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Atari's Greatest Hits: Is the iTunes app store playing favorites?

Atari's Greatest Hits app seems to break the iTunes rules. Why doesn't Apple care?

By James Turner / April 7, 2011

What iTunes rules? Apple seems to have given Atari a pass. Why don't indie developers get the same leniency?

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Recently, Apple improved the transparency of their iOS review criteria by publishing a list of no-nos. This was an attempt to deflect criticism that they employed arbitrary standards when determining which applications to be allowed into it iTunes app store.

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But it may turn out to be a double-edged sword, because it is now much easier to spot examples of applications that appear to break the rules. The new and official "Atari's Greatest Hits" app, developed by Vancouver-based Code Mystics, seems to fall squarely into that category.

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Atari's application lets you play 100 of Atari's old console games on iOS devices, and is admittedly a pretty nice idea. However, the way it works is that you pay for bundles of applications with in-app purchases, and the games are then downloaded into the monolithic Atari application.

Most likely, what is being downloaded is modified versions of the ROMs that powered the original games, and the application itself is an emulator for the ROM instruction set and hardware. This would be similar to how game emulators such as MAME work. The problem is this: the published guidelines contain two sections that relate to the new app:

  • 2.7 Apps that download code in any way or form will be rejected
  • 2.8 Apps that install or launch other executable code will be rejected

In a phone call with Code Mystics founder Jeff Vavasour, he said it sounded reasonable that the app downloaded software, but referred details regarding the exact mechanism to Atari. Neither Apple nor Atari have responded to requests for comment.

It's hard to see a way that the new game isn't breaking these guidelines. This leads to the question, do the guidelines only apply to independent developers, and will be disregarded when a company with the clout (and non-competitive market position) of Atari submits an app? As an iPhone developer, I have to wonder why what's sauce for the goose isn't sauce for the gander.

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[Editor's note: This story has been changed from its original version to better reflect the author's interview with Jeff Vavasour.]

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