Hong-Yee Wong, CEO of IUGO Mobile Entertainment, has warned fellow iOS developers of the potential pitfalls of Apple's content policy.
Speaking to GI.biz from IUGO's Vancouver offices, Wong explained that a lack of clear guidelines is making it difficult for developers to take risks with the content of their apps and games.
IUGO was founded in late 2003 and develops games for a variety of platforms, but, like so many mobile developers, it has found its greatest successes on the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.
"Overall we've done amazingly well on the platform," he says. "Apple really changed the industry, and every developer thanks Steve Jobs for that. Apple really liberated developers to become creators of content, and made it possible to reach users worldwide very easily. For us it's been a game changer."
IUGO enjoys a strong relationship with Apple, Wong has first-hand experience of the problems caused by the inclusion of even mildly transgressive content - a tendency that Apple has been criticised for in the past.
The game in question was A.D.D., which took the WarioWare model of "very short, quick game experiences" and added "some edginess to it. There was a bit of toilet humour, a bit of rough humour... This is nothing more than PG, right? This is Apple."
"That didn't go down too well... Apple was trying to set restrictions but wasn't being clear with what they were, and we got stuck. That game was in limbo for eight months before it was finally approved. And when it was approved it was chopped down to less than half the game it was supposed to be. We suffered because we tried something too different."
A.D.D. was eventually released in late 2009, and even now Wong doesn't hold Apple responsible for the delay. "I don't blame Apple. They shouldn't be the moral police, but they are under attack from both sides."
However, while Wong understands Apple's need to enforce standards, the absence of clear parameters has made it difficult for IUGO to draw conclusions from the experience.
"We have no problem with that...as long as the guidelines are clear," he continues. "That's a big 'if', right? It's one of the biggest issues we have. For example, in A.D.D. we had an image of dog poo with a fly flying around it, and that was not allowed because you can't show animal poo. So you say, 'But wait, another app has it.' 'Doesn't matter, you can't have it.' It's a bit inconsistent, and that is hard for game developers to deal with."
When asked about the possibility of Apple being more transparent about its content policies, Wong admits that a definitive set of guidelines is unlikely. But the importance and popularity of the App Store to mobile developers will force developers to set their own boundaries for their games.
"The lesson learned for us was how to deal with Apple. I don't think there will ever be clear guidelines. It's not possible for them to do so. Developers should understand that and take their own risks. If you don't want that risk the stay far, far away from those edges. Play safe within that circle."