Apple’s app review process remains a costly, unpredictable mess for many game makers, even as the App Store approaches its 15th birthday.
Game developers large and small have told us that app review guidelines are still enforced recklessly and sometimes apparently at random. This continues to damage games businesses as studios waste time and money arguing with Apple to simply update their game or release a new title.
Yet app review is also quite easy to trick if you know how: one source noted that they got through review repeatedly by creating new developer accounts with photoshopped forms and fake business addresses, taken from nearby McDonalds restaurants.
“Apple sees itself as above the law on what it means to be a good developer partner,” said another source. “They do not offer consistency or helpful advice, and hide behind their vague policies.”
Naturally, the developers we spoke to did not want to publicly criticise Apple, so to protect them we’ve anonymised their comments.
The below accounts come from game developers of all shapes and sizes, and bring into focus just how infuriating it is to run the app review gauntlet, even today.
We have contacted Apple for comment.
‘We just gave up and focused on Android’
“We’ve had many issues with Apple over the years which have wasted time, resources, thousands of dollars and missed revenue opportunities.
A major one I recall is a three year-old game suddenly getting non-stop rejections for a variety of inaccurate reasons, and each rejection was different. On rejection number 12 Apple used policy 4.2: “This is not entertainment”. It was impossible to work around.
Ultimately we just gave up and focused on Android where the game is still super popular.”
‘You can just switch on features remotely after review’
“You see these reports of, like, VPN apps that just steal data from your phone? That stuff is so easy to get through review. You can submit a basic app or game with a new developer account and switch on features once the app is through review.
We’ve submitted games for review without what Apple might consider a controversial feature, but just turned it on remotely later.
This is something that would be pretty easy to systematically find if Apple was actually looking at the code, but this whole process is just superficial bullshit.”
‘Apps from new developers don’t get checked’
“It’s actually easier to just launch a new game than it is to update an existing one, because that means fighting with Apple all the time.
I had a friend with a hook-up app that would tell you exactly where the other person was so you could just walk right up to them…giving away someone’s exact location is a big no-no if you read the app review guidelines, for security reasons. But it got through review no problem – we think because it was a new app from a new developer.”
‘Another developer already owns that IP’
“We were about to launch a new game, and Apple rejected it because ‘another developer already owns that IP’.
The owner of the IP was us – we were trying to release a sequel on the same developer account we’ve always had.”
‘We photoshopped documents and used McDonald’s addresses’
“We were doing games that were like lots of other games – you know, solitaire, mahjong, that kind of stuff. And we knew that it’d be easier to get through app review using a new developer account, so we asked ourselves: ‘how could we easily set up a ton of developer accounts?’
We discovered that Apple doesn’t really bother checking whether your company is real or not during the verification process. We got our artists to photoshop the documentation and used different McDonald’s as the company addresses. An Apple representative would call to verify we were real people, and we’d get approved.”
‘We were releasing clones that’d get through review no problem’
“If they don’t like something about your game but can’t tell you exactly what it is, they’ll tell you it’s spam. We used to get this a lot.
We’d have phone calls with them and it was clear they were digging in on this game being spam. You’d get an email saying your app is in review, then you’d get another one 30 seconds later saying it was rejected – there’s no way they were actually checking each submission.
The thing is…at the time we were also literally releasing clones of other games and they’d get through review no problem.”
‘Your screenshots do not reflect the gameplay’
“We seem to be in a never-ending battle with our screenshots getting rejected. Suddenly – and more often in the summer – an update would get rejected because the screenshots were not close enough to the gameplay, even if it’s just gameplay with a banner on the top.
Sometimes it just goes through again when you resubmit, but other times the rejections keep coming. It’s incredibly frustrating because most of the apps that Apple features have screenshots that are quite far from the actual in-game look…and as always, its impossible to get clear answers on what you can fix to get them approved.”
‘We got approved by using our connections’
“We built a referral system for our game which Apple rejected, saying that you are not allowed to provide incentives for new players to play the game.
They referred to a vague section of the policy and our team had to jump on a call with them multiple times to explain how we were compliant. Just coordinating those calls was brutal given we had to cater to the reviewer’s schedule.
All the while our build is stuck in review and is blocking multiple other features and bug fixes being released. We ended up sending them numerous examples of other games with the exact same referral mechanism that we had.
After showing them all of the evidence and our justification, they would still not budge. Eventually, someone in our leadership team talked to someone they knew at Apple, and it was approved.”
‘We know they’re not actually playing the game’
“They reviewed our current game and it got through review in like 10 or 20 minutes. But for updates sometimes we’ll get a rejection saying they can’t find the ATT consent pop-up – but it’s literally the first thing you see when you open up the game.
So we have a folder of screenshots that we attach when we submit for review that show them we have ticked all the boxes, knowing that they won’t actually play the game. Those screenshots seem to satisfy them.”
‘Nothing is actually reviewed properly’
“There’s no way they’re looking at the code of every game. My theory is that it’s based on the developer account somehow.
If we got rejected, we’d change like one number in the code, submit it again and it’d go through. All of this is adding up to me thinking nothing is actually reviewed properly.
Google’s review process at least finds actual software problems – SDK violations, ad stuff – whatever it is, they’d find it. If Google can do it why can’t Apple? This doesn’t seem to happen on Steam either.”
‘This system will fuck you’
“If you’re a little developer and you want to make a fun little card game, this system will fuck you. But if you’re a big developer you can really just do what you want.
And it goes against Apple’s whole holier-than-thou ‘we treat everyone the same’ thing – everyone knows that’s bullshit. Why are Netflix and Roblox getting away with all the shit they do?”