As Apple Threatens Pulling Games, Devs Explain Why Forced Updates Are A Preservation Nightmare

As Apple Threatens Pulling Games, Devs Explain Why Forced Updates Are A Preservation Nightmare
Image: Apple

Although the mobile gaming ecosystem is known for hosting live-service games that monetise more aggressively than standalone console games, there’s no shortage of creators making mobile games that don’t call for constant updates. Now, some indie developers are finding out what can happen when you put your finished games on the Apple app store and don’t update them for a few years: they can get delisted from one of the largest video game storefronts in the world.

Robert Kabwe is the developer behind Motivoto, a puzzle matching game that’s free to play and contains no microtransactions. On April 22, he received a notice from Apple stating that Motivoto would be removed from the App Store in 30 days, because it had “not been updated in a significant amount of time.” Kotaku reached out to Apple for a comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

Apple’s email bore the subject line “App Store Improvement Notice,” suggesting that the company sees this culling of games that haven’t been updated in some time as a way to improve its digital marketplace. Kabwe, however, feels that the platform’s pressure to push out constant updates is “an unfair barrier to indie devs.” In a Twitter thread reacting to the notice, he stated that he was “trying [his] best to scrape a living from my indie games, trying to keep up with Apple, Google, Unity, Xcode, MacOS changes that happen so fast my head spins.” He argued that the update requirement was “arbitrary,” since Apple did not specify what type of changes it was looking for. Motivoto was last updated in March 2019.

Other developers have also been hit with “App Store Improvement Notices” informing them that their games are about to be removed, and they’re not happy about it. Experimental game creator Emilia Lazer-Walker pointed out that “games can exist as completed objects” and said that her free games are “completed artworks from years ago.” Unfortunately, it seems that people who want to experience these games will now have to ask the original artist to do the equivalent of a painter adding a dab of paint every few years to a work of art that’s already hanging in a gallery. Except the paint is code, and there’s a risk that updating the game will break it so badly that it “won’t run.”

Even if game developers fled the Apple ecosystem in response to these actions, Android is hardly any more welcoming to creators with limited time and budget. On April 6, Google announced that the Play Store would be delisting apps that haven’t been updated within two years of the latest Android version release.

Mobile currently represents 52% of the entire gaming market, and is projected to see even more growth in the future. It really sucks that the overlords of the biggest games storefronts refuse to see the value of preserving games based on their artistic significance, rather than the principle of infinite growth.

Comments

  • This really must be frustrating for devs. I know the guys that made SpaceChem also allowed their game to be delisted rather than have to start needlessly tinkering with their finished product, and you also now can’t get the Shadowrun games I don’t believe on that platform, even though the mobile ports were great. Similar(ish) reasons I think – just too much work to stay current with iOS requirements and Apple Store policies.

    Sucks for the devs and also for the people who really want to play those games still!

  • It goes up there with loads of apps being able to be downloaded or played simply because Apple decided a few years back now to let certain bit versions work any more. I believe I’ve still got the english SMT1 that Atlus released a few years back still installed since its impossible to retrieve any more.

  • Apple specified an update, so surely something petty like a title art update would be enough to get it across the line unless they have to do major code updates for each new OS. But this is Apple, of course it’s because they want people to do that shit too.

    • Even pettier, they don’t have to change a damned thing, just re-build with the most recent SDK.
      However, doing so can introduce bugs: functions and methods of doing things get deprecated, and suddenly you have a whole headache of trying to rebuild things in a new way, because Apple arbitrarily decided they didn’t like the old way anymore.
      I’ve had issues where I couldn’t even build an app in a new version of the SDK because things were missing or changed.

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