UPDATE: Apple’s new requirements for games on the Apple App Store China

Note: We will continue to update this post as we receive new information. For more background on this topic, please see our previous articles here and here.

Update (07/08/2020): A post in Chinese media recently stated that Chinese developers received a notice that Apple would take down their games from the Apple App Store China if they do not provide a valid game license approval number by July 31. This means there will be mass takedown of paid games and games with in-app purchases that remain unlicensed by August 1.

purported email from apple
The reported email from Apple to Developers on July 8, 2020. Source: Youxixinzhi

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 July 31. After July 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 or here for developers based elsewhere.

The link in this article for downloading the “form required to apply for an approval number” leads to this page on the NPPA website. This is a copy of a document that was originally posted on the SAPPRFT site (which previously handled game registrations), for which we have an English translation available here.

Please note that this text is a bit misleading, as much more is required to receive an ISBN than simply filling out a form.

A number of games are already disappearing from the Apple App Store China

Follow this post for daily tracking and commentary.

chart of games removed from Apple App Store China
July 1-9 total: 9922
Updated daily with data from China mobile market analysis platform Qimai Data.

“Availability In Mainland China” setup option now appearing on the developer console.

In the App Information section of Apple’s Developer Console are now options for uploading game license information.

new option on developer interface
On July 1, this new setup option appeared in the developer console for games that are available in Mainland China.
closeup on availability in China
A closer look at the new option in the developer interface for games in China.

The text states:

Chinese law requires games to secure an approval number from China’s National Press and Publication Administration. If you offer or plan to offer paid games or games with in-app purchases, provide your approval number and supporting documents to make sure your app will be available on the App Store in China mainland.

Clicking “Set Up” brings up this interface:

setup availability on chinese mainland-appinchina
The interface asks the user to enter a valid game approval number and upload their business license.

The text states:

Chinese law requires games to secure an approval number from China’s National Press and Publication Administration. If you offer or plan to offer paid games or games with in-app purchases on the App Store in China mainland, enter your approval number below and upload one or more supporting documents. These will be reviewed the next time you submit this game to App Review.

To help verify your approval number, upload your game’s ISBN Issuing Letter or Approval Reply, and a copy of your latest Business License. Additionally, you can include an authorization agreement from the matching operator.

What does this mean?

We interpret this to mean that, the next time you make a change to your game and it is submitted to Apple for review, this information will be verified for accuracy. If it is rejected, it’s unknown at this point if your game update will simply fail or if your game will be taken down from the App Store China altogether. We are currently trying to verify this with Apple.

If your game license information is rejected or not provided, your game will be updated, but also it will be removed from the China region of the Apple App Store.

Your game approval number will be sent to you by the NPPA by email when the game license is approved.

China Game License Q&A – Apple App Store

Q: Are paid games without a Chinese game license still available on the Apple App Store China? Has Apple started to take them down?
A: Currently, we see no evidence that Apple has proactively removed unlicensed games from the Apple App Store China.
As noted above, the game license information (ISBN) and business license only need to be submitted and verified when an update to the game is submitted. However, this could change at any time. There is currently an unsubstantiated rumor that games will have a 6-month window to comply before Apple removes them.

Update 07/08/2020: We now know that Apple will take down all unlicensed games by Aug 1, 2020.

Q: Can my paid game still be sold without this verified info entered?
A: At this time, paid games without a game license that are already up on the app store continue to be available for purchase. This could change at any time.

Update 07/08/2020: We now know that Apple will take down all unlicensed games by Aug 1, 2020.

Q: What happens if I change the app category to something other than “Game”?
A: Changing the app category makes the notification disappear, but keep in mind this category change must be submitted and approved by Apple. You may want to read this article for the pros and cons of this approach.

Q: Do in-app purchases still work for unlicensed games on the Apple App Store China?
A: At present time, in-app payments for unlicensed games on the Apple App Store China still work, and there is no change to the developer interface. However, keep in mind that adding new IAP or changing IAP would require an app update, which must be approved by Apple and would likely fail if a valid game license (ISBN) and business license is not provided at the same time.

We have verified that, if you remove all the in-app purchases from a free game, the game license approval number verification interface disappears from the developer console.

Q: Is there a grace period for entering the game license approval number (ISBN) information? How long can I avoid it?
A: We are currently trying to get a definitive answer to this question. From the text, it appears that Apple will not review any information until you actually submit a game update. This leads us to believe that, as long as you don’t update your game, it can remain on the store for the time being. There is currently an unsubstantiated rumor that games will have 6 months to comply before being taken down.

Update 07/08/2020: We now know that Apple will take down all unlicensed games by Aug 1, 2020.

Q: How long does it take for Apple to verify this info once entered?
A: We will post an answer here as soon as we know.

Q: What happens if the game license number and business license I submit are rejected by Apple?
A: If the ISBN and business license cannot be verified, it could mean that your game update is rejected, or Apple may remove your game from the App Store China. We are still looking for clarification from Apple on this.

If you cannot submit a valid game license approval number and upload a valid business license, then your game will be removed from the Apple App Store China.

Our recommendations for game publishers in China

  • If you plan to continue publishing your game in China and have not yet started the process of getting a game license, begin immediately, because the entire process can take 6-12 months. If you are a foreign publisher, you need to secure a Chinese partner for this. We expect Apple’s actions to lead to a huge backlog in game license approvals for the foreseeable future, so it would be best to get in as early as possible.
  • In the interim, we have a page of handy tips and steps you can take to help mitigate your losses and maintain your users.
  • For a more long-term solution, this post examines your two best options.
  • If you do not have the required game license number (ISBN) or business license, we recommend you avoid updating your game for the time being.
  • We can assist with converting your paid game to an ad-revenue model with an ad provider or ad management platform that is specifically tuned for China.

LINK: How To Publish Your Game In China – Step-By-Step

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