Apple purges 46,000 apps from its Chinese App Store

What just happened? Starting at the start of the year, Apple began removing apps from its regional store at the request of the Chinese government. Paid apps, or those with in-app purchases, must be licensed with an ISBN issued in China. Apple has warned developers that unlicensed apps will be removed. To meet the deadline, Cupertino carried out its biggest purge to date on the last day of 2020.

Apple on Thursday removed more than 46,000 apps from its Chinese store, marking the largest one-day purge ever. Games made up the vast majority of removals, with some 39,000 titles retired. Notable examples include Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Identity and NBA 2K20. Research company Qimai said that only 74 of China’s top 1,500 games remain in the App Store.

Reuters notes that the removals come after Chinese regulators began cracking down on unlicensed mobile software. In China, paid apps must have an ISBN (International Standard Book Number) issued by the Chinese government. The issuance of ISBNs by the country is very strict, in part due to censorship laws. For example, anything referring to 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, the Chinese version of PUBG. Apple began warning about withdrawals in February, and several developers have reportedly gone for a free template 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 hasn’t commented on the situation and it’s unclear how the massive removals will affect its 30% hold, but we can get into educated speculation.

Most of the nearly 75,000 deleted apps were probably garbage that had made all the money they were going to make. As we have seen with so many other digital marketplaces, like Steam and others, overnight developers are flooding the store with worthless apps to make a quick buck. Additionally, in July, analysts at Niko Partners said 97 of the App Store’s 100 top-grossing games had legal ISBNs. So any impact will likely be minimal for Apple.