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EA Grows Online Gaming Footprint in Asia
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Electronic Arts Inc (EA), the world's biggest video game publisher, said yesterday it would pay about US$167 million for 15 percent of The9 Ltd, a leading Chinese online game operator, to increase its stake in the Asian online gaming market.


The US company also agreed to give The9 exclusive licensing rights to its football game, "EA Sports FIFA Online", on the Chinese mainland.


"The agreement builds on EA's strategy of partnering with proven regional operators to bring online games to Asia, and The9's strategy of expanding its game product offerings in the Chinese market," the two companies said in a statement last night.


EA, which has developed games for Microsoft's XBOX and Sony's PlayStation, has been aggressively expanding in Asia. The California-based company acquired 19 percent of South Korea's Neowiz Corp and is planning to jointly develop online games with the Korean game developer and operator in Asia.


However, the US game publisher has seen meagre revenue growth in China.


"Online gaming could be a cash cow for EA in China," said Edward Yu, president of Analysys International, a Beijing-based IT consultancy. "It could also help the company attract more fans in China's massive online gaming market."


China had more than 31 million online gamers in 2006, according to IDC, an International IT research group. Meanwhile, gamers spent 6.54 billion yuan in the year, making it one of the largest online gaming markets in the world.


NASDAQ-listed The9, one of China's leading game operators, has been looking for new games to replicate the success of World of Warcraft, a game it licensed from Vivend Universal Games unit Blizzd Entertainment.


The Shanghai-based company is expecting the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2010 FIFA World Cup to build interest in EA's football game. The game has attracted more than 4.4 million registered subscribers in South Korea since its launch last year, The9 said.


(China Daily May 22, 2007)


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