Our upcoming game “Smash MAGA: Trump Zombie Apocalypse” was rejected from Apple’s App Store. The purported reason for rejection was “Inappropriately Referencing the COVID-19 Pandemic”. The rejection came during the App Review process after submitting a beta test version through Apple’s TestFlight software.
Smash MAGA! depicts a dystopian society ravaged by police brutality, political corruption and the rise of the “Trump Zombie Plague” in which right-wing extremists are becoming zombified: “All the Toxic MAGA Propaganda had Rotted out their Brains: These Rotten Husks of Fascist Flesh Feasted on Fake News”.
There are no explicit references to COVID-19 in Smash MAGA. Although many scenes in the game are recreations of real-world events, such as vaccine conspiracists attacking a hospital and the Capitol Hill coup attempt, and one of the weapons is a gun that launches masks, the game is political satire and should be considered a legitimate form of free speech. As we do not present ourselves as official sources of science-based information concerning COVID-19, we do not believe our game should be banned from the App Store.
The ostensible purpose of Apple’s COVID-19 content restrictions is to restrict the dissemination of false COVID-19 information by limiting apps to only official sources, but it’s overly broad and inconsistent application, especially as it relates to entertainment apps, amounts to censorship.
This is not the first time Apple has banned games from the App Store for COVID-19 themes. Florian Mueller filed anti-trust complaints with the European Union and the US Department of Justice over the rejection of his game, “Corona Control”. Eventually the game was rebranded as “Viral Days” without specifically referencing the coronavirus and was approved for both Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
There are other “plague” games on the App Store, including “Plague Inc”, in which the object of the game is to spread an deadly infectious disease and “bring about the end of human history”. Other games based around viruses and plagues include “Infection Bio War”, “Virus Plague: Survival Wars”, “Bio Inc. – Biomedical Plague”, “Biotix: Phage Genesis”, “Survival: Wasteland Zombie”, and others.
Additionally, it was announced a few weeks ago that Apple has decided to allow Parler, the right-wing social network where users have exchanged COVID-19 conspiracy theories and white supremacist hate speech, back on the App Store. Parler users have been tied to hate crimes and the platform was instrumental in orchestrating the Capitol Hill coup attempt last January.
This rejection takes place as the App Review process is under close legal scrutiny during the trial hearing Epic’s lawsuit against Apple for refusing to allow Fortnite on the App Store or from releasing their own app store on the iPhone. Apple’s refusal to allow iPhone owners the ability to run the software of their own choice on their own devices is an extension of their monopolist ambitions based on outdated ideologies such as intellectual property and proprietary hardware.
We demand that Apple stop censoring app submissions based on political content, that they allow iPhone users to install Smash MAGA! and all other apps of their choosing without being restricted to the overly sterilized milquetoast walled-garden App Store.
We plan on attempting negotiations with Apple’s App Review team, but we refuse to fundamentally change the core concept of the game. If Apple continues to reject us, we will still provide iPhone users the ability to play our game by providing detailed instructions on sideloading or downloading our game through alternative app stores.
We also plan on submitting the game to Google Play, Steam, and providing direct downloads for Mac OS X / Windows / Linux platforms.
We are currently inviting people to play a limited beta version of the Smash MAGA! If you would like to test the game please sign the subscription form at https://www.smashmaga.com and specify what platforms you would like to test it on.
The official rejection from Apple:
“Guideline 1.1 – Safety – Objectionable Content
We found that your app includes content or concepts that are not appropriate for the App Store.
Specifically, your entertainment or gaming app inappropriately references the COVID-19 pandemic in the metadata or binary. Users rely on the App Store to find apps providing essential medical services and safety information. To help users easily locate this content, entertainment or gaming apps that directly or indirectly reference the COVID-19 pandemic are not appropriate for the App Store at this time.
While your app’s current content or concept is not appropriate for the App Store, we would welcome a new app from you in alignment with our App Store Review Guidelines that is not focused on or related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For additional information regarding Apple’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, please refer to the Ensuring the Credibility of Health & Safety Information update on the Apple Developer website.”