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To comply with Chinese law, Apple has removed nearly 42,000 games from the App Store in China since July 1 because these apps didn’t have proper licenses.

Market researcher Niko Partners found that Apple removed 14,914 games in July ahead of a July 31 deadline to comply with a 2016 regulation that requires games to have a publishing license (International Standard Book Number, or ISBN) to operate in China. It removed another 26,815 games August 1.

Android stores (which Chinese companies own) have been fully compliant with this law, while Apple has enabled some games to operate on the store without a verified ISBN. Compliance means that Apple had to remove the games this summer. The Chinese National Press and Publication Administration is responsible for the approvals, and it reviews games for reasons such as censorship or compliance with Chinese cultural tastes regarding taboo subjects, such as including skulls in games.


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Niko expects any remaining unlicensed titles to be removed by the end of December, analyst Daniel Ahmad said in a message. China is the largest mobile game market in the world with 637 million players and iOS mobile games having generated $12.6 billion in 2019, Niko said.

China has been very slow to approve new games and grant licenses. If Chinese regulators stay on the current pace, they will approve a relatively small number of publication licenses this year.

Niko Partners analysts reviewed the top iOS games in China when Apple first made the announcement and found that 97 of the top 100 grossing games on the China App Store have legal ISBNs. Foreign companies must have a Chinese game publisher apply to get an ISBN from the Chinese National Press and Publication Administration. That process takes about 80 business days, according to publisher Cocos.

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