It’s a tough time to be an app developer. At the end of last week, a number of them were sent an ultimatum by Apple: update your app within 30 days or it will be removed from the App Store. The company appears to have decided to purge any software that hasn’t been updated within the past two years, although its App Store Improvements support document refers more vaguely to simply removing apps that are “outdated.”
Nobody knows at this point how many apps are threatened with removal for being outdated, or for any of the other criteria listed in the support document. (It also mentions the removal of apps that no longer function as intended, a punishment which you’d hope would already be applied by a rigorous, well-run store that customers can trust.) But it’s likely to be a lot: one estimate reckons some 70 percent–more than 1.5 million apps–haven’t been updated in three to five years, let alone two. It has the potential to be a bloodbath.
The theory behind Apple’s crusade is difficult to argue with. Nobody wants defunct software and badly made cruft on the App Store, and separating the wheat from the chaff is a sensible idea that should have been implemented years ago. But a blanket rule based on the time since an update is the wrong approach. It will catch perfectly serviceable apps whose developers don’t have the time or resources to submit an update for an app that is no longer (or perhaps never was) profitable while remaining easy to game for unprincipled scammers with a few more programmers on staff.
The thing is, it just isn’t that easy to fix the problem of bad apps. The sad fact which must be faced by the proprietors of all immense software stores is that you have to either commit serious resources to police the quality of the software or accept that a significant proportion of it will be junk. To decide what’s acceptable quality and what isn’t, you need either humans or a very sophisticated algorithm. You need a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.
Burning the Library of Alexandria
Earlier this week we wrote about Texas Hold’em, an iOS game developed in-house at Apple that appears to be in violation of the company’s own rules. (It was last updated in October 2019, which may change in the near future if Apple wants to avoid the embarrassment of removing, or making an exception for, its own app.) But that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of classics on the verge of removal.
Browsing quickly through the games folders on my iPhone and iPad, it’s astonishing how many apps I quickly found that haven’t been updated in the past two years. I sincerely hope this changes, but here are 12 stone-cold killers facing the ax:
- You Must Build A Boat: Last updated November 2019
- Photographs: Last updated October 2019
- Fieldrunners: Last updated April 2018
- Fieldrunners 2: Last updated April 2018
- XCOM: Enemy Within: Last updated October 2017
- Drop Wizard Tower: Last updated September 2017
- Dream Quest: Last updated August 2017
- Ridiculous Fishing: Last updated August 2017
- Strategery: Last updated June 2017
- The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth: Last updated January 2017
- Cally’s Caves 3: Last updated June 2016
- Her Story: Last updated June 2015
Note that all of these games work fine on my devices. Indeed you could do a lot worse than downloading any that you haven’t played, in case they disappear next month.
There will be hundreds more examples. Look up the games you enjoy the most and you’re bound to find more. I should stress that Apple isn’t proposing to take them away from you; users who previously downloaded an app will still be able to use it, and it may even return to the App Store in the future if the developer plays ball and submits an update. But new players will be denied the pleasures of discovering many of these games, which is a tremendous shame.
This is the second great app extinction event, following the 32-bit cull in 2017, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Apple, on a corporate level, doesn’t like games very much. This is unfortunate, since the company, seemingly by accident, found itself a little over a decade ago in possession of the biggest gaming platform in history. With its low cost of entry and wealthy user base, the App Store attracted hordes of talented indie game developers and saw an unparalleled explosion of creativity.
The fruits of that creativity should be preserved, and it is troubling that Apple has shown so little interest in doing so. It wouldn’t be especially hard: as Macworld contributor Craig Grannell has repeatedly argued, Apple could have easily acquired GameClub, a subscription service devoted to the restoration and preservation of retro gaming classics, funded it properly, and folded it into Apple Arcade. (Craig looks at the issues of games preservation and emulation in an interesting piece for Wireframe.) But Arcade was designed from the first to focus on the new; even later, when the company quibbled on definitions and added older games under slightly new names, it focused on classics that were still a going concern, rather than ones in danger of dropping off the store.
In most cultural areas age isn’t regarded as a negative. We still watch silent films and read poems in dead languages. Many artists have struggled to be taken seriously in their own lifetime. But Apple, for some reason, still thinks games have a lifespan shorter than a good pair of shoes. And its repeated purging of the App Store’s treasures is nothing less than cultural vandalism.