the future of my games on Apple (post-Catalina) and what this means for art games in general

Recently I posted a Twitter thread about OSX Catalina blocking all my games…

…since I’ve been getting people asking me about that, and there doesn’t seem to be much anyone can do at this point other than throw their hands in the air and move away from Apple (if you’re lacking the resources to support your own work other than just making it).
FWIW, I lack the resources to support my own work other than just making it. I’m already struggling, so decisions like this hit people like me the hardest.
Realistically speaking, I’m surprised I’m even still around… so ok, that’s where I’m at (important to understand once I go over what the $100 annual fee means).

The issue is that if you run my games post-Catalina, you get things like this:

There are still ways around that. For example, here’s a post about how to open apps from unidentified developers on Catalina.
Here’s a screenshare that someone on Twitter was kind enough to send me, also showing how.
Overall, it’s still almost possible to run my work, but a lot harder… In other articles that I read, they’ll be cracking down on this more, especially post 2020.

“Apple says that to make the transition easier on both developers and Mac users, notarization prerequisites have been adjusted until January 2020”

I think this is the start of a very unhealthy direction for desktop to take. I don’t read any of this as a positive development, especially knowing how hard it is just to have art games on iOS.
The future doesn’t look good if you intend to distribute your games outside of the App Store.

In my thread, I said that I would break down my situation so here it is…

I’m not the only developer who has said something about this. The Catamites wrote a thread, ValiantCheese has a very insightful Patreon post detailing the future of Mac Support that highlights a lot of issues with Apple’s problematic decisions regarding hostility toward developers, and Molleindustria has a post about notarizing your applications for macOS with a Franz Kafka book cover appropriately illustrating the process involved behind doing that.

Basically Apple decided that all apps (including ones that third party developers distribute outside of the App Store) must be notarized.
On the surface this might seem like it’s about security, but it’s hard to view it as that (as anything else but a move to control content) when developers will have to pay a $100 year annual fee just to keep distributing games that run on the OS. There’s a quality control process attached to that which I’m really not excited about. (As of writing this, and from all the reading that I did) You have to submit software through them, and you need their tools…
I was looking into the requirements and I cannot afford $100 a year. I simply do not have the resources for all the other stuff that comes coupled with that requirement. It’s inexcusable and just wrecks using their platform for the actual “games as art” and software experimentation that they like touting.
If this were really about security, this would be a one time fee. If this were really about security there wouldn’t be so many other requirements attached to it.
It amazes me how software monopolies can say “for security” and nobody will question how that is even being implemented, or why.
Why the yearly fee? Why so proprietary? Why this walled garden? Why is non-Apple approved software becoming harder and harder to have on my system?
I’m of the opinion that totalitarian decisions that completely exclude huge bodies of work are not about security.
IF this were really about security then the policies would be different and more accessible to small devs or experimental art. It wouldn’t cost me this much just to exist on their platform.

Sweeping decisions like this, including removing support for 32-bit apps, is incredibly detrimental to creative freedom on the desktop. It kills any type of history we have. It arbitrarily forces us to keep things current that can’t really be kept current anymore. It erases our past. It’s detrimental to even having a history, preservation, or literally any body of work.
It’s not necessary.
Our idea of progress shouldn’t come coupled with destroying the past. This is counterproductive to the art movement in games because art requires an actual history. We can’t have that if we’re constantly losing work from the small devs that don’t make enough money to be important to large corporations like Apple.

