Is your iOS game in China unlicensed? Here’s what you can do now.

By Todd KuhnsLast Updated on Jun 29, 2020
Is your iOS game in China unlicensed? Here’s what you can do now.

Beginning July 1, Apple is requiring unlicensed iOS games on the Apple App Store China that are paid and/or have in-app purchases to submit a valid game license approval number (GRN/ISBN) and supporting documentation. This is to comply with the Chinese law that requires games to get an official game license from the government before publication.

Unfortunately, this process is involved and can take 6 months to a year to complete. So you will need to act quickly to maintain your user base and mitigate your losses during this transition period.

What does this mean for me and my game?

The short answer is: We don’t really know for sure, because Apple refuses to comment or clarify beyond its original statement. However, if your game falls into this category, here is our best guess at what you can expect starting July 1:

  • It may be already too late to issue an update to your current game, as updates on Apple App Store generally take 1-3 days for processing and approval. But you can try.
  • At this time, we assume that already-downloaded games will remain on the user’s phone and available to play. However, Apple may choose to disable your in-app purchases, which may also break some of your functionality.
  • If a user uninstalls your game from their phone, they may be unable to re-download it.
  • If a user uses iCloud backup to restore their phone, they may lose the app as well.
  • We expect you may be unable to issue updates to your current game, even if it remains on the store for a while (in case Apple staggers the removals).

Assuming one or more of these instances are true, here is a complete guide to what you can do now to prepare for the worst keep your iOS game available in China and move forward:

1. Upload a new version of your game for China.

  • Create a new version of your game specifically for China on App Store Connect that is free to download and does not have in-app purchases. Ads are still allowed at this time.
  • Be sure to use the same name for your new game, so that users who are searching for your old game will find the new one instead.

    game name interface
  • Be sure the game is localized for China (translation, hosting, etc) as much as possible.

    form example
  • Select “China” in the Distribution Settings to ensure this version of your game is only available in China.
    App Store distribution settings

2. Send a notification to your Chinese users to invite them to download the new game.

  • To avoid losing your user base, you will want to ask your current players to download your new game through any push notification, SMS, and/or in-game notification that you are capable of posting.
  • Be sure your notification clearly states that the version of the game they are using may become unavailable or unusable starting July 1, so they should download the new version to keep playing uninterrupted.
AppInChina Screenshot

3. Apply for a Chinese Game License Approval Number (GRN/ISBN)

  • Secure an approval number from the NPPA for the monetized version of your game as soon as possible, as the licensing process can take 6-12 months.
  • If you are a non-Chinese company or individual, you must find a Chinese partner to help publish your game, as foreign companies and individuals are unable to get a game license. AppInChina can help publish your game and acquire a game license for you.
  • See our article below for more detail about the game license approval process in China.

LINK: How To Publish Your Game In China

4. Build a Chinese community around your new game

  • You can use your new game to build and maintain a community of players.
  • Think of ways to incentivize them to keep playing, and features you can add to your monetized version to make the switch back to the monetized version more appealing when the time comes.

5. Use the game license to enable in-app purchase/paid downloads.

  • Once your game is licensed, you can enter your approval number and upload an update to the app store that includes in-app purchases.

Try changing the category of your app.

Another idea, if it is possible and fits your game, is to change the category of your app away from “Game” to an equally suitable category:

  • For example, if you are offering a coloring book app, it may fit well under “Lifestyle”
  • A game whose primary purpose is to teach English might fit well under the “Education” category.
Interface for changing app category.
Interface for changing app category.

Keep in mind that these changes are global, so it will affect your app in all geographical regions it is listed. Also, category changes must be approved by Apple. But if the category is successfully changed, then the “Availability in Mainland China” set up option will disappear.

How AppInChina can help

With over $36 billion yearly in gaming revenue, China leads the world in size and speed of mobile game adoption. Contact us to learn more about our full suite of services, which includes game licenses, compliance, distribution, localization, hosting, monetization and more to help you succeed in China.