Although the mobile gaming ecosystem is known for hosting live-service games that monetize more aggressively than standalone console games, there’s no shortage of creators making mobile games that don’t call for constant updates. Now, some indie developers are finding out what can happen when you put your finished games on the Apple app store and don’t update them for a few years: they can get delisted from one of the largest video game storefronts in the world.
I feel sick. Apple just sent me an email saying they're removing my free game Motivoto because its more than 2 years old.
It's part of their App improvement system.
This is not cool. Console games from 2000 are still available for sale.
This is an unfair barrier to indie devs. pic.twitter.com/7XNcLfiEcR
— Protopop Games (@protopop) April 23, 2022
Robert Kabwe is the developer behind Motivoto, a puzzle matching game that’s free to play and contains no microtransactions. On April 22, he received a notice from Apple stating that Motivoto would be removed from the App Store in 30 days, because it had “not been updated in a significant amount of time.” Kotaku reached out to Apple for a comment, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Apple’s email bore the subject line “App Store Improvement Notice,” suggesting that the company sees this culling of games that haven’t been updated in some time as a way to improve its digital marketplace. Kabwe, however, feels that the platform’s pressure to push out constant updates is “an unfair barrier to indie devs.” In a Twitter thread reacting to the notice, he stated that he was “trying [his] best to scrape a living from my indie games, trying to keep up with Apple, Google, Unity, Xcode, MacOS changes that happen so fast my head spins.” He argued that the update requirement was “arbitrary,” since Apple did not specify what type of changes it was looking for. Motivoto was last updated in March 2019.
Other developers have also been hit with “App Store Improvement Notices” informing them that their games are about to be removed, and they’re not happy about it. Experimental game creator Emilia Lazer-Walker pointed out that “games can exist as completed objects” and said that her free games are “completed artworks from years ago.” Unfortunately, it seems that people who want to experience these games will now have to ask the original artist to do the equivalent of a painter adding a dab of paint every few years to a work of art that’s already hanging in a gallery. Except the paint is code, and there’s a risk that updating the game will break it so badly that it “won’t run.”
Even if game developers fled the Apple ecosystem in response to these actions, Android is hardly any more welcoming to creators with limited time and budget. On April 6, Google announced that the Play Store would be delisting apps that haven’t been updated within two years of the latest Android version release.
Mobile currently represents 52% of the entire gaming market, and is projected to see even more growth in the future. It really sucks that the overlords of the biggest games storefronts refuse to see the value of preserving games based on their artistic significance, rather than the principle of infinite growth.