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The China Angle: All Sins Forgiven

The China Angle: All Sins Forgiven

March 20, 2007 | By Shang Koo

March 20, 2007 | By Shang Koo
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Travelers flying into Beijing on Wednesday might see delays as flights get rerouted to avoid flying pigs. Chinese online game operator Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited will hold a press conference in Beijing on Wednesday, where, several sources have confirmed, Shanda will announce its licensing deal with Korean game developer Wemade Entertainment for Wemade's new 3D MMORPG Three Kingdoms Chronicle. Three Kingdoms Chronicle will be the third major Wemade game to launch in China, and the second to be operated by Shanda.

Shanda revolutionized China's video game business model in 2001 when it launched its first MMORPG - Wemade and Actoz's joint game Legend of Mir 2. Instead of charging for the software, Shanda gave the game away for free and charged an hourly fee, circumventing China's rampant piracy problem. For the next three years, Legend of Mir 2 reigned supreme as the most popular game in China, and after more than five years in operation is still the top game in less developed regions of China.

Despite Legend of Mir 2's popularity, Actoz terminated Shanda's license for the game in January 2003. Shanda continued to operate the game without a license and without technical support. In February 2003, Wemade started an investigation of World of Legend, a new MMORPG Shanda was developing in-house that shared many similarities with Legend of Mir 2, including name, content, and playing style. A month later, Wemade licensed the next game in the Mir series to Guangdong based Optisp. Wemade's legal battle against Shanda dragged on for another two years.

Round 2...

The allure of 1 billion customers (137 million internet users and growing) is too much to ignore for Wemade. Despite their past animosity, Shanda is still one of the best game operator partners available in China. Shanda competitor The9 has its focus on World of Warcraft and The Burning Crusade expansion, and already has a full pipeline for 2007. China's largest game operator Netease has its focus on internal development, leaving only Shanda among the major Nasdaq listed operators.

For Shanda, Wemade's Three Kingdoms Chronicle is a chance to build upon its Legend of Mir 2 foundation, leveraging both its existing user base and Wemade's reputation. Three Kingdoms Chronicle also has a chance to be the first mover in China's three kingdoms themed MMOGs. Although several MMOGs based on the Chinese classics are already available, none are successful and none were developed by famous developers and launched by major game operators. Three Kingdoms Chronicle is nearing open beta testing in Korea, and could be ready for China as early as China's seven day October holiday period.

Bloody Redemption

Chinese online game operator Moliyo launched open beta of its licensed 3D MMORPG Cabal Online on Christmas Day 2006, and quickly recorded 480,000 peak concurrent users for the game. The game was developed by Korea's EST Soft, and like many Korean games, faced problems with macros and plug-ins. To show its diligence in controlling game cheats, Moliyo announced on March 5 that since launch it had shut down 120,000 game accounts suspected of using cheat programs.

Two days after Moliyo's announcement, a group of gamers stormed into and vandalized Moliyo's Shanghai office. In the aftermath, it appeared as if a tornado swept through the office. Graffitied on the office walls were phrases like "reactivate accounts," "return money," and "deceived gamers." Three were led away by the police.

Last week, Moliyo announced that it will reactivate suspended game accounts for Cabal Online if players donate blood in a blood drive held in Shanghai on March 18. Moliyo will unlock game accounts for blood donors within three days. Over a hundred people participated in the blood drive, of which around half were distraught gamers.

[Shang Koo is an editor at Shanghai-based Pacific Epoch, and oversees research and daily news content on China's new media industries, with a concentration in online games. Pacific Epoch itself provides investment and trade news and publishes a number of subscription products regarding the Chinese technology market. Readers wanting to contact him can e-mail [email protected].]


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