Apple is using Itch.io’s ‘offensive and sexualized’ games as a cudgel against Epic

Shortly before the Epic v. Apple trial, Epic Games made an interesting announcement: it would offer the indie game storefront Itch.io as an app on its own Epic Games Store. The Fortnite publisher was going to trial with the aim of making Apple offer competing app stores on its iPhone and iPad, so the move showed that Epic was willing to open up its own store in the same way.

On the fifth day of court, however, Apple tried to turn Itch.io into a liability — by telling Epic Games Store general manager Steven Allison about “so-called adult games” that were “so offensive we cannot speak about them here.”

Itch.io is one of relatively few non-game apps on the Epic Games Store, along with software like the Brave browser. It’s also, as we’ve previously described it at The Verge, “small and weird.” (Granted, it’s not quite as small as Epic seems to think; CEO Tim Sweeney said it had “at least hundreds” of games, while the real number is upwards of 200,000.) Epic hasn’t reviewed all these games, and Apple noted that its standards are different from the Epic Games Store’s. The list includes, per Apple’s attorney, a game called Sisterly Lust that includes “a list of fetishes which include many words that are not appropriate for us to speak in federal courts.”

Apple is notoriously wary of sexual or even debatably offensive content in its App Store. Until mid-2016, it told game developers that “if you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app.” Epic is suing for the right to sideload alternative app stores like the Epic Games Store onto iOS. Today, Apple essentially warned Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that this would mean forcing Apple to indirectly allow a sexualized visual novel about incest (I’d call it a game, but Epic v. Apple witnesses have offered several conflicting definitions of that) onto the iPhone.

That’s probably not great for Epic. Judge Rogers seemed to take the concern seriously, asking Allison to explain whether Apple was correct. Allison demurred, although he later pushed back on Apple’s veiled suggestion that Epic kick Itch.io off the Epic Games Store. “Itch.io is an incredible community for developers that we support fully,” Allison said, “they have an open platform, and therefore have different moderation standards than the Epic Games Store.”

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