Apple’s iOS App Store policies have claimed another high-profile victim.
This time, it’s Unpleasant Horse, the first game by Popcap’s experimental 4th and Battery publishing label. Popcap is best-known for the Bejeweled series and Plants vs. Zombies, the latter of which was among the most popular paid iPhone apps of 2010.
Popcap spun off 4th and Battery to experiment with games that aren’t warm and fuzzy enough for the Popcap label. Unpleasant Horse looks cute and cuddly, but it’s actually quite sinister. From the game’s description: “Your idea of a good time is bouncing from cloud to cloud and on to the backs of other, cuter flying ponies, who will thus be sent plummeting to a gruesome, bone-chewing demise, thanks to an unfortunately placed series of meat grinders on the ground below.”
PC World’s Matt Peckham spotted a Tweet from 4th and Battery saying the game was rejected for “mature content.”
It’s tempting to bash Apple for arbitrary and unclear censorship policies, but the issue might be a little meatier than that. The deleted Tweet from 4th and Battery said the publisher will appeal the decision with “a higher rating.” In a follow-up Tweet, 4th and Battery said it hopes to get “an appropriate rating” for the game.
This suggests that 4th and Battery was trying to get away with a tamer rating than 17+, the most mature rating for iOS apps. If that’s the case, Apple’s not entirely at fault. Here’s the ratings form (via ReadWriteWeb) developers have to submit along with their apps for review:
As you can see, developers have to approximate the amount of mature content in their apps, and Apple decides whether that rating is appropriate. It’s a form of self-regulation that serves in lieu of a ratings body like the Entertainment Software Rating Board (the group that slaps ratings on retail and console games), but it can lead to situations where the developer and Apple disagree, resulting in a rejection.
With this in mind, I’m not ruling out the possibility that the rejection of Unpleasant Horse is a clever publicity stunt by 4th and Battery. If so, my apologies for taking the bait.