I should probably go cool down for a few minutes before writing this as I’m still quite upset after learning this news, but at the same time this is something worth getting upset about and I think an angry slant to my words is justified in this case. Punk Labs is an independent developer made up of just two people that makes a number of different audio apps for desktop as well as a number of really stylish mobile games on iOS and Android, among many other things. I think my first memory of them was when they released Skeletomb back in 2015 which was a stylish roguelike dungeon crawler inspired by the massive Crossy Road craze at around that time. Then in 2016 they released Kerflux, a sound wave matching kind of game that tapped into their interest in creating music. The following year brought Raster Prime which, well, I don’t even know how the heck to explain this one. It’s a puzzle game at its core, but more than just that, and it’s also an audio/visual explosion in the best way possible.
So that brings me to the topic of today, which is their 2020 released Repulsive. This is a hoverboarding game that takes place in a dystopian future, and while it does have some goals and whatnot to do, its whole vibe is more along the lines of just cruising around and skating. It was our Game of the Week when it released, and it really exemplifies what Punk Labs is all about: Stylish as heck visuals, killer audio, and impressive production values for such a tiny studio. They also tend to release “finished" games, and what I mean by that is their games are usually fully-realized on release and aside from things like bug fixes or occasional new content or features, they don’t really get frequent updates. I know the more typical path for a mobile game is to release something basic and then expand on it with a constant flow of updates, and this sort of thing is basically mandatory if you release a free-to-play game, but that’s just not how Punk Labs operates. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Or I guess I should say there shouldn’t be anything wrong with that, but Apple has a different viewpoint. As pointed out on the Punk Labs blog, Apple has a policy that if a game or app hasn’t been “updated within the last three years and doesn’t meet a minimum download threshold" then it is considered a “low quality app" and you have 90 days to either update it or have it removed from the App Store. It doesn’t matter what that update is, just that it is updated. This isn’t really that new of a policy, and so I’ve seen developers do things like change the app icon or release a nebulous “bug fixes and performance improvements" update that probably doesn’t actually even do anything just to meet that requirement of having an “updated" app that complies with Apple’s kind of bonkers policy so it can remain on the App Store.
For Punk Labs, and many other developers for that matter, the solution isn’t that simple. Sometimes diving into an old code base just isn’t feasible, especially from a financial standpoint and especially when the reason for doing so is to comply with an arbitrary requirement. Or perhaps a game is built using a 3rd party engine and it would take to much time and money to get your older games up to speed for current version of that engine. In fact this is precisely the case with Punk Labs and it’s not a new problem to them. Back in 2021 this same situation happened to them in regards to Raster Prime, which they also posted about on their blog at that time. Their games are developed in Unity and it would be cost prohibitive for them to have to opt into Unity’s pricey subscription model in order to get the games updated in any form, even with an “adds nothing" unnecessary update.
Their solution to that was to rebuild the entire game in an open source engine called Godot, and release it as Raster Prime [REMIX], available on Windows, Linux, Mac, and Android. Noticeably absent from that list is iOS, and I’m not sure if that’s just out of spite or there’s some other issue preventing it from being released on Apple’s iOS platform. Nevertheless, a full ground-up rewrite of games that you’ve already developed is hardly a good solution to the problem, and just isn’t viable for a tiny two-person studio. It’s also worth mentioning that the situation isn’t much better on Android, as they had their own “32-bit appocalypse" which which basically rendered all of the Punk Labs games on Google Play unplayable on older Android hardware. However, at least culling 32-bit apps, in both Apple’s and Google’s case, makes sense in a forward-thinking kind of way, whereas Apple’s policy on just updating a game for no reason whatsoever and giving it the boot if you don’t is much more pointless.
I guess to be fair I should say that Apple’s policy makes at least some sense on paper. There are thousands upon thousands of actual garbage apps and games that clutter up the App Store, so having some way of making those disappear instead of just taking up space is a good idea in theory. The problem is Apple’s black-or-white approach in that sometimes games or apps just don’t need to be updated when they’re working fine and are already complete. It would be nice if you could at least appeal this decision from Apple and have them work with you so they could make exceptions to their policy when it makes sense. Unfortunately Punk Labs tried that already when Raster Prime’s number was called and Apple never responded to them in any capacity, other than just wiping the game from the App Store.
The result of all this is that the clock for Repulsive is ticking, and in the meantime Punk Labs has made the game free for anyone that wants to grab it before it disappears forever. Definitely grab it and check it out if you haven’t before, it’s a really cool game! Punk Labs had already made the decision to move all development away from proprietary software even before the Raster Prime situation a couple of years ago, as they were already seeing the writing on the wall about what problems might arise from being locked into certain platforms. But as I said before, dropping everything to just… completely rebuild your apps isn’t a viable option for a tiny studio like Punk Labs, and I think this is a policy that Apple could really go back and rethink for the benefit of small developers like these and the customers who love their products.