Apple has repeatedly shown its contempt for gaming, and the company still hasn’t changed.
Developer Tyrone Rodriguez, founder of studio Nicalis, revealed that Apple has rejected The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth from the App Store (first reported by EuroGamer). The game has players taking on the role of a boy named Isaac whose mother has trapped him in her basement. As Isaac, players must traverse the monsters and other dangers of the dungeon in an effort to escape. This is a satire of the Biblical Binding of Isaac story where God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Apple’s reason for rejecting the game version of this story is that it portrays violence against children. This is another example of the company’s double standard when it comes to video games, as you can find plenty of depictions of violence against children on iTunes. You can even purchase products from convicted abusers on iTunes.
Apple’s treatment of games is a problem because it controls an enormous market. The App Store makes up for at least half of the $30 billion mobile gaming business. And since iOS is a closed system, consumers cannot easily choose to bypass the App Store to download banned titles if they want. This means players and consumers in the iOS ecosystem are at the whims of Apple when it comes to the software they can choose to load on their devices.
For Apple, this is typical. It thinks of games as less than films, books, and music.
C'mon, wtf… Apple pic.twitter.com/aEygkjqH2b
— Tyrone Rodriguez (@tyronerodriguez) February 7, 2016
The iPhone company has repeatedly censored games for their content. We’ve reached out to the company to see if it wishes to comment on this story and further explain its reasoning. We’ll update this post with any new information.
Developer Edmund McMillen, who was the project lead on The Binding of Isaac, shared his disappointment in Apple with us.
“It’s very obvious that Apple doesn’t think games are art or have any respect for the medium,” he told GamesBeat. “It’s sad and very ignorant of them to stand by such a stupid and laughable statement. They basically just told every game developer out there that video games are kids toys with no artistic merit.”
McMillen thinks this is especially nefarious when you look at how Apple encourages developers to engage in free-to-play money-making tactics aimed at children, which pads the company’s bottom line.
“Yet [Apple is] the same people who allow and encourage obscenely abusive and manipulative money-making tactics in their games marketed toward children,” he said.
In the past, we’ve covered how iOS games like Puzzle & Dragons try to use mental tricks to coerce people into spending money. These include exploiting people in moments of weakness — like threatening to take a player’s items away when their character dies on a boss at the end of a long dungeon unless they pay $1 to continue.
But while Apple makes huge profits from mobile releases (App Annie notes that 75 percent of App Store revenues comes from games), it doesn’t have a problem stepping in to decide what experiences its customers should have access to.
In 2013, the tech giant blocked Endgame: Syria, a title about the real Syrian civil war, from the App Store. That same year, it removed Sweatshop from its software market for exploring the conditions of working in a third-world manufacturing plant.
In 2014, Apple rejected the sexual-education game HappyPlayTime, which encourages women to explore their sexuality.
And Apple has no problem proclaiming that games don’t deserve the same consideration as other mediums.
“We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate,” reads Apple’s guidelines for app developers. “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.”
Apple has the legal right to do this, of course. This is not illegal government censorship. But regardless, it could have a chilling effect on the kinds of expression developers wish to partake in. Why risk losing out on potential revenue because Apple thinks games should explore certain topics?
Developer East Side Games actually completely avoided developing an iOS version of its Pot Farm: Grass Roots game about running a marijuana-growing facility. Instead, it made a title about junk food for Apple’s device while you can get the real Pot Farm on Android.
In an already risky gaming market where mobile is so crucial, Apple’s dismissive attitude toward gaming is the kind of external pressure that could keep developers afraid to take chances. And that’s a power Apple should reconsider wielding.