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What just happened? Starting earlier this year, Apple began removing apps from its regional store at the behest of the Chinese government. Paid apps, or those with in-app purchases, must be licensed with a China-issued ISBN. Apple gave developers fair warning that unlicensed apps would be removed. To meet the deadline, Cupertino conducted its biggest purge yet on the last day of 2020.
Apple removed more than 46,000 apps from its China store on Thursday, marking the largest single-day purge ever. Games made up the vast majority of the deletions, with some 39,000 titles taken down. Notable examples include Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Identity and NBA 2K20. Research firm Qimai said that only 74 of the top 1,500 games in China remain in the App Store.
Reuters notes the removals come after Chinese regulators began cracking down on unlicensed mobile software. In China, paid apps have to have an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) issued by the Chinese government. The country's issuance of ISBNs is very strict, in part due to censorship laws. For example, anything that references Winnie the Pooh was banned when viral memes mockingly compared the "silly little bear" to President Xi Jinping.
The ISBN rule does not apply to free games, however. Several F2P games remain in the store, including Call of Duty: Mobile, Honor of Kings, and Game for Peace, China's version of PUBG. Apple began warning about the takedowns in February, and several developers reportedly switch to a free-to-play model to avoid going through the ISBN application process.
Today's purge was the second this year. Apple removed nearly 30,000 apps over the summer, most of which were also games. Apple has not commented on the situation, and it is unclear how the mass deletions will affect its 30-percent take, but we can dabble in some educated speculation.
Most of the nearly 75,000 deleted apps were likely garbage that had made all the money they were ever going to make. As we have seen with so many other digital marketplaces, like Steam and others, fly-by-night developers flood the store with worthless apps to turn a quick dollar. Additionally, in July, Niko Partners analysts said that 97 of the top 100 grossing games in the App Store had legal ISBNs. So any impact is probably going to be minimal for Apple.