on the App Store.  At this time I have no recommendations for any changes you could make to fix it.  The concept of the app is not the sort of app we want in the app store.
Hats: And there isn't anything we could change to get it approved?
Apple: No.  I cannot recommend anything for you to change.
Hats: Alright, thank you.

As per Apple’s reputation, there was no specific cause for rejection indicated. In the official written rejection notice, Apple cited section 6.2b which, in summary, states that an app can be rejected for any reason; even if the app has met all other guidelines set by Apple. There are a number of reasons why Apple could have rejected us: for criticizing the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO); for parodying the iTunes store; maybe even for taking a swipe at their money maker, King.com.

We've even reached out to a friend who works at Apple to see if there was any further information he could provide - to no avail.

Even though we aren't clear what the reason for our rejection was, the message is clear. The iOS app store is not a place for games trying to make a statement.

So What Can We Do?

Intern Saga is most definitely not going to be approved for sale on the app store, but at least we can talk about it. Part of the statement that Intern Saga is making is how we find that the curation of the app store is unfair for our medium.

From Apple’s submission guidelines: “We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”

Why are video games treated differently in this situation? Apple appears to see games as an inappropriate outlet for social discourse. The discussion about whether or not video games can be art is dying down and the accessibility gap to create games is shrinking. In addition, we are seeing more and more creators adapt the medium for their own message. Video games aren't just for mindless entertainment and because of that shouldn’t be defined by only the blockbusters. It’s an issue of perception, so how do we change that?

While your first thought might be to complain about or even boycott Apple; it’s their store front and they have the right to deny content. They are not the enemy, we are all collaborators. The best course of action is to catch their ear and change their minds. We aim to do just that to the people who make these decisions at Apple to discuss the treatment of games and their unclear rejection process. We will continue to look for opportunities to create and promote games that tackle serious issues. The Candy Jam was a great example of the community getting together to create for a cause. Mostly, to call out King.com and the USPTO.

As Jonathan Blow states, “If we had built a world where games routinely work with serious issues in ways that people care about, Apple would not be able to take this stance because it would not make any sense.”

Why Make Serious Games?

When you get angry and feel like no one will listen to you, you can always make something. It’s more productive than complaining and will, at the very least, force you to do some research and better understand the issue.

Video games are in their infancy as a medium. And while I find that many of the current serious games are rough around the edges, the only way we can improve on them is to just keep making them.

I make games as a matter of expression. Usually I just want to share all the cool ideas I have, but sometimes I need to express frustration too. Games can be used to engage players with important contemporary topics; just like any other medium.

In this situation, I turned to games. This was my first official foray into serious games and while it was short and clumsy, I now feel better equipped to express myself.

I encourage any developer who feels strongly about an issue to make games that tackle that topic. The only way to change the perception that games are simply for entertainment is to disprove it. We can all disprove this notion that games can’t mean anything by contributing to games that matter.


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Comments


Lance McKee
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I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this article. Thanks for writing it!

Wes Jurica
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While I can (and do) enjoy the humor in the game, bagging on the company you are trying to get to approve your app (iTunes, iFruit battery issues, etc.), in the app you are submitting, is not likely to gain their favor or approval.

My guess would be that the statement you are trying to make isn't in Intern Saga, but in posts like this one. The game itself was just a pawn in the plan to start a controversy and further an agenda.

Wendelin Reich
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I don't think your condescension is necessary - Apple is already condescending enough, not need to pile more on top of that.

And yes, we all understood that Ryan is trying to "start controversy". You use words like "pawn" and "further an agenda" as if Ryan were sneaky and disingenuous about this fact.

Wes Jurica
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This blog post is condescending. I'm just pointing out the subtext.

Aaron San Filippo
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Wait - so you actually think that Ryan's strategy was:

1. Spend time making an app that would be rejected by Apple
2. Make a post about it on a developer blog, stirring up controversy.
3. Profit!

Makes good sense to me.

Chip Sineni
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>>Why are video games treated differently in this situation? Apple appears to see games as an inappropriate outlet for social discourse.<<

This is a great article- thanks for sharing!

A lot of it is the public perception of market responsibility. If a song is vulgar or inappropriate, a user would blame "The Music Industry" for allowing it to be popular, for approving of it's existence. If a book is offensive or controversial, again it is the "Book Publishing Industry" allowed it to be made, approving for it's existence.

