More than 3,000 games have been removed from Apple’s China App Store in the first two days of July, a move the company has warned developers about as it closes a loophole which allowed unlicensed paid games to list on the platform.

Why it matters: This is one of the biggest game purges on Apple’s App Store. It comes after the American technology giant moved to comply with China’s strict gaming regulations, requiring game developers worldwide to gain approval from Chinese regulators before being published in the Chinese store.

  • Foreign companies are not permitted to directly apply for the license. They have to partner with local companies to legally launch their paid games in China. It can take months for game makers to have their titles approved.

“We are seeing unprecedented numbers of games dropping off the Apple App Store China daily since Apple implemented this new policy on July 1. Sadly, because China only approves about 1,500 game licenses a year, and the process itself takes six to 12 months, most of these apps will be waiting a long time before they are allowed back on the store.”

— Todd Kuhns, marketing manager at AppInChina, to TechNode

Details: Some 1,571 and 1,805 games were removed from Apple’s App Store in China on July 1 and July 2, respectively, in a sharp surge compared with the end of June, when an average of around 200 titles were removed daily, according to figures from Appinchina.

  • Apple has started to ask game developers to provide a gaming license number from Chinese regulators before they file updates of their games, according to screenshots provided by Appinchina. Games lacking a number or with invalid numbers will be removed from the Chinese store after the update.
  • Games that don’t attempt to make an update will not be actively removed from the Chinese App Store for the time being, according to Kuhns. 
  • Kuhns expects the daily number of removed games will “rise and plateau for a while” because the titles won’t be taken down until the unlicensed game is updated.
  • Titles removed on Friday already topped 700 as of the time of publication.
  • He estimates at least 21,000 titles will be affected in total.

Context: Since 2016, Chinese regulations have required all paid games or games that offer in-app purchases to obtain a publication license before they can be uploaded to app stores.

  • Before Apple took action in February, developers were able to list unlicensed games by submitting a random number instead of an official license number.
  • In a notice sent to game developers in February, Apple required license numbers for paid games or games offering in-app purchases before June 30 if they want to distribute in mainland China.
  • “Chinese law requires games to secure an approval number from the General Administration of Press and Publication of China,” Apple said in the notice.

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. Before joining TechNode, he wrote about...