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,

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 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.