Apple caters to China by pulling thousands of “unlicensed” iPhone games


Close-up image of phones prominently displayed on a wooden table in a brightly lit, streetside store.
Enlarge / iPhones are seen at an Apple Store in Tianjin, China.

Apple has told iPhone app developers that it “will start removing thousands of mobile games lacking government approval from its App Store in China next month,” Bloomberg reported today, citing anonymous sources. “The decision ends the unofficial practice of allowing games to be published while awaiting authorization from the country’s slow-moving regulators.”

As Bloomberg notes, “China’s regulators require all games that are either paid or offer in-app purchases to submit for review and obtain a license before publication, and major Android app stores have enforced such rules since 2016. But unapproved games have flourished on Apple’s iPhone platform.” The Apple policy change “clos[es] a loophole” that “allowed games such as Grand Theft Auto, whose gory depictions of violence are unlikely to ever pass muster with Chinese censors,” to be available in China.

We contacted Apple about the report today and will update this story if we get a response.

Apple has pulled apps from the App Store in China numerous times to comply with Chinese rules and requests from the government. In one recent case affecting a game, the maker of pandemic simulator Plague Inc said its game was removed from the iOS App Store because authorities said it “includes content that is illegal in China.” Apple also pulled two podcast apps from its store in China earlier this month.

Despite its willingness to comply with Chinese authorities in those cases, Apple’s policy toward unlicensed games was permissive until the new change. The policy shift could affect about 20,000 games that don’t have a Chinese government license, according to an estimate cited by Bloomberg. The estimate came from AppInChina, a vendor that helps clients publish apps in China.

The Chinese government’s approval process for mobile games is slow. “Citing concerns about the proliferation of addiction among minors and the dissemination of offensive content, regulators now adopt a much stricter and slower review process than before they temporarily halted all approvals in 2018,” Bloomberg wrote. The government held another approvals process in 2019 but is “known for months-long content reviews that may or may not lead to a monetization license.”



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