Apple was forced to pull one of the world’s most popular games from the App Store in China by order of the country’s Cyberspace Administration.
The creators of Plague Inc. say it is unclear whether their pandemic-themed game was removed because of China’s ongoing battle to contain the coronavirus known as COVID-19.
In a statement released Thursday on its website, U.K.-based Ndemic Creations said Plague Inc. was pulled because it “includes content that is illegal in China.”
The game boasts more than 130 million players worldwide, according to its creators.
Plague Inc. creators speak
“It’s the #1 strategy/simulation game worldwide and has been the most popular paid game in China for many years,” the statement read. The company said its game “stands out as an intelligent and sophisticated simulation that encourages players to think and learn more about serious public health issues.”
Currently, there is no bigger health issue in the world than the coronavirus. COVID-19 emerged in China around the first of the year and has since spread to other countries. The virus has killed more than 2,800 people and infected more than 82,000 people, mostly in China.
Apple did not return a request for comment on why Plague Inc. disappeared from the App Store. The tech giant is likely to face renewed criticism over removing apps at the request of governments.
Apps entering the mainland China App Store come under intense government oversight. Of 217 apps removed at the request of governments during the first six months of 2019, 194 were from China, according to an Apple report on government and private party requests (.pdf).
A game about viral outbreaks
Ndemic Creations could not be reached for further comment. On Jan. 23, the developer issued a statement as COVID-19 began to spread and the company found itself inundated with questions from media outlets and gamers.
“Whenever there is an outbreak of disease, we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks,” Ndemic Creations’ earlier statement read. “We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalizing a serious, real-world issue.”
However, the company said Plague Inc. is “a game, not a scientific model…. We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.”