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The Pocket Gamer Report: iPhone Pirates Ahoy!

Pocket Gamer | 1 Aug 2009 16:00
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Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Frankly, Lord Acton's famous phrase has enjoyed far more popularity than it deserves. Despite being neither elegant not particularly accurate, the sentiment resonates very powerfully in those cases where an individual or organization does happen to go mad with power. Nobody likes a bully.

Apple is bristling with power at the moment, and, in some cases, it can look like a bit of a bully.

Beyond offering a favorable 70/30 revenue split and a world-beating platform from which to sell games, Apple isn't known for its sympathetic approach to developers and publishers. The business terms may be favourable, but there's never any doubt as to who's in charge.

Obtaining an accurate release date for a game on the App Store is virtually impossible, which is a frustration we journalists share with the makers of the games. A developer submits his work to Apple and then at some point in the future, when Apple sees fit, it either goes live or it gets rejected, and even the biggest titles are vulnerable to this uncertainty. Flagship platform game Rolando 2 was due on the 1st of July, for example, but it didn't show up until the 2nd, with ngmoco filling the silence with frantic tweets.

"Neil: bleh! ok, so R2 still not live! v.sorry for radio silence - working super hard to get it live asap - it's imminent...again apologies!"

"MJ: Update: Really sorry to keep you waiting. We're still working furiously to get Rolando 2 live and will let you know the second it's out."

If Apple decides for some reason that an approved game isn't suitable, off it comes, as abruptly as it appeared, without consultation with the publisher or developer.

Just two weeks ago, the embattled puzzle game Edge suddenly vanished. "We did not pull it," Mobigames's David Papazian said. "We don't know exactly why it has been pulled [and] we don't know if the game will come back. Maybe it will in some territories, but it does not depend on us. We are as surprised as many people, I think."

Of course, unfriendly opacity in the approval and rejection process doesn't necessarily constitute bullying. There are more than 13,000 games alone on the App Store - if Apple entered into exhaustive correspondence with every developer it would never get anything done.

However, in other areas of its business Apple's behavior is less easily excusable. A few months ago, Pocket Gamer and other sites published a story based on a Twitter post by a developer claiming that a massive proportion of users had pirated his company's game. It didn't seem like too big a deal as a story - piracy is just a part of life in the videogame industry - but shortly after we put it live the developer got in touch to ask us to please remove it.

Why? Because Apple had watched the stories sprouting up from the seed of this Twitter post (which promptly disappeared) and was displeased with what it saw. Letting people know about piracy stats sent out the wrong sort of message, and so an Apple employee had promptly called the developer to convey the company's displeasure.

Not all App Store developers are as wary of Apple, as Abraham Stolk demonstrated this week by revealing on his blog that 96 per cent of the people who had played his game The Little Tank that Could had stolen it.

But by and large, developers have been reluctant to speak out about iPhone piracy, given the extent of the problem. Next week an article will go live on Pocket Gamer exploring the issue of iPhone piracy, and many of the publishers and developers who agreed to comment for the piece insisted on doing so anonymously.

Developers know what could happen if they publicly acknowledge that the iPhone is vulnerable. They might get away with it, but they might not. Apple might call them and ask them what the hell they're doing. And, though it's never happened to our knowledge, they're probably even a little concerned that Apple will divest them of their lunch money.

Pocket Gamer is Europe's leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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