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Apple pulls 'Sweatshop HD' game over 'offensive' issues

updated 09:55 pm EDT, Fri March 22, 2013

Set in clothing factory, had players deliberately mistreat workers

Apple has again reiterated its policy that games are not the place for social or political commentary by pulling a UK-developed game called Sweatshop HD that was available for a few months on the App Store. The iPad-only app, which had players hire cheap underage labor and deliberately mistreat and endanger the workers in order to advance in the game, was meant to raise consciousness about such conditions in a variety of industries. Apple pulled the game last month after notifying the developers that it was "uncomfortable" with the game's premise.

The company has long maintained that apps are "curated" as opposed to music or books, and thus fall under a specific guideline that forbids "excessively objectionable or crude content." Littlecloud, the developer of the game, continues to maintain an online Flash version of the title, which places "tower defense" type strategy and "Sim" type management skills to the test.

Players would create a production line for various clothing manufacturers and hire underage workers to create designer shoes, shirts and caps. Advancing in the game required engaging in behaviors such as blocking the fire exits -- based on recent incidents including fatal workshop fires in China and Germany -- and increasing work hours beyond reasonable limits.

Littlecloud had recently altered the game in response to Apple concerns, including a disclaimer that the game was a work of fiction not based on specific practices or companies, and that its actions were fact-checked with a charity group that lobbies for better worker conditions in various countries. The changes were deemed to be insufficient to get around clause 16.1 in the App Store rules, and thus the game was removed, reports Pocket Gamer.

The removal follows in the footsteps of the sharply more critical Phone Story, a satirical game set in the Congo that depicted sweatshop labor being used to create smartphones. While Apple has received the lion's share of criticism for working conditions in China where it makes most of its products, all other electronics manufacturers use the same facilities to make their products as well, but receive much less press when incidents occur.

Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturing partner, also makes Android devices, Xbox consoles and other electronics. Foxconn has been seen to be rapidly improving conditions compared to a few years ago, however, largely due to a concerted effort by Apple and fair labor trade groups. Nevertheless, Apple could fairly be seen as being more than a bit sensitive to apps that attempt to make political commentary regarding developing nations' worker rights.

Other games have seen embargoes from Apple due to political or controversial content, including a battlefield strategy app called Endgame: Syria and a illegal-immigrant satire title originally called Smuggle Truck. Apple removed it, but allowed a rewritten version called Snuggle Truck (about removing animals from a burning forest and transporting them to a zoo where they get food, healthcare and shelter) to be sold.

Other titles have been removed for disparaging ethnic or other groups including Palestinians, Jews, and gays, though it declined to remove an NRA-created gun safety app, though it did increase the age requirement on the program.

According to Apple and former CEO Steve Jobs, the rationale for removing or not approving apps that feature controversial content is clear: "if you want to criticise a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app." Otherwise, even apps that receive initial approval may find themselves locked out of the App Store.

by MacNN Staff



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