Apple to Require Game License for Non-free Games on China’s App Store in July

In July, Apple will implement a new game review process for China’s App Store that requires all new games to obtain approval from the country’s game regulator, tightening regulations for the largest app marketplace in China in terms of revenue, game media GameLook reported.

All paid games and those that include in-game purchase features must submit licenses issued by China’s top game regulator, the State Administration of Press and Publication (SAPP), before June 30 to pass Apple’s review process, according to a notice to developers from the company. Free games that rely on ad revenue are spared.

Apple will also check whether the same game approval is used by multiple publishers or multiple games, which have been common among small and medium-sized developers that are unable to acquire licenses for all of their titles.

The App Store is the largest app marketplace in China in terms of revenue, accounting for 52% of the country’s total mobile game revenue in 2019, or around $11.8 billion, according to GameLook’s estimates.

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Apple’s new review process is being implemented in response to pressures from the SAPP and has very little chance to be reversed or postponed as it had been in the past two years, the GameLook report said, citing multiple people familiar with the matter.

Chinese developers that use the same license for multiple titles and overseas developers that rely on the Chinese market will be hit the hardest by the new license check. Foreign developers without a local partner in particular, who are not allowed to apply for licenses in China due to their citizenship, would be unable to generate any revenue in the country.

Once Apple’s new rules are implemented, indie games such as Plague, Inc. will not be able to sell to consumers in China unless it finds a local partner who can help it apply for a license. The developer will also have to sign over the copyright to its Chinese partner.

In April 2019, the SAPP implemented a new game review process that would drastically reduce the number of game approvals given out each year in an attempt to boost the overall quality of mobile games in China. The new review process would tilt toward high-quality games with high “cultural value.” The regulator approved 308 games in the first three months of 2020. In comparison, it issued licenses to close to 800 games during the same period in 2019.