The rarest pepe is one found on the iOS App Store, and now we know why: Apple has categorized the meme frog as "objectionable content" and has rejected an app called Pepe Scream, Motherboard confirmed.
"Your app contains images and references of Pepe the Frog, which are considered objectionable content," an Apple App Review Board employee named Nicole wrote in a rejection notice to Spirit Realm Games, the developer of Pepe Scream. "It would be appropriate to remove the references and revise the images in your app."
Feels bad, man.
Redditor MrSnrhms posted a screenshot of the exchange on r/The_Donald, and Motherboard has verified the screenshots are authentic. MrSnrhms, a developer for Spirit Realm Games, gave Motherboard temporary access to the team's iOS developer account, which showed that Apple did indeed reject the app because it contains Pepe, a cartoon frog that has been increasingly associated with the alt-right. This isn't the first time Pepe has been rejected by Apple—in October, Build the Wall: The Game was rejected on similar grounds.
Motherboard also downloaded a test version of the game, which is similar to Flappy Bird. Users control Pepe by screaming into their phone, which makes the green frog float. Pepe Scream was approved by the Google Play Store and is currently available on Android. Google did not return a request for comment.
"Why did we make a game about Pepe? We saw some memes featuring Pepe screaming 'REEEEE' and something just 'clicked,'" a developer for Spirit Realm Games told us in an email. "We thought it was a silly and funny idea to just show off to our friends, nothing more, so we built it just for fun."
Pepe Scream was rejected for violating section 1.1 of Apple's App Store Review Guidelines, which stipulates that apps cannot "include content that is offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste." Spirit Realm Games appealed the decision, and Apple sent a follow up message identifying Pepe as the problem.
Though Spirit Realm Games says it "had only put innocuous versions of Pepe into the app: e.g. 'VR goggles Pepe' or 'Sunglasses Pepe' or 'Golden Pepe,'" it's still something of a dog whistle for places like r/The_Donald. The description, for instance, contains the following poem:
On r/The_Donald, MrSnrhms said that the game "combin[es] shitposting with autistic screeching" and that "Apple is full of cucks." In the game itself, you collect "tendies," a 4chan meme that has been widely adopted on r/The_Donald.
We've reached out twice to Apple representatives for comment, but didn't hear back before publication. Apple has repeatedly declined to comment on the secretive App Store review process in the past.
It is well within Apple's right to reject whatever apps it wants to, but it does appear that the company more or less has adopted a blanket "no Pepe" policy. There are no apps in the App Store with Pepe in the title, and it does not appear in many meme apps and iMessage sticker packs (there are no Pepes in "MemeStickers," for instance).
Meanwhile, the Google Play Store has Pepe Snap, Rare Pepe Clicker, Flappy Pepe, and Pepe Button, among several other Pepe apps. Pepes are indeed rare on iOS and can only be found hidden deep within other apps—there are two Pepes on the iMessage "That Feel" sticker pack, and a camera app called Instameme has Pepes as part of an add-on content bundle.
We reached out to developers of Android Pepe apps to see if they had attempted to get their apps onto the iOS App Store. Three developers responded, but none of them had tried.
"Apple has a higher barrier of entry to their store with their higher publishing fees and more strenuous review process," Jonathan Robins, the developer of Pepe Snap told us. "And because of that they see typically higher quality apps. Google costs less and will sometimes publish your app almost instantaneously as if they didn't even review it. I mean they do review apps but certainly not to the same standard Apple does."
"It is quite unhealthy for the developer ecosystem to not more specifically outline what is allowed and not allowed."
Robins said he developed his app well before Pepe began to be associated with the alt-right and has professionally distanced himself from it.
"It's a bit disappointing to see the image and notoriety it carries now, but that's the point of memes," he said. "They're constantly changing meaning and transforming into something else. I have had to scrub the project from my resume, but I'm still not embarrassed of it or the over 150,000+ downloads it's garnered. I even still have plans to update it again soon with more features."
It's possible that Apple chose to reject Pepe Scream and other apps featuring the frog on the grounds that it could be considered a hate symbol. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a nonprofit committed to combating bigotry, considers Pepe to be a symbol of hate, but only in specific contexts.
"The majority of uses of Pepe the Frog have been, and continue to be non-bigoted," the ADL's entry on Pepe in its Hate Symbols Database reads. "It is important to examine use of the meme only in context."
Because the App Store approval process is so opaque, developers often end up blindsided by rejections. "I think it is quite unhealthy for the developer ecosystem to not more specifically outline what is allowed and not allowed," the Spirit Realm Games developer said. "We certainly didn't know Pepe the Frog wasn't allowed."
No app is a better example of Apple's murky App Store approval process than Metadata+, a news app which tracks reports of US drone strikes. Apple rejected Metadata+ over a dozen times, finally approved it briefly, then deleted it again, all without explaining its reasoning to the app's developer, Josh Begley.
There's no discernible rhyme or reason to why some apps get denied and others approved. Plenty of absurd selections, like Adult Naughty Sounds and Burp and Fart Piano didn't pose problems, for example.
As for Pepe Scream, it has a future on the App Store, but Pepe must go.
"Since we've already paid for the dev license, we plan on changing the character from Pepe to something less 'objectionable' by Apple's standards," Spirit Realm Games said.
Update: This post has been updated to note that games have been rejected for using Pepe in the past.