Hello and welcome back to the China Roundup from theinformationsuperhighway, a summary of the recent events that are shaping the Chinese technology landscape and what they mean for people in the rest of the world. This week, Apple has taken some important steps that point to its increasingly compliant behavior in China, where competition has escalated. However, investors are dissatisfied with the approach to hot button issues in the country.
Virus game gone
Plague Inc., a simulation game in which a player wants to infect the whole world with a deadly virus, has been removed from the China iOS App Store this week. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 corona virus in late January, Chinese users have traveled to download the eight-year-old game and may have been looking for an alternative way to understand the epidemic.
Data from market research company App Annie shows that from late January to most of February, the title remained the most downloaded app in China, from 28th place earlier this year.
Ndemic Creations, the British studio behind the game, said in a statement that the "situation" – the removal of Plague Inc. from the Apple App Store – "is completely beyond our control". The Chinese government provided an opaque reason for the shutdown, saying the game "contains content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China," the country's Internet watchdog.
The incident has received a lot of attention in and outside of China. Some speculate that Apple has given in to Beijing pressure, which could worry Plague Inc.'s gameplay. A sticking point is that in his tutorial China is selected as the starting country by default, although a user can start anywhere in the world in the main game. The information reported in 2018 that Plague Inc. had actually applied for official distribution permission in China but was refused due to its "socially inappropriate" content.
Others, including Niko Partners' game analyst Daniel Ahmad, suggested that the Chinese authority may have questioned an update to the December version that allowed players to create "false news" that they were in the midst of seeking advice could mislead the health crisis.
Ahmad also suggested that the ban may be related to the ongoing crackdown on unlicensed mobile games in China. In particular, Plague Inc.'s ban coincided with Apple's announcement earlier this week that all games in its Chinese app store will need government approval in July as an ISBN number. Few details have become known about what this new regulatory process entails. Developers also don't know if currently released games will be removed without official approval.
Plague Inc, the popular simulation game that aims to infect everyone in the world with a deadly virus, has been removed from the iOS app store in China.
The Cyber Administration of China says the game contained illegal content. No further details.https: //t.co/73dNNJlgmX pic.twitter.com/lYqQ4TASeY
– Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX), February 27, 2020
Apple investors are not satisfied with the company's app shutdowns in China. 40% of shareholders support a proposal that would force Apple to uphold the human rights obligation and respond more transparently to how Beijing's request to censor apps is responded to.
However, requesting a game permit is not new. In fact, Apple is closing a regulatory gap that has existed for years. In 2016, the Chinese government had already stipulated that video games – for both PCs and mobile phones – would have to apply for an ISBN number before they could be put into circulation in China. Within a few months, alternative Android stores operated by local technology giants quickly sorted out illegal games. The official Google Play Store is not available in China.
However, Apple has managed to keep unlicensed titles in stock in the world's largest game market, where content is closely monitored. The American giant has many incentives to do so. Despite the dwindling share of the iPhone in China (to be fair, all Chinese phone manufacturers except Huawei recently suffered a declining market share), iOS apps in China, especially games, remain an important source of income for Apple.
It is therefore in Apple's interest to overcome the hurdles for publishing apps in the country. Where there is a will, there's a way. Before 2016, launching a game in China was relatively easy. After the law was changed this year, Apple started asking games to prove a government license – but not everything has been done to enforce the policy. Local media reported that developers could make do with invented ISBN numbers or circumvent the rule by first posting to an iOS app store overseas and later moving to China.
This questionable practice did not go unnoticed. In August 2018, Chinese state media lambasted Apple for its poor control over App Store approvals.
Increased inspection of games is likely to have little impact on China's game titans, which have the financial and operational resources to obtain the much-needed approval. Rather, their challenge is to develop content that conforms to Beijing's ideological guidelines, such as Tencent & # 39; s patriotic revision of PUBG.
Small, independent studios and companies that develop “sock puppet games” (马甲 包) are probably the worst affected. A developer uses the gaps in the app stores to publish a group of clones with similar properties, gameplay and mask their appearance with changed names, logos and characters. This can often help the publisher get more traffic and revenue, but these sock puppets have little chance of passing tight controls by the agency, which, as a Chinese gaming blog speculates, may end sneaking.