Will Your Game Be Removed From Apple App Store China? Weigh Your Two Best Options.

By Todd KuhnsLast Updated on Jul 8, 2020
Will Your Game Be Removed From Apple App Store China? Weigh Your Two Best Options.

Today, Apple notified developers that iOS games that are paid or have in-app purchases and do not have the required game license from the Chinese government will be removed from the Apple App Store China by August 1.

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

If your iOS game falls in this category, we’ve already posted some emergency steps you can take right now.

But most of the developers we have spoken with this last week are torn between two longer-term options:

  • change the category of their app from game to something else
  • remove the game from the app store and apply for a game license

Before you decide which route you should take, here are some factors to consider.

Changing The Category Of Your Game in the Apple App Store

At present, updating your iOS game without entering the required game license approval number will remove your game from the Apple App Store China. However, we have confirmed that if you change the category from “game” to something like “entertainment” or “education”, the required approval number field disappears from the developer console and your app will remain available in China, even after update.

So currently the quickest fix would seem to be changing the category of your offending app from “game” to another category that can fit it equally well.

category change
The category change option in Apple’s developer game management console.

But before you settle on this solution, please weigh these caveats:

  • Apple must approve your category change. If your game is used to teach English or French, for example, it can reasonably fit in the “education” category. If your game is more like a simple exercise, such as a coloring book or jigsaw puzzle app, the “entertainment” category may also be an acceptable alternative.
    But remember that Apple is likely to reject the notion that your MMORPG is an “educational” app. So this solution will only work for certain apps that can comfortably fit under a new category.
  • Category is a world-wide setting. You can’t change the category listing only for a certain market, like China. This will be the new category for your game in the Apple App Store across the world. It’s possible this change could negatively affect your ASO and SEO, leading to diminished downloads worldwide, and/or making it more difficult for people to find your game.
  • This may only slow down the inevitable. We’ve confirmed that this works – for now. However, at any time, Apple could decide that your game is still a game, no matter which category it is listed in, and take it down anyway. So there is a risk in using this as a long-term strategy.

Applying For A Game License

Making your mobile iOS game 100% legal in China is the best long-term strategy to keep it available to Chinese consumers. However, keep this in mind:

  • Once you apply for the game license approval number, you must de-list your game. You are only allowed to distribute your game in China after you receive a game license approval number – not before. When the Chinese regulatory authorities review your application, they will search to see if it has already been published in China. If it has, your application will run into issues, and likely be rejected outright.
  • The game license approval process takes at least 6-12 months. During this time, your game will be unavailable in China and you will forego your China revenue. You’ll also need to develop some kind of user-retention strategy to maintain your user base as much as possible to build excitement and awareness for that time when you are able to list your app again.
  • China only approved about 1500 games in 2019. And this is across all sectors – mobile, console, arcade, and online. So if you decide it is worth it to stay in the China market, don’t hesitate: Find a publishing partner (such as AppInChina) and get your application in as soon as possible. Or you’ll be waiting even longer than a year.
2020 Game License Approvals | AppInChina
In 2020, China has approved only 666 game licenses so far.

A stopgap measure

Neither of these two options are perfect. But with three weeks of lead time, a third option may be possible for you, depending on your situation: Create and upload a separate version of your game for the Chinese market that is free and/or ad-supported, and encourage your Chinese users to switch to that version.

This can be implemented while you are readying your game license application in China. By listing this version as a second app and encouraging your new users to switch over to it, you can continue to build your user base and generate ad-revenue. This may not be feasible for all developers – and remember, you will still need to pull it down once you submit your application for review.

Or maybe you’ll just decide to keep your ad-supported game exclusively for the China market. Just remember that China law states that ALL games must receive a game license. In practice, that has not been enforced for ad-supported games yet, but anything can change in this landscape.

We are here to help.

Of course, helping foreign app and game developers publish in China and navigate the complexities of the Chinese market is our specialty. We can publish your game for you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to send us a message.