What Rating Should You Give Your App?

12+ Rating Icon - App StoreThere’s an old saying — sex sells. But in my brief experience with a 17+ app, I think it’s the opposite on the iTunes App Store. I actually think that if you make your app too sexy, you might be hurting your sales. So, I took a closer look at BOT #1. The content is not really that objectionable. After further review, I decided to downgrade the app’s rating to 12+. I’m currently waiting for Apple to review and approve this change. And unlike the United States credit rating, this downgrade is a good thing!

Here’s Apple’s list for rating your app…

  • Cartoon or Fantasy Violence
  • Realistic Violence
  • Sexual Content or Nudity
  • Profanity or Crude Humor
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, or Drug Use or References
  • Mature/Suggestive Themes
  • Simulated Gambling
  • Horror/Fear Themes
  • Prolonged Graphic or Sadistic Realistic Violence
  • Graphic Sexual Content and Nudity

There are three choices for each category: None, Infrequent/Mild, Frequent/Intense. With my comic book, I was having trouble deciding between Infrequent/Mild and Frequent/Intense. If you’re publishing your own apps, this is something to seriously consider.

Here’s a way to describe it — think of Apple’s App Store as the online version of the Disney Store. With Angry Birds and Cut The Rope dominating the top of the charts, it should give you a general idea of what’s the target audience. A 17+ app is out-of-place on the App Store, like a sex toy would be in the Disney Store.

Maybe that’s a bit of dramatization, but that’s my new perspective towards the App Store. If it’s not cute, brightly colored and plush, it might not belong. My future game designs might start moving towards the adorable. Sure, games like Mortal Kombat have a chance at success on the iTunes App Store. But if sex and violence is the key to your app, you might be hurting your chances.

Is this such a bad thing? Perhaps no! I don’t see this as Apple’s invisible hand guiding the world towards morality, as I was able to list a 17+ app. Apple didn’t stop me. Instead, I think it’s something more naturally occurring. Outside the sanctuary of Apple’s walled garden, the Internet is loaded with all sorts of shocking content. Pornography, violence and other adult material is only a webpage away. That content can even be accessed unintentionally. But with a shiny iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad, things are different… cleaner somehow… and perhaps people like it that way.

I’m thinking there are three main reasons why the cutesy and casual apps are leading on the app store.

  1. Women — From what I’ve read online, there are more women than men using iOS devices. Women are generally less interested in ultra-violent video games or pornography.
  2. Kids — Sometimes when I wander into the Apple Store, I wonder if it’s a daycare. Children are all about, rubbing their greasy hands on the screens. Such a scene should be looked upon with the eyes of capitalism. These are all potential customers. What do these kids want to play? What’s fun for them? If they see a 17+ screen on their iPod Touch, they might be curious, but they might also think, “My mommy would get mad if I clicked that.” So, by adding adult content, I’ve excluded a large percentage of iOS customers.
  3. Commuters — If you’re on a crowded train and a 17+ alert appears on your screen, are you going to proceed? I’m thinking that I wouldn’t. If there is objectionable content in the app, the people sitting next to me might think that I’m a pervert. The NYC subway system already has too much violence anyway. Games like Bejeweled, Tetris and Angry Birds are more suited for a commute.  Everyone can just calm down with a nice game. Don’t make eye contact, just keep playing Cut the Rope.

If the ultimate goal is to build a game that’s better than Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, that’s not going to happen by excluding any percentage of the population… women, kids, commuters, etc. The reason that Apple is changing the gaming industry is because it’s inclusive.

So, what rating should you give your app?  I don’t know, that’s up to you. But for my apps, I think that I’ll find more success with 12+ (or lower) apps than 17+ apps.