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Happy New Year! Apple to remove remaining unlicensed iOS games from China by Jan 1

By Todd KuhnsPublished on Dec 7, 2020
Happy New Year! Apple to remove remaining unlicensed iOS games from China by Jan 1
ios delisted games in 2020 chart
Number of iOS games delisted from Apple App Store China in 2020

Apple contacted an unknown number of developers with unlicensed games on its Apple App Store China on Dec 2, informing them their game will be removed if they fail to submit a game license approval number by Dec 31.

Apple’s previous deadline was July 1. At that time, more than 26,000 games were removed from the App Store China in a single day, though thousands still remained. Although Apple has consistently denied commenting on its plan for removing the games, through our own observations and research we believe this is likely the final round of unlicensed apps to be targeted by Apple.

Scheduled for removal are unlicensed apps in the Games category that are paid and/or contain in-app purchases. Apple’s latest email to developers is similar to messages it has been sending since February, when it first announced this change:

Apple's email message to developers
Apple’s email message to developers last week.

Dear [Developer], 

As you may know, Chinese law requires games to obtain an approval number from China’s National Press and Publication Administration. In order to keep your paid game or game with in-app purchases available on the App Store in China mainland, enter your approval number and supporting documentation in the App Information section of your game’s page in App Store Connect and submit an update to App Review by December 31. After December 31, your game will no longer be available on the App Store in China mainland until an approval number is provided with your next submission. 

You can find the full text of the regulation and download the form required to apply for an approval number here for developers based in China mainland [English translation] or here for developers based elsewhere [English translation]. If you have any questions, contact us

Best regards, 
Apple Developer Relations

Chinese law requires all games distributed in the company apply for a special game license from the government, though in practice this has generally only been enforced for games that are paid or have in-app purchases. Games that are monetized through ads are not affected, and have not been targeted for removal by Apple so far.

Only 97 foreign games were issued game licenses in 2020 by China’s National Press and Publications Administration (NPPA).

Developers caught unaware can follow our recent guides on what can be done now to best minimize the impact on their business.

Previously, a loophole existed in Apple’s system where it asked for an ISBN / game license approval number but was not verifying their validity, as any number entered would work. This allowed tens of thousands of unlicensed apps to continue to flood the Apple App Store China unchecked over the past four years.

Apple only began to bring its games into compliance with Chinese law this year in a sudden move that took many developers by surprise, with little to no time to apply for the required ISBN number, which can take six months to one year to receive. The majority of Android app and game stores have been enforcing this law since 2016, when the regulation first came into effect.

If you need to apply for a China game license to get an ISBN number for your game, don’t panic – we can help! Please contact us immediately at the number below.

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