Here is why this is upsetting to me…

I love playing games on itch. I love downloading these experimental art games. Much of this work isn’t necessarily “small” in its cultural relevance. A lot of really influential games artists have work on itch.io. I’m one of those too.
When I download things, I get reminded that a work someone put out there is 32-bit and it won’t be supported.
I’m trying to run it, and I have to get past gatekeeper just to play it.
All this work that exists out there, by artists (some fairly influential) is work that we don’t have access to and will lose.
Most of us don’t have the resources to cough up arbitrary fees, and keep updating our stuff, especially when newer versions of Unity break builds… it’s a lot of work just to go back and update everything so it can run.
Apple’s vision involves us constantly updating work, constantly adding to our games, constantly paying to exist here, even when some of this stuff is done. Often when a game is done, it’s done. Games aren’t a service. It’s like asking for a director to keep updating a movie, or for a musician to keep changing their song so it can keep running.
Decisions like this erase our history.
A lot of preservation efforts focus on preserving only the popular, famous, or financially successful things. We would do well to consider the loss of work from LGBTQA artists who can’t really exist on the App Store because the topics in their games would violate Apple’s terms and conditions… so now we see the realm outside of the App Store turning into this. Decisions like this have the effect of curating culture to be a certain way. It keeps the platform exclusionary with how inaccessible it’s becoming, gatekeeps art, and keeps creative voices out that we need. Not all artists are rich enough to cough up such fees or have the resources to keep updating things.
Apple should not be a curator. You shouldn’t dictate what type of content gets distributed outside of your stores.
If this is about security, again, why all the other conditions that are coupled with it? The yearly fee makes it so much more inaccessible.
“Games as art” like Apple keeps touting since their Apple Arcade, happens outside of the mainstream. It’s small devs that contribute to the discussion. Itch.io has done more for the “games as art” discourse than Apple could ever hope to accomplish with their draconian policies. The hypocrisy of all this is so upsetting because the iOS App Store rules basically prohibited a lot of art for a long time. Things like nudity, or (in my games) glitch art and error art… would get the game removed from the store. The way these policies are enforced is temperamental, depending on who reviewed your work for approval or removal.
There’s so much writing over the years about games that have been taken down, at no notice, over whatever arbitrary policy that got selectively enforced that it’s ridiculous how such a company can turn around and say “games are art” when launching a platform like the Apple Arcade.

Apple has a long-standing history with being fairly horrible to developers or artists making stuff that’s more unusual.
My experience of having my work on the App Store for iOS has been nothing short of a nightmare.
It’s impossible to exist on their stores outside of the realm of what they deem “normal”.
I guess it’s safe to call games art only after all of us (the one’s that suffer the most under these policies) have laid the platform for large corporations to sweep in and streamline the movement.

My own experience with having my work on the App Store for iOS has been incredibly difficult, and expensive. I took a loss to exist there, made no money, and constantly fought with them over tiny details in my games.
Things like this impacted me because my work throws back to a lot of visual styles. I have error art all over it. I also have historic UI’s in my games.
They REALLY didn’t like that.
In one of my games there’s a tiny icon in the corner that read iCacahuetes. One of the reviewers saw it and said that it conflicts with their copyright policy (no iWhatever). So I had to take that out and wait another week.
The next reviewer saw the “blue screen of death” art and said that it conflicts with copyright (it’s Microsoft) as well as simulated error not being allowed. So I changed that too. After that it got arbitrarily rejected for another reason… so at this point I changed so much about the game that it wasn’t even my work anymore. It didn’t reflect any of the things that were important to my work. Simulated error, glitch art, brokeness, historic UI’s are deeply important to me because they reflect a computer history. None of that was allowed. I had to change my games.
Other games of mine went through the same. It felt very much like censorship.
What was ridiculous about all this, including the iCacahuetes rejection, is that there were other apps literally with iSomething in their title that weren’t being taken down (and here I am being rejected for a tiny detail in the corner of the screen, which by the way wasn’t even an “i”)… similarly, other games had glitch art in them. Someone randomly decided that mine can’t.
So what I describe has been an issue that other devs have struggled with too. Apple very randomly determines what can and can’t go. This is hostile toward art movements, like experimental games, because “quality” can easily become a form of taste. Quality like Apple’s has always been extremely subjective.

Having my work on the App Store was a loss for me. It didn’t make money, which I was OK with if it meant putting my games in the hands of fans that really appreciated it… they eventually made another policy change and I couldn’t keep going through their approval process (when they make a change, you often have to re-submit new builds of your work, hence going through the approval process again). I was tired of having to change visual things about my work, so I let my account expire.
This was for the App Store for iOS. Other developers have had similar nightmare experiences having games in the App Store for desktop. Certain things are just not going to be allowed there.