To the almost 1 billion iOS market devices sold market, if an app is offensive or controversial, it is "The App Store". The consumers don't see the difference of publishers or anything, essentially it is Apple saying they approve of this message.

It is a difficult issue to rectify, if Apple feels their curated approach to App Store is a market benefit to their customers over what GooglePlay offers

It is worth noting that other than GooglePlay, all other major markets (Steam, PSN, XboxLive) are curated can decline any game at anytime.

Ken Carpenter
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Google Play is also curated. They reject apps all the time. Their standards are just different than Apple's.

Just like Apple though, their rules are not applied consistently, so you get apps that make it through on one submission and get rejected later.

Andy Lundell
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It's different though.

Apple's devices are locked to the store. There is absolutely no way for them to publish this game to those users.

It's not like a television network where if users don't like the shows they can change to a different channel.

Michael Thornberg
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That's not entirely true.

https://developer.apple.com/programs/ios/enterprise

But doing that sort of backstabbing could *potentially* get you banned at Apple I suppose, but by then the damage would already be done. Just in case the are insistent about having their point being made.

Will Hendrickson
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They gave us the knife. I say stab away!

Kevin Fishburne
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"While your first thought might be to complain about or even boycott Apple..."

I actually had that thought many times, many years ago for reasons that didn't even affect me personally. Consequently Apple's been on my shit list for a long time, and have yet to give me a reason to remove them from it.

A shame that particular audience is going to miss out on your game, but as the old saying goes, "Now you know..."

Michael Wenk
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Interesting. However, not all that surprising. It is Apple's garden and if they decide they don't want something in it, that's it. They only have to follow anti discrimination laws, and fortunately political statements is not a protected category for private companies.

I say fortunately because I'm glad you failed. And it has absolutely nothing to do with your message. I don't like political crap (and that's what this is) in my entertainment. Write a non fiction book on it if you want. Send letters and lobby Congress if you want. We all have to deal with a ton of this political message crap as much as it is. When I want entertainment, I don't want political BS mixed in with it.

Rod Boyd
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Seriously? Just because you personally don't want that then it shouldn't exist? Next you'll be telling us that games shouldn't feature female protagonists because you, personally, identify more with brawesome dude characters. Come on.

Alexander Tulloh
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Awww, I often "political crap" entertaining, that's what some of the best satire is! I find it refreshing and fun when I come accross a game that expresses a world view past "collect all the stars!"

Domorat Bakaga
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I'm sorry, why wasn't I notified that Michael Wenk now speaks for all iOS gamers?

Rik Spruitenburg
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Are you somehow saying
a) That you think it's possible to make a game that doesn't make a statement?
b) You prefer these empty games?
and
c) You don't think other people should have the chance to choose for themselves, because your choice is the only valid one?

I can't agree on any point. Every game mechanic says something, and a good game builds on these things, like chess did.

Amir Barak
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but guys, he's totally right...
Clearly Deus Ex and BioShock (including Infinite) are some of the worst games ever made and nobody wanted to play them, right?? right?

I mean, who cares about all this political crap, after all it's just a way to push an agenda by letting people experiment with different ways to manage social groups. The Sims, yeah, nobody ever played that, also Civilization was also a load of crap. And probably EVERY strategy and tactical game ever made. How much better would've Wolfenstein be without all those pesky Nazis, right-on!

Game of Thrones, bah, no one likes that thing. Zombies, anyone remembers zombies, feh, just some ani-communist propaganda. Starship Troopers; so obviously bollocks, I guess Heinlein should've just gone into biographies.

And music. Don't even get me started on music. After all I can't think of a single good song ever that was written with some political crap in it.

Take out those yucky political agendas from my games I says! no more do I want to hear about evil regimes and terrible people or the exploitation of workers by companies!

I... I have a dream. Where we live in a place where games are simple mindless entertainment for the simple mindless masses. Where nothing of importance is ever mentioned in games and fiction and the landscape is Candy Crush Saga and clones from shore to shore... I have a dream.

And then I wake up and vomit.

Ashkan Saeedi Mazdeh
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You forgot flappy bird Amir.
The human world in 2014 thinks and talks and lives much more flappy bird than EVERYTHING else in this world. This is the human race.

Wendelin Reich
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What a depressing tale. The broader problem is that many people - as evidenced in some of the comments above - agree with Apple's stance. We would never let Apple or Amazon use the "it's our garden" argument to censor books, but with games, it's ok.

