So you’re foolish enough to make satire for the App Store

We had what we thought was a pretty simple idea: release an ongoing series of short, silly, satirical games about the upcoming election.

Unfortunately, we decided to make it into an app. For iOS. Maybe you can see where this is headed.

One month full of reviews, desperate pleas, and phone calls with Apple later, we were rejected for being too “offensive,” satire be damned.

So today, we’re putting them all on the web for free at thegoparcade.com

Hey let’s make games.

As a group, we’ve had a general tendency to make stupid shit on the internet. We wanted to do something fun with the election, but it’s pretty well-worn territory, seeing as single-serving Trump sites/apps/extensions enter this world with a regularity akin to fruit flies. So we figured we’d try something a little different and do a whole series of games that would satirize the GOP’s positions on major issues like immigration, gun control, and defense.

Trump Toss, Good Guy with a Gun, and Bomb the Right Place

We made one game where you fling immigrants over the border as quickly as possible, one where you try to only give guns to good guys, and one where you try to bomb every country that could possibly harbor terrorists, all on an unlabeled map. They’re all very simple, very silly, very cartoony, and we thought, pretty clearly satirical.

Hey, um, Apple says our games are too offensive.

The first rejection came after a few days:

“Your app contains content that is offensive and would be considered objectionable by many users, which is not allowed on the App Store. We’ve attached screenshot(s) for your reference.”

Those screenshots were just screenshots of our screenshots for the app store. It looked like they hadn’t even opened the app. We replied back, asking “could you be more specific?” At this point we were naive enough to think replying to a message in iTunes Connect was any more effective than just shouting the same thing into sinkhole of medium-depth.

So we revised the screenshots and made the copy a little less, I don’t know, edgy? We submitted it again. And then we got this:

“Your app contains content that is offensive and would be considered objectionable by many users, which is not allowed on the App Store. Specifically, the app includes sections such as ‘Toss Trump’ and other well know figures.” (sic)
Tim Cook was all like.

Wait. What?

Search for “Donald Trump” in the App Store. You will find at least three games where you literally take a shit on Donald Trump’s head. And more where you physically assault Trump and other well-known figures. These games and the many like them are what made us think we could get our app published in the first place. The App Store is filled with a swath of garbage apps about politicians.

Apple allowed these gorgeous Trump themed apps in!

We reply back and, naturally, hear nothing. So we file an appeal, and the page tells us we’ll hear back in one business day. Exciting! Of course all you hear back is that you are under review. Then they tell you they’re going to call in three business days. Six business days later, one of us gets a call.

First, they wanted to know if any of us could be considered professional political satirists. Luckily, one of us is published in an anthology of political satire. Hooray! A while back, Apple had to allow this exemption after catching flak for not allowing satirists to release apps.

Next, they wanted an explanation of how each of our three games was satire. What could be more fun than explaining to a giant corporation why your jokes are funny? We went point by point, explaining how no, we don’t think it’s fun to deport immigrants back to Mexico, we actually think it’s insane and wrong and that’s why we portray it as a game, since some candidates think it’s a simple matter of throwing out the bad guys and making America great in the process.

At the end of the call, the Apple representative didn’t sound very thrilled, but said that given this reasoning she would take it to the review board. A quick sidenote here, we certainly don’t have beef with the individuals at Apple. We can’t even imagine how grueling it must be to call developers all day and tell them that the thing they’ve been working on for one-to-fifty months isn’t allowed.

Actual photo of Apple’s Dev Program call center.

A week and a few days later we got another call. Apple was rejecting it conclusively. No more appeals, no negotiation. Two reasons for rejection, the first what we’d dealt with all along:

“Your app contains content that is offensive and would be considered objectionable by many users, which is not allowed on the App Store. Specifically, the app includes references controversial current events. Additionally, it was determined that iOS App Store Review Guideline with regard to political cartoons exception does not apply to this political themed game.”

So apparently literally shitting on the most easily-offended candidate in recent memory is fine, but if you make his policy of deporting immigrants look silly, too much chance for offense!

And the second point, a new one!

“Your app contains content or features that include people from a specific race, culture, government, corporation, or other real entity as the enemies in the context of the game. Specifically, the app includes a game targeting different countries to bomb and targeting people from Mexico, which is not appropriate.”

Ah, bombing countries and targeting people groups. Pretty racy stuff! Too bad we didn’t have the good fortune of Middle East Airplane Riot Crisis : Pro or Helicopter Wars, the gist of the latter being “Save the world by flying dozens of dangerous missions in Cuba, Sudan, Iran, and North Korea.” Bombing a pixelated map of North Korea? Offensive. Bombing people in it in 3D? Fun!

We didn’t agree. But at this point, we didn’t have a choice. So what’s a developer of ultra-offensive political pixel art games to do?

Good thing we didn’t actually know how to build apps!

When we set out to make the app in the first place, there was one tiny issue: we didn’t really know how to build apps. We had pretty rough web development skills and one of us used to be super good at Flash in 2007 (goToAndPlay amirite bros???). If we were going to make a bunch of games, learning to build them all natively was going to be a drag.

Our new philosophy.

So, like cowards, we built the app with Phonegap Build and built the games with Construct 2. There were performance trade-offs to be sure, as well as the psychological shame of building the games without actually writing code, but for simple 2D concepts, it was super fast.

Once the App Store rejections started rolling in, we were incredibly glad we had been such cowards. We started rapidly tweaking the games to also work on desktop and Android browsers. We overhauled the site from a simple link to the App Store to a full-on library for the games, replete with obnoxious overlays begging you to turn your device 90 degrees to the right before the game starts.

It delayed us by weeks, and it certainly has more than few bugs left to be squashed, but now the games are finally available to play, and since they’re on the web, you can play them on just about any reasonably recent device with a browser (HTC Vive and Kindle DX support coming in Q4).

I guess the end of a Medium post is where you talk about lessons learned in the hopes that you’ll be hired for speaking engagements at tech conferences?

We don’t know. Maybe just don’t do satire for a platform where the review process is notoriously slow and opaque? Maybe just make stuff for the web where you have some kind of control? Maybe make better satire? Or less potentially offensive satire? Or only do it if you’re a sixty year-old editorial cartoonist?

Anyway, you should play with our stuff.

Check out what Apple thought was too offensive at thegoparcade.com