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Phone Story dev criticises App Store "regime of censorship"

Molleindustria game pulled hours after launch, founder says devs "censoring themselves"

The latest game from indie developer Molleindustria was pulled from the App Store on Tuesday, just hours after its official announcement.

Molleindustria has a reputation for tackling controversial themes, including big oil in Oligarchy, and child abuse in the Catholic Church in Operation Pedopriest.

Phone Story is a satirical mini-game collection themed around the human and environmental cost of the explosion in smartphone production.

The 99c app includes games based on a string of suicides at a factory operated by Foxconn in Shenzhen, China, and the social and political upheaval surrounding the mining of coltan in the Congo - a mineral widely used in smartphone production.

In both cases, the events on-screen are accompanied by a voiceover explaining the reality of the issue. Molleindustria pledged to donate all proceeds from the game to organisations that fight corporate abuses and seek to improve working conditions.

A post on Molleindustria's website explains that Phone Story breached four App Store guidelines:

  • 15.2: Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected
  • 16.1: Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected
  • 21.1: Apps that include the ability to make donations to recognized charitable organizations must be free
  • 21.2: The collection of donations must be done via a web site in Safari or an SMS

Molleindustria contests the violations of 21.1 and 21.2 on the grounds that the company, "simply pledged to re-direct the revenues to no-profit organizations, acting independently."

Speaking to Gamasutra, Molleindustria's founder, Paolo Pedercini, revealed that Apple had agreed to accept a new version of Phone Story if it complied with the guidelines.

"A new version of Phone Story that depicts the violence and abuse of children involved in the electronic manufacturing supply chain in a non-crude and non-objectionable way... will be a difficult task," said Pedercini.

"But the truth is that there is no way to know what's 'excessive' and 'objectionable' in Cupertino."

Pedercini insists that he is "very familiar" with the App Store's guidelines, and deliberately built the game with them in mind. The goal was not to discourage people from buying smartphones, but simply to raise awareness of relevant issues surrounding them.

"This happened before with fur coats, diamonds, cigarettes and SUVs - I can't see why it can't happen with iPads."

However, the larger problem is the reaction from other iOS developers, who Pedercini believes are living in blithe acceptance of guidelines that stifle creativity and free expression.

"The unanimous reaction from developers community has been, 'Wow, it's incredible Phone Story made through Apple's review process,'" he says. "To me, this signals a full acceptance of a regime of censorship, the equivalent, for developers, of what journalists call the 'chilling effect'."

"I'm sure that Apple doesn't spend that much time in policing its marketplace, because the developers are already censoring themselves."

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Matthew Handrahan

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Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.

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