“Censorship is telling a man he can’t have a steak just because a baby can’t chew it.” – Mark Twain
As you can imagine today I’ll be talking about the future of my mobile games and… it’s not a bright one. First of all: I always made the mobile versions more to please my fans, and even if Google+Apple+Amazon together were bringing in some nice extra revenues, all of them combined still weren’t more than desktop sales (Steam+Itch.io).
However, as you can imagine making builds for 3 different platforms was a lot of work, and if I compare the time spent with money made, probably not worth it. First adapting to mobile, then testing. Every time I wanted to build an app, it was taking several minutes, which for someone used to Ren’Py instant run on desktop is a lot. Then, problems with various devices, very difficult to debug and fix bugs, having to use an external coder for iOS, people losing access codes, and so on. You got the idea.
Developing games cross-platform is good, but only if your games are big sellers. Mine obviously aren’t, so instead of a benefit, it was becoming a burden.
The censors are here!
Now for those who don’t know what happened, in the last weeks Google Play suspended my account. I can’t access my developer panel, I can’t check sales, I can’t do anything anymore. All is gone. Why? Because of repeated violation of their “sexually explicit content” policy.
Now before we go on, I’m all for protecting children against adult content. Smart companies like Valve just made an “adult only section” of their store and restricted the content, so everyone can enjoy what they want without censorship. But the thing is, my games on mobile were already censored (by myself) by removing the most suggestive images. So what were they complaining about?
If I understood correctly, beside the app content, even the store listing imagery had to be “suitable for a general audience or removed from your store listing”. Below there are some pictures that are considered not suitable for a general audience. It might be a cultural difference because I live in Europe but you can see much more explicit images on perfume ads everywhere in Europe…or just by going to the beach.
When I got the suspension I made an appeal and it was rejected, but at least in that email was listed exactly which ones of these various suspensions were the ones that triggered the deletion of my whole account (because I didn’t know at all). The real issue was with some images in Bionic Heart 1 & 2. They’re below:
Are they right or not? For someone living in Europe, even the last two pictures are nothing so explicit, but I guess depends on the country/culture. If you search for “perfume ads” images you’ll see much worse stuff that appeared on TV, magazines, billboards, etc. When you grow up and seeing naked human body is normal, it’s hard to even only understand what you’re doing wrong!
In the end though, it’s their store and they can do what they want. If tomorrow they wake up and only games in black and white are allowed, we must obey. If they decide that visual novel as genre must be banned, they can do it. Is it right, is it not? In the end, doesn’t matter.
Even if both Apple and Amazon (they have an Android appstore) never bothered me with any of this, also because it’s really not clear and depends on interpretations, it might be just a matter of time. Indeed this whole thing taught me a lesson, that I cannot really trust 3rd party companies which have a monopoly over a platform/device.
I mean, with desktop games in the worst case I can still sell them myself on itch.io or other sites (even if Steam is much more friendly now). But mobile? If Google Play was my only source of income, today I would be writing a blog post “sorry I’m quitting indie dev” 😛
Anyway, for now I haven’t made my mind on what to do. I started building the APKs to put them on itchio, but talking with many other devs they confirmed my fear, that basically nobody buys anything outside the official appstores. This is real, behind the scenes, data. Not what you could read in forums or posted by some marketing guys “this game XYZ in our custom Android store made a million!” yeah sure. Then when you talk to the actual devs who are free to speak anonymously, the truth comes out.
Add to this that sales on appstores were on decline already, the extra support and work to strip them down from the IAP features and so on, this made me think that for now I better use my time to work on my next games.
I don’t know what will happen in future yet, but the only sure thing is that if you’re looking to play Planet Stronghold 2, or any of the upcoming games, your best bet is to get them on desktop devices.