Apple updates App Store policies to permit game emulators

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Game emulators have long proved popular, but they are something that Apple as balked at. Until now. In an update to its App Review Guidelines, the company has introduced changes that will be welcomed by fans of retro gaming.

The new rules mean that game emulators are now permitted in the App Store on a global basis and, more than this, developers can give users the ability to download games from within the apps. Things are not as free-and-easy as they are for Android users, with Apple stressing that developers must ensure that copyright is respected.

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The change can be attributed, at least in part, to Apple now having to comply with the new Digital Markets Act (DMA) in the EU. As we have seen with other companies, Apple has decided to make changes globally rather than just for those within the European Union, meaning that users around the world should soon have access to a previously off-limits selection of gaming options.

The relevant section of the policy reads:

4.7 Mini apps, mini games, streaming games, chatbots, plug-ins, and game emulators

Apps may offer certain software that is not embedded in the binary, specifically HTML5 mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins. Additionally, retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games. You are responsible for all such software offered in your app, including ensuring that such software complies with these Guidelines and all applicable laws. Software that does not comply with one or more guidelines will lead to the rejection of your app. You must also ensure that the software adheres to the additional rules that follow in 4.7.1 and 4.7.5. These additional rules are important to preserve the experience that App Store customers expect, and to help ensure user safety.

The additional rules referred to here are sub-clauses, and they are as follows:

  • 4.7.1 Software offered in apps under this rule must:
  • follow all privacy guidelines, including but not limited to the rules set forth in Guideline 5.1 concerning collection, use, and sharing of data, and sensitive data (such as health and personal data from kids);
  • include a method for filtering objectionable material, a mechanism to report content and timely responses to concerns, and the ability to block abusive users; and
  • use in-app purchase in order to offer digital goods or services to end users.
  • 4.7.2 Your app may not extend or expose native platform APIs to the software without prior permission from Apple.
  • 4.7.3 Your app may not share data or privacy permissions to any individual software offered in your app without explicit user consent in each instance.
  • 4.7.4 You must provide an index of software and metadata available in your app. It must include universal links that lead to all of the software offered in your app.
  • 4.7.5 Your app must share the age rating of the highest age-rated content available in your app.

The copyright of game ROM has long been the subject of debate, so it will be interesting to see how Apple approaches things over the coming months. We're unlikely to see a sudden surge in emulators giving unfettered access to exhaustive game catalogue of console and arcade games as currently exist on Android and desktops, but it could -- just could -- mean that official emulators from the likes of Nintendo and Sega make an appearance at some point.

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