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Apple's Rejection of Binding of Isaac Illustrates an Ignorance About Games in General

The App Store rules the mobile gaming market, yet Apple continues to treat games like an afterthought.

News by Nadia Oxford, .

If you've not yet had a chance to play The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth, hopefully it's because you're not holding out for an iOS version of the game. Though Nicalis submitted the game to the App Store, it was rejected late last week because it "Contains content or features that depict violence towards, or abuse of, children."

Talk about the "Well, duh" statement of the century.

Initially released in 2014, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is a remake of 2011's procedurally-generated top-down action RPG, The Binding of Isaac. Rebirth features improved graphics over the original, as well as added content. It's on a number of platforms, including PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and New Nintendo 3DS (those latter two were a struggle, though -- more on that in a bit).

Despite Rebirth's cute graphical style, you don't have to spend much time with the game to uncover its unsettling content. It is a game about a boy who suffers awful abuse at the hands of his religion-crazed mother, and the titular Isaac is a parallel to the Isaac of the Old Testament, whose father, Abraham, was prepared to sacrifice his firstborn son at God's command. Disturbing stuff to be sure, but hey, the Old Testament did it first.

Either way, it's not hard to see why Apple took one glance at The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth and said "Nope."

And that's exactly the problem. The Binding of Isaac is an iconic game. Aside from simply being fun to play (if not brutal thanks to its permadeath mechanics), The Binding of Isaac can be regarded as a title from a time when indie games were starting to draw more dollars and attention thanks to the rise of digital publishing platforms and YouTube Let's Plays. In other words, it has history that Apple has chosen to ignore.

It's not at all invalid for Apple to have concerns about hosting a game that's effectively based around child abuse. But the form-letter rejection pushed on Nicalis founder Tyrone Rodriguez indicates Apple likely gave little thought to the rejection, but simply saw cartoony graphics depicting a kid getting hurt, and hit the "No" button.

Rodriguez also correctly points out Rebirth is hardly the only game on the App Store wherein kids get hurt or even killed. After all, The Walking Dead is parked there. So why does Telltale's tale get a free pass? At the risk of sounding cynical, I'd lay money on the fact Rebirth looks like a Flash game (that's how the series got its start, after all) leading Apple to reject it as some trollish joke game about hurting kids. Which ties back into my "Apple doesn't appreciate game history" complaint.

It needs to be said Nintendo initially rejected a Nintendo 3DS port of The Binding of Isaac -- for its religious content rather than its violence against children, interestingly -- and that rejection likewise made Nintendo appear out-of-touch with the indie game market. But staff within Nintendo got the company to change its mind, eventually leading to the recent Wii U and New Nintendo 3DS ports of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. Nintendo made a mistake, but it listened to its staff in the end

We can hope Apple will likewise be brought around by internal staff with a deep appreciation for games, but given the sheer enormity of Apple, it's not likely. If Apple does change its mind about Rebirth, it'll be because of the current backlash the rejection has caused, not because it's open to learning a lesson about the game it turned down.

This incident, combined with the sheer amount of copyright-destroying crud that is approved for sale on the App Store, is a sad reminder of how little Apple cares about games. It's a problem, because iOS is overwhelmingly the platform of choice for mobile gaming.

As long as Apple treats its game market like an afterthought, mobile gaming will never reach its fullest potential. And given how many kids are currently being introduced to video games via their parents' devices, that's a bit worrying.

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Comments 21

  • Avatar for AxiomVerge #1 AxiomVerge A year ago
    Basically any action game with a child protagonist is banned? Zelda, Yoshi's Island, Star Tropics, Boy and His Blob... I guess Nintendo's mobile plans might not work out how they thought.
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  • Avatar for SuperShinobi #2 SuperShinobi A year ago
    Steve Jobs never cared about video games and as Tim Cook is doing his best to continue Jobs's legacy, it means that games are not high on the agenda. I don't really care about what Apple thinks about video games to be honest.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #3 nadiaoxford A year ago
    @BigPrimeNumbers Yeah, the Papers, Please thing is the same breed of problem. :/ Also: Whenever there's an iOS update, a lot of games on the App Store shatter into a million pieces, some of which never come back, and something tells me Apple don't care much.Edited February 2016 by nadiaoxford
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  • Avatar for ravikanodia79 #4 ravikanodia79 A year ago
    Mistake in the article. In the bible, Isaac is the would-be victim of the sacrifice (not the perpetrator). "The Binding of Isaac" refers to Abraham tying his son up in preparation for the sacrifice.
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  • Avatar for scarritt #5 scarritt A year ago
    It's too bad that iOS is the only mobile operating system. If only there were something else they could release it on.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #6 nadiaoxford A year ago
    @ravikanodia79 As you can tell, I paid *very* close attention in Hebrew school.
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #7 SatelliteOfLove A year ago
    "Bully advocates bullying! You play a bully"

    *headesk*
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  • Avatar for UnskippableCutscene #8 UnskippableCutscene A year ago
    I think this is more of a poorly written rejection letter than anything. The game is in very crude tastes for a number of reasons and I wouldn't be surprised if there's at least a few triggers in there for things that Apple doesn't want to see in any app.

