A popular video game called “Plague Inc.” in which players can spread a virus around the globe has been pulled from Apple’s App Store in China due to “illegal” content, according to its UK-based developer.
The game shot to the top of the charts in the coronavirus-plagued country and gained widespread popularity elsewhere as people sought a diversion — albeit a macabre one — during the real-life epidemic.
“This situation is completely out of our control,” said developer and publisher Ndemic Creations, which sought to contact the Cyberspace Administration of China to work toward a resolution, according to Reuters.
Ndemic said it was unclear if the cyberspace watchdog’s decision was related to the deadly outbreak, which began in the city of Wuhan in December.
“We have a huge amount of respect for our Chinese players and are devastated that they are no longer able to access and play Plague Inc.,” Ndemic added, according to Agence France-Presse.
The game, which was released in 2012, has more than 130 million players, the company said.
The Chinese regulator and Apple did not respond to requests from Reuters and AFP for comment.
Ndemic said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recognized the simulation game as an educational tool.
Daniel Ahmad, an analyst with gaming research company Niko Partners, told Reuters that “the game may have simply been taken down due to sensitivities around the topic and gameplay of the title given the recent COVID-19 outbreak.”
Ahmad added that it might be related to a new feature in the game that allows players to create “fake news” stories about the pathogen.
He said he didn’t believe the game’s removal was tied to a new update by Apple that requires developers of revenue-generating games on its Chinese site to obtain a license from the Chinese government since other unlicensed games had not been affected.
Players took to social media to slam the decision to pull the game.
“I’ve played Plague Inc for so long, I’m so angry! It taught us to wash hands frequently and protect ourselves… Honestly, I learned a lot about infectious diseases from this game,” one wrote on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, according to AFP.