What The iOS Game Removals Say About The Entire Store

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Apple’s overreaction in the midst of the recent retail push against depictions of the Confederate flag has already generated some good articles before I had the chance to write or pitch anything. I seriously suggest you read the one by Mike Williams at USGamer. It get’s to part of what I see as the heart of the matter in regards to Apple — that it still doesn’t really care about video games. We’ve gotten this feeling for a while in regards to art and serious issues, but I think this is just another sign of what’s possibly the source of all the problems with the iOS game market.

Basically what happened was Apple looked at all these iOS games with any Confederate flag depictions whatsoever as merely boxed products — no different from the Confederate paraphernalia Amazon and eBay are banning from their stores. This is how war simulations like Ultimate General: Gettysburg were pulled regardless of context. The USGamer article (and I’m sure others) goes over the history of how Apple weighs App Store games on a different scale than the one it uses for movies and books and so-on. The developer of Ultimate General even pointed out how the 1993 film Gettysburg is still available on iTunes because it’s recognized as using Confederate imagery in appropriate historical context. The article linked above eve has Apple’s full quote on its policies: “If you want to criticize a religion, write a book.” Apple is currently working to restore some games, including Ultimate General, but I think that separation between how Apple treats games and books on iOS pretty much says it all, not just in regards to games that tackle serious issues but also Apple’s categorization of games in general.

People who play conventional video games dislike Apple and mobile gaming for a bunch of reasons. I personally think the iOS market is the biggest thing hurting the games on the platform. Apple allowed the price race to the bottom to happen without any regulation and pretty much allows downright fraudulent clones that only barely skirt copyright infringement to persist. I think Apple allows these things because all it really sees in games are buttons to make people keep spending money.

Apple only started to look like it cared about video games after this current market established itself and money was made. Games pretty much became the most popular kind of iOS app by accident, and only afterwards did we see things like Gamer Center and Metal. Only afterwards did Apple actually start advertising games and doing some things to promote games on its store. I think Apple now cares about games as an industry where people spend money, but not as a medium.

Apple cared enough about music to deliberately initiate iTunes and the iPod and wax about how important music is to culture. Apple cares enough about music now to start Apple Music and ink a billion dollar deal with Dr. Dre. Apple cares enough about movies and TV shows that it’s trying to work out a deal with content providers for its own streaming service. Apple cares enough about books to establish iBooks as a separate app and store with its own price regulation while getting in deep with the publishing industry. Even magazines have their own app and store. Games started out in a little corner of the app store and eventually took it over, so Apple had to begrudgingly acknowledge them.

I feel like if Apple cared about games to the same degree, they would have their own entire store within iTunes and their own app from which to categorize and launch them. Apple would probably have started talking to the existing big game publishers as well to try to get their support. Lastly and maybe most importantly, Apple would probably have tried to regulate game prices similarly to how it regulates prices for just about everything else. In general, Apple would probably have started talking about games the way Sony did in 1994. Maybe the way Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo regulated things has been too slow and stilted which is how mobile outmaneuvered them, but if Apple cared about games to begin with I think it would have gone in with at least a slightly greater degree of regulation. Apple not believing a video game is capable of respectfully depicting events like Gettysburg is just the latest sign of a fundamental problem with its game market.

I probably won’t be able to find the link, but I think in an old Gamesindustry.biz story someone from Apple expressed regret at not wrangling games on the App Store early on. Even if it wanted to though I don’t think Apple could go back. The current mobile game market has become entrenched. New companies have arisen and gotten powerful in the environment we now have.

Amazon seems to care at least a little bit more, at least enough to try to build first party development teams, but it’s hasn’t proved as disruptive as Apple. Apple is a powerful force in the distribution of media and the proliferation of platforms. It’s just a shame it didn’t use that power to try to deliberately affect the game industry the way it deliberately affected the music industry.

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