Apple has been rejecting some mobile games from the iOS app store for displaying guns in their promotional material and app store icons. So far, the regulation hasn't had an impact on actual in-game content.
First reported by Pocket Gamer, mobile developers began receiving rejections from Apple on "iTunes Connect," the portal through which the company provides feedback on app store games, in late January. The change was sudden enough that developer Orangepixel, which had released its mobile game Gunslugs II on January 16th, first learned about the new policy when it tried to release an update for the game roughly two weeks later, Orangepixel's Pascal Bestebroer told Kotaku in an email.
"[The] rejection was only about one screenshot," Bestebroer said. The image had been approved by Apple previously for the game's original release. "The update was rejected by Apple because of the 'violence' in the screenshots (side note: Gunslugs 2 uses pixel-art, tiny 12x12 main characters and 1x1 blood pixels)."
Bestebroer said that the impression he got from Apple was that the company was that the promotional material for Gunslugs II had to be appropriate for a "4+" age rating:
The idea behind it, from what I understand, is that even tho the app has a 12+ rating, they do need icons and screenshots and basically the store-page to be 4+ rated. So screenshots should not show anything that is below the 12+ rating.. which is a bit hard to do for most action games.
Two of the mobile games that received rejections from Apple—Gunslugs II and Rooster Teeth vs. Zombiens by Team Chaos—only feature cartoonish depictions of firearms or toy ones. Here's a screenshot from Gunslugs II for a point of reference:
And the icon for Rooster Teeth, which was altered to omit an illustration of an NES toy gun:
Apple therefore appears to be cracking down on any and all images of guns, regardless of how realistic or violent those firearms may be.
Appears to be. As is often the case with stories about the app store, it's difficult to assess the extent of any impact from a change in Apple's decision-making process, thanks in no small part to the company's own silence on the matter. I spoke to Apple briefly on the phone about the games in question here and the app store's regulations more generally, but did not receive any official comment or information about the app store's standards, and whether or not they had been changed recently to influence depictions of guns.
Orangepixel didn't end up changing the offending material, choosing instead to push back on Apple's decision.
"I tried discussing it with them," Bestebroer said, "explaining that if I search for 'zombie' or 'call of duty' on the app-store I get a lot more violent images then mine...finally I posted about it on my blog."
The blog post, titled "Apples rejection freaks me out," brought more attention to the issue. After that, Bestebroer said, "the game was approved within an hour or two." He's also released another update since then, which "got approved without problems." Bringing more publicity to an issue often helps resolve it, other developers told me, though that doesn't always leave either the developers in question or the general public with any additional information.
Other developers haven't had the same success pushing back against Apple like Orangepixel did. Since the regulation only applies to promotional material rather than actual in-game stuff, it's much easier for developers to change the icons or screenshots for their game than appeal Apple's rejection—a process that could preclude a game from receiving valuable updates.
It's not clear how wide-ranging Apple's new regulation is, or how many mobile game developers have been affected by it. Pocket Gamer's story identifies four developers who've received rejections from Apple. When asked, a game developer confirmed this story for Kotaku but later asked us not to publish what they had said.
If you're a mobile developer who's been affected by Apple's new regulations or have any other useful information, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq.
UPDATE (6:55 pm): I spoke to a spokesperson for Apple who was not willing to provide any statement or information to me on the record, but did provide me with some information about app store policies that might have had an influence on the games mentioned in this story. I've update the story to reflect this, and will do so again if I receive any additional information or statements from Apple or other game developers.