Apple has been forced to suspend updates for tens of thousands of games available via its China App Store, over growing pressure to adhere to the country’s licensing regulations.
Until now, Apple has allowed mobile games to operate on the App Store while awaiting official approval from regulators, but the company will now require developers to provide evidence of their right to operate in the region.
Although Apple has not yet said it will remove unlicensed App Store games outright, developers will not be allowed to update their titles without the proper certification from China’s National Press and Publication Administration.
Apple App Store
The escalation of clashes with Chinese regulators could prove a significant blow for Apple, whose App Store is more profitable in China than in any other region.
Driven predominantly by game sales, Apple’s App Store takes in $16.4 billion per year in China, with the US market close behind with $15.4bn in sales. According to consultancy AppInChina, the company’s losses could reach up to $879m as a result of the new policy.
The Chinese regulator is also notoriously selective about the mobile games it licenses, approving only 1,570 last year (and 43,000 since 2010), suggesting tens of thousands of apps could face imminent removal from the App Store.
Some developers, including high profile studios such as Electronic Arts, have already frozen their services in the region in anticipation of further action from the watchdog, whose crackdown is thought to have been motivated by ongoing tensions between Washington and Beijing.
“No one is entirely clear how Apple managed to avoid enforcing the 2016 licensing rule for so long. But considering the US-China trade war began heating up earlier this year, the timing is suspicious,” said Todd Kuhns, Marketing Manager at AppInChina.
Apple has previously come under fire for removing VPN apps from its China App Store at the country’s behest – a move that prevented Chinese citizens circumventing the Great Firewall.
The company’s latest App Store policy shift could also be interpreted as a similar capitulation to political pressure.