On the 23rd of February, a message appeared on Apple's developer back-end giving notice that an ISBN will be required for mobile games published in China's App Store.
Apple's official announcement, as translated from Chinese, reads:
"Chinese law requires games to secure an approval number from the General Administration of Press and Publication of China. Accordingly, please provide this number to us by June 30, 2020 for all any paid games or games offering in-app purchases that you intend to distribute in China mainland. you can enter your game's approval number and date below. If you have any questions, contact us."
Additional information on the announcement has been scarce, leaving developers with a multitude of questions and few clear answers. However, to shed some light on the situation, we can take a brief look at the history of China's gaming regulations.
In 2016, the Chinese government announced that games published in the mainland had to comply with regulations provided by the Chinese authorities. From this point onward, games were formally required to have an ISBN.
These policies have since been tightly enforced on Android app stores for any game that contains In-App-Purchase (IAP) payments, while games that monetized purely with advertisements and contained no IAP could still be published on some Android Stores if the content was deemed appropriate and not in violation of ISBN guidelines.
Meanwhile, on the Apple App Store, a grey area has allowed developers to continue publishing their games. While there was a notice stating that games published in China required a license, the submission of the ISBN was optional and developers ould still publish without providing a valid ISBN number.
Following this week's announcement, the App Store appears to be giving developers clear notice that compliance with ISBN requirements will be enforced from June 30 onward.
How Apple handles the situation will determine the future for potentially hundreds of games currently populating the platform.
There is still a need for further details on the matter.
Do I need an ISBN if my game has no IAP?
Current messaging from the App Store alludes that only games containing IAP will be required to submit a valid ISBN. Given our knowledge of how policies have been implemented and enforced by Android app stores, it is possible that games which monetize solely with ads could be published without an ISBN submission - provided none of their content is deemed to be in violation of ISBN guidelines.
What will happen after June 30?
Possibly the biggest question for developer is what will happen to games in the App Store that don't have a valid ISBN when June 30 comes around. There is speculation that Apple will delist them, as Android stores did some years ago.
China's mobile gaming market is certain to feel the aftermath of Apple's announcement. Games that rely heavily on IAP will be especially at risk if they don't have an ISBN license, as in their in-app purchases could become invalid or the game could be delisted. Likewise, it poses a threat to premium games - although direct consequences are not yet known.
Recently, the process for acquiring a regular ISBN license has taken an average of 9 to 12 months; it also necessitates the assistance of a Chinese company. Developers who want to avoid adverse consequences in four month's time should take immediate action.
One thing is certain: the need for a trusted local partner with lengthy experience, conclusive expertise, and a proven track record will only increase as time goes on.
China's gaming regulations are fast-evolving, and the trends point to the continued addition of new regulations that guide the development of the Chinese gaming market. Most recently, this included strict limits on gaming time for minors.
Our regulatory experts, who constantly monitor the changes in China's gaming market and help global developers better understand the impact of these policies, highly recommend that games earning revenue from ads as well as IAP switch to a fully ad-monetized model. This will minimize the risk of revenue loss when Apple takes action toward full compliance and until the developer can obtain a regular ISBN.
Not sure how to proceed? Our team of monetization and ad design experts is ready to help.
Backed by nearly a decade of sustained success in Chana's mobile games market, Yodo1 has been helping developers across the globe navigate the stormy seas of China's mobile gaming regulations.
We are already taking action to assist those affected by Apple's announcement. To learn how you can handle the situation and come out on top, contact us now at firstname.lastname@example.org