UPDATE (4/13): I had a great conversation with an App Store rep today. Yes, a conversation. Yes, with a person.
I got some clarity on the rules. Political satire, in general, wasn’t the problem. Poop emojis (and a few other things) were. We talked through some potential changes to the game and while I hate to count chickens before they hatch, I think we’ve come up with a way forward. “Trump Flushed” may see the light of day. More to come soon, but big thanks to Apple for taking the time to talk it over!
Bad news on the KevCol Labs front: I had hoped to release my newest iOS game “Trump Flushed” this week, but it was rejected by the App Store review for objectionable content.
In the rejection, the Apple reviewer wrote “Your app includes content that many users would find objectionable and offensive.”
And that’s true. This is a game about the President of the United States flushing himself down a golden toilet to avoid FBI capture. Some MAGA fans will be offended, guaranteed.
See for yourself:
Case closed, right? Well, let’s check out Apple’s actual rule:
1.1.1 Defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content, including references or commentary about religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, national/ethnic origin, or other targeted groups, particularly if the app is likely to humiliate, intimidate, or place a targeted individual or group in harm’s way. Professional political satirists and humorists are generally exempt from this requirement.
(Emphasis added, source: App Store Review Guidelines)
Note the bold bit at the end. Apple “generally” excludes “professional political satirists and humorists” from the objectionable content.
My game is clearly political humor, but am I a professional political satirist?
The last time I asked Apple, they said yes.
See, this is my third political satire game submitted to Apple. The first two, “POTUSpalooza” and “Hillary’s Email Adventure” were approved on the political satire exception. I had a longer-than-usual review times — and, yes, had to appeal — but both games were cleared and available in the App Store, after I explicitly requested the political satire exception.
That’s important: Apple’s exception is for the author, not the app. Apple basically told me, “Yep, we think you’re a professional satirist. Good luck with the app.”
Not once, but twice.
So I built a third app. But this time, my game was rejected even after I cited the satire exception.
I’m the same guy with the same LLC dedicating to making humorous political games. The App Store rules seem largely unchanged (I’m going by memory here, but I don’t think the political satire exception has changed at all.)
So what’s changed? Is “Trump Flushed” simply too raw, too gross and too offensive for the App Store?
Obviously, I know Donald Trump is a polarizing figure, so I did a little research before designing the game. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t out-of-line with Apple’s political humor sensibilities. Here’s what I found:
The most popular political game in the history of the App Store (or any store) seems to be “Trump Dump.” This game features a Flappy Bird-styled obstacle course and a bald eagle defecating on an anthropomorphic pile of excrement meant to represent our 45th president.
My banned game has Trump colliding with Alt-Poo characters (poop emoji with KKK hoods — a future release would’ve added Tiki Torches.) Sure, that may offend some fine people, but it seems to me to be far more mild than morphing the president into a living, talking (grunting?) pile of shit.
(BTW, I wholeheartedly agree with Apple approving ‘Trump Dump’ on the political humor exception. Potty humor may not be your thing, but the game reached No. 2 in the App Store, so it struck a chord with Americans.)
There are other iOS games where users can punch Donald in the face (“Trump Punch”) or games where the object is to avoid being grabbed by the self-proclaimed pussy-grabber (“Trump Escape,” which looks pretty cool, actually.)
Or if you like pooping birds and Trump, there was also “Special Delivery for Hillary,” which featured bald eagles defecating on the popular-vote winner.
There are many more examples, but that sampling makes pretty clear that the App Store does allow political satire. Some is mild, some less so. Some is sophisticated, some less so. I’m biased, of course, but I believe “Trump Flushed” falls well within the bounds of these published games and Apple’s written guidelines.
In short …
Unfortunately for me, the App Store doesn’t have to be fair. Apple owns their store, and can pick and choose what they want in it. I understand there’s no First Amendment protection here. I took a risk by assuming my third political satire game would get the same treatment as my first two — so that’s on me.
Still, I’m asking Apple to reconsider.
I love Apple products, and I love programming for iOS and tvOS. I also appreciate the fact that the App Store is managed, and screens out malware, scams and other truly dangerous apps. But I truly don’t think political satire is dangerous, and I don’t think Apple leadership wants the App Store to be a no-go zone for legitimate political satire, humor, ideas, etc.
Hopefully, I can win over the deciders at the App Store over and release “Trump Flushed.” In my last rejection, I was offered a phone call to talk things over. I’ve sent in my contact details and will hope for the best,
But I realize the power dynamic here: Apple is the world’s biggest company, I’m a guy with a silly indie game and a blog. All I can do is make my case and hope Apple will “Think Different” on my appeal.
And, if not, well, I dunno … maybe I can start a Kickstarter to hire a developer to port the game over to Android.