[Update: Apple has apparently reversed its decision, listing Liyla and the Shadows of War in the App Store as a game as of Sunday. “This community is so amazing, thanks. Liyla is an Act of Humanity,” the creator wrote in a tweet in response to the decision. Apple didn’t offer any public comment in response to Ars Technica’s request.]
The creator of a game about a Palestinian child struggling to survive with her family in the 2014 Gaza Strip says the title was rejected from the games section of the iOS App Store because, as he puts it, “it has a political statement” “.
Liyla and the Shadows of War is currently listed on Google Play as an adventure game and features “challenging decisions, events and puzzles waiting for you” [sic]according to his online press kit. But Palestinian creator Rasheed Abueideh tweeted a rejection message in which Apple said the game was “not appropriate in the category of games” and that it would be “more appropriate to categorize your app in News of Reference, for example”.
The rejection didn’t go into details about where Apple draws the line between “Games” and “News,” but Apple’s App Store Review guidelines have laid out the way the company thinks since 2010: “We see apps differently than books or songs, which we don’t curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or make a medical app.” Those same guidelines also include a vague “I’ll know when I see it” standard for when content goes “over the line” in ways not specifically prohibited by the guidelines (Apple has yet to respond to a request for comment from Ars).
This vagueness has led to some inconsistent application of the rules, to say the least. Naomi Clark points to Twitter That Israeli heroesa Angry Birds clone about sending missiles at foreign-looking cartoon bombers, is currently listed in the iOS App Store under Games. Still, last year a number of Civil War-themed games were removed from the App Store due to images associated with the Confederate flag (Apple later attempted to reinstate some of those games and apps that used the flag for “educational or historical use”). )
Other examples of questionable iOS App Store rejections are almost too numerous to list. A “virtual reality journalism” app about the recent police shooting in Ferguson was rejected last year for “inappropriate subject matter.” Papers, please was initially rejected for short scenes of naked people in a body scanner, before Apple reversed the decision. Games have been rejected for exploring the ongoing Syrian civil war, investigating conditions in sweatshops, and teaching women about masturbation, among other things.
Of course, retailers and platform owners have the right to arrange their storefronts as they see fit, and game makers can always take their content to more open platforms. But when a company like Apple exercises total control over what can be sold to a large portion of the mobile market, it can have an undue influence on the direction of the entire market. Apple owes it to developers and mobile gamers as a whole to be clearer and more open about what speech it deems “appropriate” in the gaming world.