Fear of an App Planet

(Returning to our regular schedule.)

With Apple announcing an App store for the Mac following the App Store for iPhones and iPads, it’s worth pondering what this means for video games.

  1. It’s a great way to allow the distribution of games of different scope, so why is this the first major commercial internet-based software store for a major operating system? Seems so obvious. (Though Linux users have long had similar systems, though only for non-commercial software.)
  2. The Mac App store will have similarly strict and semi-random policies as the iOS app store. As I have argued before, I think the app store policies are ambiguous and inconsistently enforced by design: this has the desired chilling effects of self-censorship among developers, while Apple can claim that it intended no such thing.
  3. It has historically been the case that console games were heavily controlled and censored, while PC and Mac games allowed for freedom of expression. Assuming that more software sales move from boxed and regular web to the Mac App Store, we are going to see the Mac becoming less of a platform for edgy and experimental content. You can still get your software elsewhere, but convenience matters.
  4. And again: there would be an uproar if a major bookstore censored books according to Apple guidelines, so why do we accept censorship for games?
  5. Which means that the potential future in which all games on all platforms are distributed through app store-like channels … that is a potential nightmare.

7 thoughts on “Fear of an App Planet”

  1. “there would be an uproar if a major bookstore censored books according to Apple guidelines, so why do we accept censorship for games?”

    Guidelines are not censorship, they are just saying what they want in their store, which as a private company they have every prerogative to do. Does every bookstore always have a copy available of all your books? If they don\’t is that censorship or just part of their purchasing/inventory/sales practice to maximize profit in their store. As it stands the App Store will be one way to sell your software and not the only way, so allowing or disallowing apps is a question of commerce and not censorship. Let’s not drag inflammatory boogieman terms into this argument if possible.

    That being said, if the App Store does become the only way to get Apps then the policies do become a lot more troublesome. While it seems like that would not be commerically viable or wise from a PR standpoint considering the current computing landscape, it may be possible that Apple takes that slant at some point, and that would really be the point that the veracity of your claims will start carrying some serious weight.

  2. “why is this the first major commercial internet-based software store for a major operating system?”

    Games for windows (gamesforwindows.com) has had an ‘on demand’ game purchase system for some time, and has recently added “Games for Windows Live,” which is intended to be a sort of Steam competitor.

    So no, I don’t actually think Apple is first.

  3. The App Store guidelines have been freely available since September. They’re also being constantly updated (when a political cartoonist’s app was rejected the guidelines were changed to allow that kind of “defamatory” satire).

    You would have been right 3 months ago but Apple is doing a really good job with guidelines transparency and cooperation now.

  4. @Kimon That’s a valid point. There does seem to be a point at which we start considering something to be more of a public utility and start applying more general freedom of speech principles. The App Store seems to be such a case.

    @Greg Ah, forgot Games for Windows, but my feeling is that it failed pretty hard?

    @Michel I see what you are saying, but I don’t think Apple is quite there yet. I also don’t think they ever will be. After all, they are trying to take US standards and applying them to a store that serves the entire world.

  5. Apple guidelines are like the tenets of the Bible: subject to various interpretation. It’s really a Black box, nobody really what’s inside that box.

  6. To #4 – good question, and one which probably has several answers. One could be the expectation of content control for children’s and teen stories, extrapolated to games (often associated with teens and kids).

    Another is the long media history of controlled content. Apple’s Apps store and console games are just some of the most recent examples. Go back to the American Radio Acts (Hoover) for one antecedent.

    A third is the Jobs reality distortion field. This makes sense if we imagine another company doing the same thing. Imagine the reaction if (say) Microsoft issued such policies.

    Hopefully we’ll prefer the open Web…

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