The latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column
sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo taking a look at the sports MMO invasion of China, as well as China's cellphone game history, as Shanda's mobile division CEO prepares to step down.
China's Virtual Streets Prepare For More Extreme Sports
Chinese advanced online casual game powerhouse 9you launched closed beta testing for Extreme Soccer
(pictured above) on August 31. The urban street soccer game was licensed from Korean developer SonicAnt. Extreme Soccer will compete against JC Entertainment's Freestyle Street Basketball
, operated by T2CN in China. Universal recently licensed Freestyle for the North American market.
9you has dominated China's advanced casual game market since launching its music games in 2005. The music games are also set in an urban setting, and its hip look is especially popular with female players. 9you's four music games have around 140 million registered users and total 800,000 peak concurrent users. However, 9you has recently faced serious competition from Freestyle
, which seized its first mover advantage in the street sports genre to take significant market share away from 9you.
Initial user response to Extreme Soccer
appears positive. According to 9you CEO Wang Zijie, user response has been better than the company's earlier music games at comparable stages of operation. Wang expects Extreme Soccer
to be the next hit for 9you and help increase its user numbers to 1 million peak concurrent users by the fourth quarter of 2006. Other than extreme soccer, 9you also has street sports games for basketball, tennis, and skateboarding in its pipeline.
Digital Red Loses Mobile CEO
Chinese online game company Shanda Interactive will lose another senior executive in September. Shanda mobile game subsidiary Digital Red's CEO Wu Gang announced recently that he will soon resign. The resignation coincides with the two year mark of Shanda's acquisition of Digital Red in September 2004. Wu's departure follows a string of senior executive resignations at Shanda, including its CFO Shujun Li at the end of June and its VP of home entertainment division Gary Chang in May.
Since Shanda's acquisition of the company in 2004, Digital Red has developed several mobile games based on Shanda's hit MMORPGs, notably its in-house developed game World of Legend
and its licensed game Legend of Mir2
. Digital Red also runs the mobile entertainment portal Game-V, which offers mobile e-books and other wireless value added services in addition to games.
Shanda and China investors had high hopes for mobile games in 2004. Chinese wireless value added service provider Linktone created a niche for itself with short message service (SMS) based mobile games in 2000. Chinese mobile users sent millions of SMS messages to answer questions for quiz games and send commands for Diplomacy-style war games. With the emergence of Java capable handsets in 2004, everyone thought the popularity of the SMS games would carry on to Java games.
Despite over 400 million wireless handset users in China, downloadable Java games never became a major money maker for mobile content companies due to piracy problems. Websites like BangBang (81088.com) offer hundreds of mobile game games and other wireless content for free. Bangbang allows its users to upload content on its forum, but does not regulate the uploaded content for copyright issues. Also, mobile handset retailers often give away dozens of pirated mobile games as incentives to close sales.
[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.]