Updated: The National Rifle Association did NOT commission the app in question. James Joyner of OTB explains. | "Just weeks after the National Rifle Association forcefully blamed violent video games for gun violence, the gun-rights organization has released a new shooter game for kids as young as four," Andrew Mach complained in a January 15 story at NBCNews.com. "The game's launch comes one month after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which touched off a national debate over how to limit gun violence," he added.
The implication, of course, is that the NRA is hypocritical and ghoulish with its January 14 release of the iPhone/iPad NRA: Practice Range app. And the age 4+ appropriateness rating is just icing on the cake. But an objective journalist might actually take a look into how Apple approves apps and assigns ratings, as well as how long it takes for an app to clear through its internal approval process. Mach failed to consider those things, so I looked into it.
First let's deal with the release date. In a July 2012 article on "How to Submit iPhone Apps to the iTunes Store," Jen Gordon of DesignBoost.net informed readers who would submit an app to Apple to:
[p]ush it out to some date in the future that you think is beyond the date when Apple approves your app. For example if you set your avail date to Feb 1st and Apple approves it on March 1st, the app immediately pushes out to the App Store. Apple don’t hold NOBODY’s hand and there ain’t no crying in baseball either.
In October 2012, David Morgenstern of ZDNet.com noted how "Developers fret over Mac App Store approval times" (emphasis mine):
According to a report at MacRumors, wait times at the Mac App Store have been growing longer in the past half a year. This is based on data from a developer-training firm named Shiny Development and shows a rising trend from 7 days to almost a month in October.
For its part, Apple doesn't release statistics on the average wait from submission to approval.
The bottom line is we don't know how long it took for Apple to green-light the NRA app nor when exactly the NRA submitted the app in question. It's quite likely the app submission was prior to the Newtown shooting.
Regardless, the app in question is in no way violent. There is neither graphic nor cartoon violence inflicted on humans or animals, the targets being shot are representations of paper targets. It's simple a video game representation of target shooting, something even most gun control advocates would agree is a legitimate "sporting" purpose for owning guns.
But what about the age 4-and-up rating? Isn't 4 years old a little young for a shooting game? At issue here, however, is the rating system by Apple, which assigns a 4+ rating if you answer "none" on the ten questions in a questionnaire that pertain to potentially questionable content.
When you go to submit your app through iTunes Connect, one of the steps takes you to a ratings matrix that you must fill out. This contains 10 questions listed under “Apple Content Descriptions.” For each of the 10 questions you must say “None”, “Infrequent/Mild”, or “Frequent/Intense.” Depending on what answer you give for each of these, the rating of your app in the upper right corner will change. These ratings go from “4+” to “9+” to “12+” to “17+” to “No Rating.”
Let’s run through them in descending order:
- 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
The NRA app in question is absent of all of those questionable items, which would yield an automatic 4+ age appropriateness rating.
Image via TechCrunch.