    Ultimately this will be debated down because, well, the rejection letter says specifically violence against children, but I won't argue that's a weak cover. I mean, Five Nights at Freddy's 4 is essentially an anti-bullying tale that ends with violence against children in an Apple II graphical style that looks even indie-er than Isaac. But there's a lot more than just that concept. There's a lot of controversial content beyond that, my stomach churned a bit at some of the grotesque on display in that game.

    The real question I have in regards to this editorial is that if Apple has content restrictions, and we all know they do and that they believe in them, should a game get a pass if it has reached success on other platforms? I think that double standard is probably unfair to iOS centered devs.
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  • Avatar for duvjones #9 duvjones A year ago
    @UnskippableCutscene
    You know, this would be sad if it wasn't so common. The history of games in the iOS ecosystem is littered with tales of very blank statements of refusal from Apple Inc. And as much as they do have an expectation of quality, it would be rather nice it some of Apple's guidelines were.... you know, published?

    As much as I am not really up to Binding of Issac (not my taste personally)but this is very much an insult to developers time and resources to go though a process that is very much a black box and popularity contest, only to be refused outright. I have no real idea why developers continue to endure that when they don't have.
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  • Avatar for TheOldMan2084 #10 TheOldMan2084 A year ago
    I've had an Iphone for awhile now and I have had very little positive experiences with games on it. I'll download something and play it for a half hour, then never touch it again. I don't think mobile will ever be my platform for games. So this doesn't bother me in the least. Though it's pretty silly to be banning games in this day and age.
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #11 KaiserWarrior A year ago
    Apple has a long and storied history of being an awful platform to play video games on, so there's really nothing new or surprising there. Hopefully this'll get worked out sooner rather than later, though.

    I would hope that this little incident might also serve as a teachable moment for some people, something along the lines of "it's a little different when it's a game you care about, isn't it?"... but I'm not holding my breath on that one.
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #12 Jericho-GM A year ago
    @nadiaoxford@ravikanodia79 is right. Please correct your article, if nothing else than to at least to remove the subtle irony in it. I know no one cares about the Bible these days but, hey, some people might feel the same about The Binding of Isaac. ;)

    Other than that, the article is spot on. I like mobile gaming (gasp), so I hope Apple would improve the way they approve games for their store. It's completely criminal that people can play thousands upon thousands of drivel and yet truly special games like these get rejected.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #13 nadiaoxford A year ago
    @Jericho-GM It's fixed! I apologize; I meant to fix it as soon as@ravikanodia79 pointed it out, but I got side-tracked.
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  • Avatar for Jericho-GM #14 Jericho-GM A year ago
    @nadiaoxford No problem. I didn't want to know who these Old Testament geezers were either. :)

    I blame the 2009 Jack Black sweat and sandals epic Year One, where Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays Isaac.Edited February 2016 by Jericho-GM
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  • Avatar for GeoX #15 GeoX A year ago
    I don't get it, really. You can play it on a Mac, but mobile Apple devices are forbidden because...?

    (I mean, not that I really want to play it anywhere; I find the "look how transgressive I'm being" schtick pretty tedious--but it still doesn't make sense to me)
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  • Avatar for SevenBones #16 SevenBones A year ago
    @AxiomVerge Nintendo has stated numerous times that their mobile games will be built from the ground up for mobile platforms and their classic titles will stay on their systems so Zelda, Yoshi's Island, and others won't be there in the first place (or at least not in a form similar to their dedicated console brethren).

    But this is a little sad, especially since Apple has no problem letting their store be flooded with copyright violating crap and IAP nonsense.Edited February 2016 by SevenBones
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  • Avatar for docexe #17 docexe A year ago
    It’s not the first time that Apple does something like this (as somebody else mentioned there was the case of Papers Please, but also things like Sweatshop which wasn’t rejected but rather took down from the store), but it is equally regretful.

    The worst part is what the article concludes: Apple owns such a sizeable part of the mobile market that, unless they change their politics and start taking games more seriously, mobile gaming will never reach its full potential.
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  • Avatar for Thad #18 Thad A year ago
    @UnskippableCutscene You're talking like Apple's standards for permitting an app are clear, published, and consistently applied. They are none of these things.

    Apple has been rejecting apps for baffling, unclear, and inconsistent reasons for as long as there's been an App Store. That's Apple's right as a private company; they can choose to publish or not publish an app for their walled-garden platform for any reason they want, or for no reason at all -- and it's my right as a consumer to buy an Android phone.
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