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Apple Bans Game, Days After Developer Publicly Trashes App Store

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Last week, game developer Tommy Refenes publicly called Apple's app store "awful" and "horrible." This week, Apple yanked his game from their store.

There are a couple of reasons that may have compelled Apple to remove Zits & Giggles, a pimple-popping game for the iPhone and iPod Touch, from the App store:

Possibility 1: Its co-creator did spend five minutes at last week's Game Developers Conference "Indie Gamemakers Rant" to declare that he "absolutely fucking hate[s] the iPhone app store." He likened the iPhone gaming market to that served by the low-quality Tiger handheld gaming systems of the 80s and 90s, handheld devices that played crude Mega Man and Street Fighter games.


Possibility 2: Zits & Giggles' creators also kept raising the price of their game — as an experiment — up to $400 as of last week.

But Apple hasn't offered Refenes any clues, leaving him only with theories. "They gave me no explanation at all as to why they took it down," the developer told Kotaku after trying to get an explanation from Apple all week. "I'm guessing they are mad that I said their store sucks and the iPhone is a Tiger handheld and they took it down."


Apple has not responded to Kotaku's request for comment

Zits & Giggles was launched in March 2009. Zits & Giggles is a simple pimple-popping game. It was co-developed by handful of game makers, including Refenes and Adam Atomic, the developer of the hit iPhone game Canabalt. The group made the game as a lark, a sentiment that was clear from the summary of the game that used to appear on the App store:

Will you continue to embrace good taste and sensibility, or will you have the courage and the fortitude to go above and beyond your duties as a patriotic citizen? This cultural milestone is not only the FIRST* but the MOST ADVANCED dermatological simulator ever released on the iPhone and iPod Touch.


Few people perusing the App store had any interest in Zits & Giggles in March of 2009. According to Refenes, sales were negligible.

In his rant last week, Refenes explained that, about five months ago, he raised the price to $15. It was an experiment. On the day he raised the price, three people bought the game. He said he raised the price to $50, and four more people bought it. Refenes was inspired and convinced that people who buy games from the App store aren't good at sniffing out good games. He would keep raising the price to see how many more people would buy the game. Fourteen people bought the game at $299 in February, he said.


On Monday, March 15, the day Zits & Giggles was removed from the App store, someone bought the game for $400, he told Kotaku.


One day after the removal, Refenes received an e-mail from an Apple official. The note, subject-lined "Your App Store submission Zits & Giggles," began with "We have been trying to reach you" along with a phone number to call but did not refer to the game's removal. After receiving the e-mail, Refenes figured out that his game had been pulled. He's been trying to get Apple to talk to him, by phone or e-mail, ever since.

Refenes, who is also part of the development team for the anticipated PC, Xbox 360 and Wii downloadable game Super Meat Boy, told Kotaku that he does not believe his game broke any App store rules.


Kotaku has sought clarification from Apple about whether the pricing experiment, which would have cost consumers far more money than Zits & Giggles is worth, violates any App store pricing rules. In 2008, Apple removed an app called I Am Rich that charged people $1000 for essentially nothing.

At the Game Developers Conference, Refenes called the App store to the "Tiger handheld game of this generation," a platform on which big brands are sold but where game quality is not the consumers' priority. The pricing experiment had confirmed this, he told his fellow game creators: "My conclusion to all of this is that the people you're selling games to on the App store, they're not necessarily gamers. There are some games that sell very well on the App store, but for the most part, when you have stuff like Street Fighter and Assassin's Creed, the are a way to sell a brand, just like the Tiger handhelds were. "

It is easy to believe that Refenes' March 10, 2010 rant, delivered a year after the game was launched and several months after the price started to climb, was the impetus for the removal of Zits & Giggles from the App store. But whether Apple made its move on March 15 due to discovering the app via the rant or to punish a trash-talking developer will remain a mystery until Apple speaks up.