Apple rejected my game - for using their emojis

Background

Moji Match is an emoji-based game I have been working on for over two years.  Game play is similar to Scrabble or Words with Friends, except instead of words it uses patterns of emojis and numbers.  Players take turns on a board making emoji "words."

Moji Match is currently available on the iOS App Store.

Screen shot of previous version of moji match

Screen shot of previous version of moji match

emojis are punny.  who knew?

emojis are punny.  who knew?

When I first started working on the iOS version of the game two years ago, I needed to decide which emojis to use.  I went with Apple's emojis because they were free, looked good, and I thought it might improve my chances of getting featured on the App Store.  

While the game was still in prototype stage, I showed it to some folks from the App Store team and they loved the concept.  I also had another Apple representative review the beta, and he also liked it.  At no point did anyone even hint that using Apple's emojis in the game wouldn't be okay.

Launch :rocket:

I soft launched Moji Match in February 2017 in Canada and the Philippines.  The game got approved without any trouble.  Then I launched worldwide in August.  Again, the game got approved by Apple without any glitches.

BAM :bomb:

Last December, I submitted a minor bug fix update to the App Store, and it was rejected.  Two reasons were given:

Guideline 2.3.4 - Performance - Accurate Metadata

"Your app previews include content that does not appropriately reflect the app in use. Specifically, your preview includes Apple emoji."

Guideline 5.2.5 - Legal - Intellectual Property

"Your app and app’s metadata include Apple emoji which creates a misleading association with Apple products."

Wait, what? :thinking:

Emojis - the images you can embed right into your text messages - are simply characters.  Emojis are displayed on your device using a built-in operating system font.  In Apple's case, that font is "Apple Color Emoji".  There is nothing particularly special about that font other than the fact that it is in color, and when you type a character in that font, it produces a picture instead of a monochromatic glyph.

As an Apple developer, I can put text on the screen using any of the built-in iOS fonts.  They provide a great variety of fonts to use.  And one of those fonts is Apple Color Emoji.

Almost every app on the App Store uses the built-in iOS fonts.  And of course, those apps show screen shots in the App Store that have text on them, with the built-in fonts.

So it made no sense to me why Apple would reject a game that used one of its own fonts in screen shots.  It seems that sometime since last August (when my app was approved) Apple has decided that Apple Color Emoji is a special font that can't be used in apps anymore.

Panic Sets In :scream:

Almost every developer gets rejected at some point by Apple.  It is usually a minor bug, or a misunderstanding about how the app is supposed to work.  I have been developing apps since the first developer kit was available, and have gotten many rejections for minor problems with apps.

Getting a rejection notice from Apple is scary.  All of your hard work seems to hang on a thread, to be determined by someone at Apple who may not understand what you're trying to do. In every case before this, I was able to make a minor change to an app, or just explain what I was doing, and eventually get approval from Apple.

In this case, after a few back-and-forth exchanges it became apparent that Apple wasn't going to budge.  I realized that I was going to have to figure out a plan B for the game very quickly.

Plan B :scroll:

While I was going back and forth with Apple, trying to explain why they shouldn't reject Moji Match, I started looking into alternatives to their built-in font.

Replacing the emojis in my game was going to be a major undertaking.  It would involve:

  1. Replacing all emojis in the game with some third party font.  
  2. My game also used quite a bit of emoji metadata (such as skin tone, emoji name, emoji category) in many of its features.  This varies slightly between fonts, so I would have to redo all of that work.
  3. Redoing all of our screen shots, app trailer, and app preview video.
  4. Redesigning my web site.
  5. Changing my app icon.
  6. Updating my business cards that I had just printed that had screen shots on them.

Spoiler: This Story Has a Happy Ending :dancer:

Apple didn't back down, and I did have to do all of the work above.  While that sounds pretty bad, there are several silver linings to this cloud.  Ultimately I think this will be a positive change for my game.

Also, I can see why Apple is clamping down on emoji usage.  If they allow any use of their emoji, it wouldn't be long before you start seeing obscene or offensive use of their emojis.  

Coming soon:  EmojiOne to the rescue.