This is all fun and good. It’s their store, they can enforce whatever view of quality they want, but now that we see this decision making process impact games outside of their store… I’m really worried about what all this means.
It’s really concerning if you’re a developer that has had to deal with all their guidelines in the past.
This type of behavior has an impact on art movements coming from outside of the mainstream. There are so many alt games that deal with sexuality, nudity, glitch art, (especially queer games) or play with your computer system (in safe but interesting ways), that this all stands to be destroyed if companies like Apple stick to their vision of what a desktop should be.

I’ve said in past posts that my desktop work would never fly in their App Store. Here’s what I mean…

Cyberpet Graveyard is a collection of folders (literal folders). These folders are structured in a way to be like “choose your own adventure”. You dig through these folders and find apps that are creatures (if you open them). It turns your desktop into a game.
Because it’s NOT a standalone application, but rather 40+ exe’s/app’s strewn about in a folder, something like this would not even be accepted on the App Store. It’s too unconventional.

Another of mine, A_DESKTOP_LOVE_STORY, is similar. It’s also a folder in which two files live. This “game” tasks you with sending love notes between the two. These two files (two separate applications) actually save generated .txt files and images and ask you to put them into the other file’s folder. The premise is that “this love can’t happen due to system administrative privileges” so it needs a sysadmin to help. This is literally true. I use the restrictions of a computer system to design a game. State is also saved in a really interesting way… So this is also a very unusual project that’s (again) NOT a standalone application. This too would never be accepted to the App Store because of its unusual delivery. It was really hard to get this to work on OSX to begin with because of security restrictions.

I have more examples, but I’ll leave it at these two.

These are just two examples of the type of experimentation, and freeware, that stands to die out because of Apple’s policies. It might not be much, but it really means so much for computer culture that creating and sharing things like this is possible.
My work does unusual things using a person’s system. It’s NOT malicious, but it can easily be flagged as that if it went through an approval process because of the unusual things it does as well as its unusual structure. If you’re looking for what “a normal game” or “a normal piece of software is”, and judging whether something should or shouldn’t exist by that criteria, you are choosing a genre of computer art that should exist over others.

I will admit that losing me or my work might not mater the slightest to games, Apple, or computer culture in general.
I’m small. I can’t quantify what I do under values that mater to people like Tim Cook. I don’t make money from this. I never will be laughing my way to the bank, so there’s nothing about me to take serious when it comes to the tech bro culture that drives technology…
However, a platform suddenly losing access to a whole movement of people like me, that are doing work like this, is a huge cultural loss.
If we lose our freedom to play games on itch, or GameJolt, and run 32-bit applications from developers that long abandoned a game, we are losing a cultural voice. It’s a type of work that is being shut out in interest of profit. I can’t exist on the App Store or Apple Arcade without changing the work I make. I’m not the only one that will suffer under the normalization of these policies.
You can’t streamline culture, as well as believe you have a right to dictate quality. Our view of quality is subjective and often determined by how much money a thing makes… so this is where creators like me will always struggle, be paved over, shut out, erased, invalidated, or otherwise told they have no right to exist on a platform in the first place. My work doesn’t have the value that places like Apple are looking for. It’s too fucking different.

Just the fact that they are asking me to pay $100 a year, and that I’ll have to keep paying and updating a very large catalogue of games (most of which are one-offs), that I distribute on itch (with no intention of going through the App Store) makes Apple inaccessible to me.

Like a lot of other art-games developers who are in my position right now…
I thought long and hard about what I’m going to do.
It’s interesting, but decisions like this hurt entire ecosystems built around a platform holder. These corporations are nobody’s friend. I remember seeing this announcement from Touch Arcade when Apple killed the App Store Affiliate program

“I’m just beside myself.
I don’t know what we’re going to do.
I really didn’t think it would be Apple that eventually kills TouchArcade.
I guess now is a great time to link the TouchArcade Patreon again.
I’m just going to turn my phone off and go sit outside.”

