In Gamasutra's latest China Angle column, Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo reports from an ever more populated China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference, with Coca Cola's former presence now conspicuously absent, and a trio of games fighting for the Romance of Three Kingdoms MMO crown.
While the world's game industry converged on E3 last week, China had its eyes on the 5th annual China Digital Entertainment Expo & Conference (ChinaJoy) in Shanghai. The expo is famous for its sea of sweat soaked bodies and deafening music that, in comparison makes E3s of years past, seem like book reading events in a library. Over 170,000 attended the public expo this year, up from 120,000 in 2006, making the conference crowded even by Chinese standards. With such high attendance, the expo is not only barometer for any new games, but also for any consumer trends targeting the 18 to 25 age group.
Coca Cola scored a marketing coup in 2006 when it rented out one of the three halls for ChinaJoy. The soft drink maker's association with online games in China dates back to 2005, when it partnered with The9's licensed online game World of Warcraft
. Pepsi tried to contest the soft drink-online game partnership with one of its own by partnering with The9 rival Shanda and its new game Magical Land
. However, the game was not a hit and Pepsi ended the partnership a year later. Building upon its World of Warcraft
success, Coca Cola started an online game blitzkrieg, partnering with China's largest casual game portal QQ Game and advanced casual game blockbuster Kart Rider
A year later, Coca Cola was conspicuously absent at ChinaJoy. Instead, Japanese beverage maker Kirin was the official soft drink vendor at the expo, offering a variety of iced tea and milk tea drinks. Taiwanese food and beverage giant Master Kong and its iced tea drink were also prominent at the expo, promoting their online game partner Soul of Ultimate Nation
, another game licensed and operated by The9 in China.
In comparison with the tea makers, The9's booth for ChinaJoy was unimpressive. Only a small section was set aside for The9's bread and butter game World of Warcraft
, even though The Burning Crusade
expansion is expected to launch within the next month. Of the major Nasdaq listed Chinese online game companies, only Shanda had an impressive booth, but it showcased few games and instead consisted mostly of bikini-clad girls on beach chairs promoting Shanda's licensed game Dead Or Alive Online
Romance Of Three Game Companies
Behind the army of booth promoters hid Shanda's key game for 2008 - Changchun Online
. Shanda licensed the game from Korea's Wemade in March this year and is preparing to launch it at the end of the year. Changchun Online
is based on Romance of Three Kingdoms, a Chinese literary classic that has influenced the cultures of every nation in East Asia. The novel is also the basis for Koei's Dynasty Warrior
series of games.
Despite the novel's popularity, no Three Kingdoms based MMORPG has succeeded in China yet, making Changchun
both a challenge and a potential goldmine for Shanda. China's other literary classic, Journey to the West, is locked up by Chinese game developer Netease, whose MMORPGs Westward Journey 2
and Fantasy Westward Journey
combine for nearly 2 million peak concurrent users.
Challenging Shanda for the Three Kingdoms MMORPG market is Webzen with Kingdom of Warriors
. Webzen has the China market in mind for the game and is developing the game in its China studio. With both Huxley
and Soul of Ultimate Nation
licensed to The9, Webzen concentrated on promoting Kingdom of Warriors
at this year's ChinaJoy. Game titles aside, little changed for Webzen's booth this year; the ubiquitous red inflatable Webzen surfboards continued to be popular.
Also making a bid for the Three Kingdoms market is China's largest Internet company Tencent. Tencent's instant messaging platform QQ has over 260 million active users, and the company has leveraged its huge user base to dominate online casual games. Tencent's latest advanced casual game is QQ Sanguo (QQ Three Kingdoms)
. The "Adventure Island" style game started open beta testing at the end of June and received a warm welcome from gamers. Over 500,000 user accounts were registered for QQ Sanguo
before the game started open beta.
[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@example.com.]