US tech giant closes loophole that had allowed for-profit game app developers to operate without a government licence.

More than 2,500 mobile games were removed from Apple’s China app store in the first week of July, four times as many as in the same period in June, after the US-based tech giant closed a loophole to comply with Chinese licence requirements, data from SensorTower showed.

Apple had given publishers of revenue-generating games a deadline of end-June to submit a government-issued licence number that allows them to offer in-app purchases, a requirement that Android-based app stores in China have long had. It was not clear why Apple had allowed the loophole to exist for so long.

Notable games removed from China’s App Store in July so far include Supercell’s farming hit Hay Day, Nonstop Chuck Norris from Flaregames and Solitaire from Zynga, according to SensorTower.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move comes amid worsening relations between China and the US and its allies. On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump revoked Hong Kong’s special trading status in retaliation for Beijing’s imposition of a security law on the semi-autonomous territory.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom has banned Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from providing equipment for its 5G mobile networks.

“It’s possible these games will be available again in the future … but have been gone from the storefront for more than five days,” said Randy Nelson, head of Mobile Insights at SensorTower.

The app-analytics firm was not able to determine the individual reason for each game’s removal, but the sharp uptick was notable, he added.

Tightening regulations

The games removed in the first seven days of July had generated a combined $34.7m in lifetime gross revenue in China, with more than 133 million downloads.

China has tightened its control over the world’s largest video-game market in recent years, and online games seeking to monetise often face a lengthy approval process to obtain a licence.

In February, video game Plague Inc, which surged in popularity amid the coronavirus outbreak, was removed from Apple’s China app store after regulators said it contained illegal content. The game did not have a proper licence and analysts say it was unlikely to get one.