The App Store is reportedly looking a little different in China today. According to Reuters, Apple has removed roughly 39,000 games owned by developers and publishers that don’t have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) from the Chinese government. Research conducted by Qimai, a specialist firm in China, reportedly reveals that many Western titles were included in the purge, including Assassin’s Creed Identity and NBA 2K20. According to Reuters, that leaves just 74 of the top 1,500 paid games. Some of the free apps that remain include Call of Duty: Mobile, Honor of Kings and Game for Peace, the Chinese version of PUBG Mobile.
The removals aren’t a huge surprise. Apple launched a similar crackdown earlier this summer, removing 30,000 apps — most of which were games, according to Bloomberg — that weren’t approved by the National Press and Publication Administration (NPPA). It's almost impossible to obtain an ISBN without a domestic publisher, which is why so many Western studios partner with another company before launching their games in China.
Before, Apple would allow developers to publish their games while they waited for authorization from the NPPA, according to the Financial Times. But in February, Apple warned developers that they would need to have an ISBN by June 30th, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to update their games in the App Store. A written notice seen by Bloomberg also told developers that their games would be banned and removed after July 31st if they didn’t have a licence. (Hence the summer purge.) Apple then extended some of these deadlines to December 31st. (Hence the second purge.)
Apple appears to be falling in line with many Android app store operators, such as Tencent and Huawei, which already demand that developers have an NPPA licence. It’s not clear why Apple changed its policy this year, though — or decided to implement Chinese regulations more vigorously. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.