App Store critisized in Japan over inconsistent enforcement of its own guidelines

Apple has come under fire in Japan. Dozens of local developers have criticized the App Store’s policies. Now the tech giant will be investigated by Japan’s antitrust regulator. Surprisingly, it’s not about Apple’s 30% commission.

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Bloomberg has summarized the main concerns of local developers. While Epic Games wants, among other things, to achieve a lower commission, Japanese studios have other complaints:

  • developers complain that the review process sometimes takes several weeks. One of the local studios had to stop holding seasonal events in their game because Apple failed to respond to their update review request for more than a month;
  • “While Apple will never admit it, I think there are times when they simply forget an item’s in the review queue or they intentionally keep it untouched as a sanction to a developer giving them the wrong attitude,” says Makoto Shoji, founder of PrimeTheory Inc., a service which helps developers get the store approval.
  • companies are unhappy about the way Apple interprets and changes its own policies without prior notice. Some developers received permission to add characters wearing swimsuits, and at the next check, Apple interpreted these outfits as sexualized and unacceptable;
  • other developers point out technical problems on Apple’s side. Last November, the company’s servers were down for more than a day, but the studios were not notified and tried in vain to identify the cause of the failure. Situations like this, coupled with poor communication, can sometimes lead to financial losses.

Why aren’t local developers concerned about Apple’s commission?

Many gaming companies in Japan are used to the 30% commission after several decades. For example, Nintendo has had this policy across its platforms since the 80s.

Most mobile app developers are willing to pay this percentage. In return, they want a better service from Apple, which at the moment, in their opinion, leaves much to be desired.

“Apple’s app review is often ambiguous, subjective and irrational. Apple’s response to developers is often curt and boilerplate, but even with that, you must be polite on many occasions, like a servant asking the master what he wants next,” says Shoji.

In response to the complaints, Apple said that 1,400 customer service employees work in Japan, and the company itself is doing everything possible to improve the quality of its services.

State intervention

Japan Fair Trade Commission, which regulates competition and enforces antitrust law, is also keeping a close eye on Apple, prompted by the ongoing litigation between Apple and Epic Games.

At the moment, the commission has not yet launched a full investigation, but it intends to scrutinize Apple’s actions and policies.

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