Blindfold Games, Advocacy and Apple (#228)

I’ve been asked for a timeline of what happened with the Blindfold Games, so here’s a summary.
In late October, I submitted updates for 3 apps: Blindfold Craps, Blindfold Horserace and Blindfold Hopper, to accommodate changes in iOS 11.
A few days later, they were rejected for violating a new section of the Apple App Store Review Guidelines, section 4.3 which reads:
4.3 Spam – Don’t create multiple Bundle IDs of the same app. If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app and provide the variations using in-app purchase. Also avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated; the App Store has enough fart, burp, flashlight, and Kama Sutra apps already. Spamming the store may lead to your removal from the Developer Program.
They reason for reject specifically is:
“We noticed that your app appears to be created from a template. Your app provides the same feature set as many of the other apps you’ve submitted to the App Store; it simply varies in content or language.”
I write back:
“There is no commonality between this app and the other apps. Each game is different.  Read the user guide.  The menu format is the same because blind people need a common interface but the functionality is far different.  It would be nice if you evaluated things prior to jumping to conclusions.”
A few days later, Apple responds:
“Thank you for providing this information. We ask that you consolidate your existing apps, as well as any new apps that you submit, as your app provides the same feature set as other apps you’ve submitted to the App Store, only varying slightly in content or language.”
I write back:
“Each app does not provide features of other apps. Each game is unique unto itself.   For example, of the three you just rejected, one is a game where you walk your fingers on the screen to race horses. The second is the casino game craps. The third is a game similar to the video game frogger.  Did you read the user’s guide before giving me the generic response above?”
Two days later, Apple responds:
“Thank you for your response.  An Apple Representative will call you on the number provided within the next 3 to 5 business days from today to discuss your app.”
About 10 days later, I talked with Adam, a reviewer in Apple’s App Group, and Apple’s decision is that unless I merge the 80 Blindfold Games into a handful of apps, they will no longer allow new games to be released or allow updates to be made.  I mentioned that there may be many in the blindness community who will be disappointed.  The following day, I blogged and tweeted about it.
Over the course of the next three days, thousands of people contacted Apple, several podcasters invited me to speak about the issue, and a few advocacy organizations for the blind reached out to their contacts at Apple.
I received an email from a woman who works with Apple Developer relations who has an interest in accessibility.  We talked for a while, and she recommended I submit a formal appeal, which I did.  I also sent to her a dozens of comments that the game fans sent to Apple or posted publicly.
On Friday night, three days after the original call, I heard from Adam again.  He mentioned how he and his team had a chance to explore many of the Blindfold Games over the past few days, and now realizes the intended audience is different from a sighted audience, and the needs of the blindness community must be considered.  We talked about how to improve the situation going forward, and came to a good understanding.
I told him that there are about 50 blind and low vision people worldwide that test each of the games for about two months prior to releasing the game.
I agreed that for new games, we’ll try something new.  If there’s a sensible way to combine it with other new games that does not affect its play or discoverability, I would talk to these testers, and proceed based on their recommendations.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that people in this community – or any community – when working together, can successfully advocate for change.  I also have more respect for Apple – very competent people made an initial assumption without full understanding.  They realized more research was required, and they invested their time to do that research.    And that led to doing what’s best for everyone.

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