The developer of smash-hit epidemic simulation game Plague Inc., which saw a recent boost in popularity during the coronavirus epidemic, says the game has been removed from the App Store in China.

The game is 8 years old, but recent events have made its premise more topical: Players must engineer a super virus with the end goal of wiping out the human race. Now iPhone owners can no longer download or update the game on the iOS App Store in mainland China. Those who already own the game and try to update are presented with an alert that reads, “Plague Inc. is no longer available. Developers have removed the game app from the App Store.”

No more Plague Inc. for iOS users in China, even if they’ve already bought the app. (Picture: Sina/Weibo)

In a statement posted to its website, Ndemic says it was informed that Plague Inc. “includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China,” confirming that the game has now been removed from the iOS App Store in the country. 

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

The app’s disappearance could disappoint the game’s myriad new fans in China. While Plague Inc. has enjoyed success since it launched in 2012, the Covid-19 outbreak sent downloads of the game soaring, making it the top paid game on iOS for days at one point.

The indie title has been praised as a great piece of entertainment that promotes awareness about epidemics and their effects. In its statement, Ndemic highlighted praise given to the game for its educational merit. However, experts say it shouldn’t be mistaken for an accurate model of how epidemics spread in real life.

Ndemic said that it’s not clear whether the coronavirus outbreak is connected to the app’s removal. But it does come shortly after word of a separate crackdown on games in China.

Apple recently said that it would enforce China’s strict gaming regulations, which require all games sold in the country to have a license. The regulations have been in place since 2016, but Apple seems to have relaxed enforcement until this week. 

In a notice sent out earlier this week, Apple requested that developers of games with in-app purchases submit their licenses by the end of June. Ndemic doesn't currently have a license to distribute and monetize Plague Inc. in China. But the company doesn’t have one for Rebel Inc., either, which is also a paid app on iOS and remains available.

UPDATE: This story was updated to include Ndemic’s statement, which confirms that the game was removed from the iOS App Store in China.