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Apple set to remove thousands of games from Chinese App Store in license crackdown

The company is taking action on a long-exploited loophole.
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SHANGHAI, CHINA - JUNE 17: The Aple logo hangs on the Apple Store at IFC mall on June 17, 2020 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images)
VCG via Getty Images

Apple is about to start removing thousands of mobile games from its App Store in China, following the government’s crackdown on a loophole that has until now allowed developers such as Rockstar Games to get unapproved games into the hands of Chinese players.

Chinese regulations stipulate that all paid-for games, or those that offer in-app purchases, must be reviewed and subsequently obtain a license before they can be published. While Android app stores have largely observed this rule since 2016, many iPhone game developers would go ahead and publish their games anyway while waiting for authorization, which could take months. Now, as Bloomberg reports, Apple has stipulated that all iOS games in China will need licenses to continue operating from July.

Back in February, Apple “reminded” iOS developers in China that they needed to obtain licenses prior to publishing, now the iPhone maker has explicitly said that games without a license by June 30th will be banned and removed from the local App Store. This could have far-reaching implications on the gaming industry in the country, given China’s strict rules on permitted content. Titles based on gambling, China’s imperial past or those featuring blood and corpses are not allowed, for example — and that’s a lot of games.

The move follows a similar decision by Sony, which closed its own backdoor earlier this month. As Bloomberg reports, there are some 60,000 games on China’s iOS App Store that are paid-for or offer in-app purchases, and at least a third of them don’t have a license. It’s not known how long it will take to remove these unlicensed games.

It’s also not clear exactly why it has taken Apple so long to decisively move on this matter, although as the target of multiple regulatory clampdowns and as one half of a very tenuous Apple-China relationship, the tech giant is clearly keen to avoid drawing unwanted scrutiny. It may also be trying to appease officials that took issue with a number of podcasts flagged in its App Store earlier this month.

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