Part of the problem is, of course, that we use the word 'game' for things that should probably be called interactive experiences, interactive media or something. 'Game' implies fun, not only in English but in other languages as well, and fun implies 'not serious'.

I'm hoping that 30 years from now, we'll be able to look back at the absurdity and backwardness of an age that believed that interactive media - which may well become the dominant artform of this century - could and should be censored.

Wes Jurica
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If you are referring to my comment above, then you need not put words in my mouth. I would love it if Apple treated games like other mediums.

Wendelin Reich
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No I'm not referring to you.

Kenneth Blaney
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"Game" as a mathematical term in game theory suffers a similar public image problem, especially since many of the games in practical terms are super serious things with millions of dollars or peoples lives on the line.

Marco Tonetti
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I'm running a Kickstarter campaign for Game Developerz. Intern Saga feels just as satiric as our game. Shall we get in touch somehow?

Domorat Bakaga
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A tremendous shame. You have full support from Portable Gaming Region.

Kenneth Nussbaum
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This brings to light an issue i never considered. Also i'm upset because i really want to play your game. After spending weeks wrestling with the app store i could use some satire...

Roger Haagensen
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What Apple is doing here, with no recommendation for improvements or changes which one can extrapolate to mean there are none to make is borderline consumer rights overstep.

A consumer should have the choice to play or not play, to listen or not listen, to read or not read, to watch or not watch.

By effectively banning or denying a product from the Apple Store, Apple effectively takes away that choice.

One person in the comments stated they did not want political stuff in their games, fine, that is their choice, they can simply avoid those games.
But they want Apple to deny those games for him, how do that person known for sure if Apple has not denied games that he wants as well?

Apple could easily add a category "Political" and consumers could then easily ignore an entire category.
Considering the popularity of games like Tropico and Europa Universalis, and Skyrim and as others have mentioned Deus Ex and the latter two touches on politics and religion as well, I'd hate to see any stores denying the consumer the choice to buy or not buy these games.
Those consumers will instead go elsewhere which means Apple is loosing not just a sale but may cause that user to migrate away from their platform, which surely can not be the long term plan can it?

Then again, I regularly see store/shops all over the world that manages for some reason to make the purchasing process a pain in the ass, almost as if they wanted to make it difficult to be a customer/buy things, can that possibly be intentional?

Will Hendrickson
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Censorship is wrong in any context. In fact, I would even venture to say that this might actually qualify as an illegal move by Apple.

Please port your game to web and Android if this happens to you. And, add some smear in there for Apple as well.

It takes courage to stand up for your beliefs, if you have that courage you should speak out on consumer channels!

Kelly Kleider
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How is it illegal?

Will Hendrickson
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It infringes on our constitutional right of free speech.

Daniel Vargas
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Constitution only protects the right to free speech from government interference not from private entities. If you curse out your boss he can fire you, and you can't complain about free speech.

Pedro Fonseca
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Honestly, I don't think Apple did anything wrong or unreasonable here.

The game is clearly fueling a flame war on a specific recent occurrence and company; further into the game, things could even devolve into straight-up defaming of the company; that's a big no-no and not something I'd want my company or division tied to if I were in the "platform for other people to do their stuffs" market.

Had your game been named something else entirely, not being so blatant about what it's parodying and criticizing, I'm quite certain things would be different.

Criticize the practice, not the practitioner, that last part is the role of the state law and directly offended parties, not yours, you don't know the full story, you weren't specifically affected by it, so don't act as if you were and call names.

Roger Haagensen
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"you don't know the full story, you weren't specifically affected by it, so don't act as if you were and call names"

Who exactly are you talking to? You say "you" but you comment is a reply to the article author which is the developer of the game in question, and I certainly am certain he is directly affected by it and that he does know the full story.

Also: "Had your game been named something else entirely, not being so blatant about what it's parodying and criticizing, I'm quite certain things would be different."

I'm sure that being dishonest about what the game is about would have made things different, but if you need to lie to get games accepted at Apple that is clearly wrong.

Also about "defaming", Apple can not be held liable for games (unless they allow I don't know childporn or content that is a violation of criminal law), but that is not the case.
Somebody suing Apple for selling a game that they would consider defaming would not hold up in court. It is the publisher/developer that should be focused on in that case, not the retailer.

