Apple has added depictions of guns and violence to its growing, frustratingly vague list of content deemed inappropriate for the App Store.
That's based on reports from multiple developers who have been asked to alter promotional materials posted to the App Store pages for their products. According to Pocket Gamer, the first site to report on the apparent change, two developers came forward saying that games and updates were being rejected on the basis of accompanying screenshots.
Those developers - both working on "high profile shooters" - asked to remain anonymous, but there is other evidence of a shift in policy. The screenshots for Tempo, a new iOS shooter from Splash Damage, feature either pixelated guns or display clear signs that guns were removed after the fact.
Another recent example is the confusion over Orangepixel's Gunslugs 2, which was released to the App Store without complaint on January 16, only to have an update rejected two weeks later, based on a single screenshot.
In a statement issued to Kotaku, Orangepixel's Pascal Bestebroer said: "The update was rejected by Apple because of the 'violence' in the screenshots (side note: Gunslugs 2 uses pixel-art, tiny 12x12 main characters and 1x1 blood pixels).
"The idea behind it, from what I understand, is that even tho [sic] the app has a 12+ rating, they do need icons and screenshots and basically the store-page to be 4+ rated. So screenshots should not show anything that is below the 12+ rating, which is a bit hard to do for most action games."
For Orangepixel, the issue was resolved after Bestebroer posted an article to his blog expressing frustration and confusion over the matter. The update was subsequently approved without changes, and another went through without a hitch.
And yet the problem persists. Another game, Zombiens from Team Chaos, was forced to remove a Nintendo light-gun from one of its character's hands and replace it with a club - the latter, of course, being a far more deadly and threatening weapon by any measure.
And though there are games that haven't been asked to comply with the same standards - a significant problem in itself - that will do nothing to dilute the impact of these decisions. The fact that some developers are experiencing difficulties of this kind will be a clear incentive for a huge number of others to play it safer and safer. And in an environment that already stifles creative expression to a baffling extent.
Apple's apparently prudish attitude towards sexuality and nudity has been demonstrated on several occasions, most prominently in the problems faced by HappyPlayTime and Lucas Pope's Papers Please - the latter rejected for the truly absurd suggestion that it contained "pornographic" imagery. The Cupertino-based tech giant also goes weak at the knees when faced with political subject matter, as the removal of games like Auroch Digital's Endgame: Syria and Littleloud's Sweatshop HD would suggest.
And through it all, Apple has remained notoriously silent on the exact nature of its content standards, leaving developers in a state of complete uncertainty when it comes to even relatively innocuous creative decisions. The fact that guns and violence are only now being regarded as a possible cause for concern - as opposed to sex and politics - just undermines the apparent objective of making the App Store a family-friendly and accessible environment. There are few stiffer challenges to happiness than a loaded gun, after all.
Kotaku did speak to an Apple representative, by the way, but left with no statement or on-the-record information regarding App Store content standards. For now, though, it seems that the problem with guns and violence extends only as far as promotional materials.