Popular infection simulation game Plague Inc. has been removed from Chinese app stores, Apple and Xiaomi users noticed today, after enjoying renewed popularity during the Covid-19 outbreak.

Why it matters: The removal shows just how serious the country’s authorities are in managing the public perception of the virus.

  • Chinese authorities have been known to ban adult content and games with politically sensitive hidden messages. Plague Inc. has been praised for its educational value and scientific approach.

Details: TechNode has confirmed that Plague Inc. is not available on the Chinese versions of the Apple and Xiaomi app stores as of Thursday.

  • The game is still available on Steam, a video game download platform that is not blocked in China, though this loophole may be short-lived.
  • The internet regulator informed Ndemic Creations that the game was removed from app stores for “illegal” content, the developers said in a statement released on their website on Thursday evening.
  • Plague Inc. is a strategy simulation game that invites users to create and evolve a pathogen to take over the human population, before humans come up with a cure. It was was developed by UK-based Ndemic Creations in 2011.
  • The developer was not immediately available for comment when contacted by TechNode on Thursday.

Context: In January, the eight-year-old game beat Minecraft in Apple’s US App Store’s paid games popularity rankings, according to market intelligence firm Apptica. This happened on the day that Wuhan, the central Chinese city considered the epicenter of the outbreak, was cut off from the world.

  • At the time, Plague Inc.’s UK-based developers responded to the news with a statement asking players to remain grounded in reality.
  • “Please remember that Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people,” Ndemic Creations said.
  • The game was recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back in 2013 for creating a “compelling world” which “engages the public on serious public health topics.”
  • It has found enduring popularity since its creation and has been downloaded by 130 million people, according to the developer’s website.
  • The coronavirus has sparked heated discussion on Chinese social media about the government’s emergency response, as well as alleged acts of censorship.
  • The virus has spread to more than 78,000 and killed over 2,700 people in China as of Feb. 27, 2020, according to official data.

Update: added a statement from the game developer in the Details section.

Eliza was TechNode's blockchain and fintech reporter until July 2021, when she moved to CoinDesk to cover crypto in Asia. Get in touch with her via email or Twitter.

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