Ever since China’s new cybersecurity law came into effect on June 1, 2017, its government has implemented tough restrictions on social media and internet-based communication. Freedom House, a US-based organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, reported that over 3,000 websites were shut down or had their license revoked in 2018.
Apple had to pull out hundreds of VPNs from its online app store just to remain in operation; while international companies that publish content across China were ordered to secure an “online publishing license” to avoid disseminating celebrity gossip or other entertainment news.
As China continues to increase control over the internet, Plague Inc., (a wildly popular epidemic-themed simulation game) has been removed from the Chinese App Store. Ndemic Creations, the U.K.-based makers of Plague Inc, said in a statement that the game “includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China.”
The removal of the game has sparked questions about whether the decision was based on the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
“It’s not clear to us if this removal is linked to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that China is facing. However, Plague Inc.’s educational importance has been repeatedly recognised by organisations like the CDC and we are currently working with major global health organisations to determine how we can best support their efforts to contain and control COVID-19.”
However, the independent gaming studio assured Chinese players that they will still attempt to resolve the problem by making contact with China’s gaming regulators.
“We are working very hard to try and find a way to get the game back in the hands of Chinese players – we don’t want to give up on you – however, as a tiny independent games studio in the UK, the odds are stacked against us. Our immediate priority is to try and make contact with the Cyberspace Administration of China to understand their concerns and work with them to find a resolution.”
Last month, Plague Inc. became the most-downloaded app in China and the United States. The game developers had to ask the public not to desensationalize COVID-19 since they always notice a surge in downloads whenever there is an outbreak of disease.