And that is the issue here, Apple has with their store a retailer monopoly, but they are not a publisher, I do not know anti-trust/anti-monopoly laws nor retailer regulations, Apple controls almost the entire iPhone mobile market, at least the desktop/Mac platform allows others to sell software for that platform.

A closed platform is a major issue like this, I don't follow closely what goes on with consoles but there are indie stores for those platforms now (or soon) but I can not recall games being denied without any reason.

The key issue here is "The concept of the app is not the sort of app we want in the app store".

Do note that there was nothing wrong with the game itself, no laws broken, no obscene or morally questionable stuff right?
It's like saying that you do not want a certain person in a political position, not because of evaluating their skills, or experience but just because you do not like black people, it's ludicrous to do such things, that is not how a civilized society is supposed to work.
If somebody at apple decided they do not want games or apps that make annoying sounds then half the games would vanish overnight.

Apple is due to it's dominance and almost pure monopoly denying the game/app from being presented to the market, and I'm not versed in European law but I believe it is stricter than US fair competition/free market laws, but you are not allowed to cockblock a product.

Remember, Apple did not make the product, they are not even the publisher, they are the retailer (in singular).

I'm not saying the developer has grounds for a law suit or could win one.
What I'm saying is that Apple might end up burning itself, the EU reacted harshly towards MicroSoft bundling IE with the operating system, but MicroSoft never prevented anyone else from providing a different browser, but the EU still slapped down hard on MicroSoft due to their dominance of the market (dominance, not monopoly), now Apple has a practical monopoly in this case.

As I said earlier, Apple can easily ads a class or grouping for "edgy" or "satirical" or "adult humour 18+" or whatever and let you the consumer decide yourself if you want to play the game or use the app. I'm sure there are those that just don't care and don't mind Apple filtering/thinking for them as to what they might want, but I certainly hope that is not the majority. And in the case of money (for games/apps that cost etc.) Apple is missing out on potential profit for no good reason, and as a investor that would rub me the wrong way indeed.

It's just bad / weird business and there is no logic to this behavior.
Before you know it Steam Mobile appears (I called it first, right here, now) and they do no have this issue, in fact Steam is going the other way they are opening up and giving even more control to the developers and publishers with dedicated mini stores even.
If Apple isn't agile enough they might get left behind in the dust, sure Apple can afford to waste money, but it's not good business to waste money for no reason is there?

Pedro Fonseca
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"You" in this case is indeed the article writer, and by "being specifically affected by it" I meant the whole absurd King lawsuit he is parodying, I apologize if that came out unclear.

Don't get me wrong, I agree and share the writer's view on the issue wholeheartedly, all I'm saying is that I disagree with the way he chose to criticize it.

The writer does not know all the nuances that came from the whole situation, as a result, I do believe that he was needlessly direct in the depiction of his critique.

Furthermore, it's a flame war that has sort of died down and sorted itself out already (at least on the major points that everyone cared and had an opinion about), so there is little to no point to fuel the fire once again at this point and age (and frankly, can be seen by some as an attempt of profiting on the controversy, being no better than the many Flappy Bird clones that plague all stores right now).

That being the case, a game about a company that does a bogus lawsuit and everything else, is all well and dandy as long as it's not blatantly clear that it's about King, if the hat fits, not the writer's fault, but this is not the case, the game is called "Intern Saga" for crying out loud, so it's obviously adding fuel to the fire, there's absolutely no need for that.

Considering all this, I see Apple's position as merely being "we don't want anything that'll fuel the controversy right now". Even if they're not legally tied to any issues that could surface from it, they're still public opinion tied to it, after all, people don't forgive companies when they use child labor and other illegal practices, even if they're not at direct fault (as in, the suppliers' documents stated that it was all AOK even though it is not), so I can totally understand a company wanting out of such drama.

Never forget, there is nothing blatantly wrong about a company wanting to not lose money (which could be the case on it allowing such a direct criticism of a big partner) as long as they don't do anything illegal or morally questionable to that end.

Is censorship wrong? Yes.

Is self-promotion at the expense of a controversy (be it intended or not) wrong? Also yes.

Again, make the criticism valid due to arguments, not the subject being attacked. King is not evil, its actions are; hence "criticize the practice, not the practitioner" as, quite frankly, the fact that such practice was legally sound to begin with is a way bigger and more worrisome trouble than a company exploiting it (but I fully agree that by doing so the company still deserves nothing but scorn, which everyone who followed the news is already doing, so no need for a focused satire of that).


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