…These decisions often come out of the blue. When there’s a imbalance of power it hurts everyone, and I feel like Apple has had that for a very long time.
At one point I would never have thought Apple would make a decision that ends my ability to run my own work, but now you have to wonder…
What does this mean for the future of sites like itch.io that are about platforming experimental and indie creators? What does this mean for anyone that has no interest in distributing through the App Store? If the bar keeps getting set higher and higher to just exist on a system, what does it mean for work like mine?
It’s wild how you don’t have to care if you’re as big as Apple.

In the end, I will very likely have to leave OSX and switch to Windows.
I’ve been an Apple user since Windows Vista. Believe it or not, I loved the platform and (at one time) even prioritized it over Windows. It’s not an easy decision to make.

Going forward I will finish the games that I started, and release those for OSX (without them being notarized). I will include instructions with them for how to turn off gatekeeper and run them in spite of all this. For now, even if it’s harder to do, Apple still allows that so that’s how you’ll be able to run my work.
Windows users will be able to run my stuff for as long as Windows doesn’t follow suit.

Closing thoughts…

I’m very sorry that this has affected you. It saddens me too!
I just spent a big part of the weekend indulging myself in random itch.io finds that I could happily run on my Mac even tho some of them were 32-bit and not notarized. I loved that freedom, but had a hard time not being saddened by how that’s not going to be possible anymore.
Anyone that goes along with the argument that this is about security really should question Apple’s sweeping decisions and how they’re approaching this. It’s dangerous to jump on bandwagons from these monopolies without examining the way such things are enforced.
Apple might have monetized the “games are art” movement for their Apple Arcade, but places like itch.io gave it a valid voice and our work a home. We should remember that next time we talk about how wonderful and diverse Apple’s new game storefront is.

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UPDATE: Other links and resources documenting the Catalina cataclysm (app-pocalypse)…at this point it’s just interesting to follow

* Notarization Requirements Relaxed (until January 2020)
https://mjtsai.com/blog/2019/09/04/notarization-requirements-relaxed/

This explains why apps work at the moment (as of writing this)…Possibly in better terms than I could when I was arguing for this post. Requirements have been relaxed until January 2020. This post is also worth reading because there are some good perspectives here.
…Not sure what else there is to say that hasn’t been said. Control like this is terrible for small developers. Switch to Windows. :(

* Guilherme Rambo Locked Out of Apple Developer Account
https://mjtsai.com/blog/2019/11/20/guilherme-rambo-locked-out-of-apple-developer-account/

Probably random, but I’m sharing this because it was an interesting read as well as thing to dig into.
Why?
My own experience with Apple’s rules being imposed has been frustratingly selective (as I described). The above link has chilling implications, in my opinion, given that we will all now need a developer account with Apple and therefore are subjected to how they enforce their rules (which, as I said, is very selective and almost random… especially with who gets targeted and who gets a pass).

* Read this Twitter conversation about how this is a cataclysmic event with actual stats (it’s good food for thought)

* While I’m here documenting some of this, here’s a great thread…
on why this is terrible. The author is much more blunt about it. I completely agree. (Paraphrasing) Are we supposed to notarize every jam game? Every monthly build? Prototypes? Builds for testers?
Also pointing out how bad this is for kids and people looking to learn and experiment with games or software. Think about how you got started. You made a game and shared it with your friends. The bar for entry was low. You were free to share and distribute your own thing. Apple’s policies make development practically inaccessible to new comers. I would continue to argue that it makes it inaccessible to ANY small creator (hobbyist or professional), in general. It’s a good thread.

* Here’s another smaller thread about it that also makes good points… Saying the same thing.

Ok…maybe I’ll post more here as it turns up. It all seems like it’s going to be an interesting thing to look back on when we start to wonder why computers being a walled garden with barbed wire were a bad idea. Definitely feeling the irony of having switched from Windows to Mac during the Windows Vista days. xD

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