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Online Gaming on Fast Track

The online game playing sector, a rising star in the Internet industry, is expected to reap 700 million yuan (US$84.7 million) in sales this year, according to industry sources.

"It has become a gold mine for dotcoms and Internet service providers, and a gold rush is around the corner," the Economic Observer newspaper quoted a senior IT analyst as saying.

The sector registered sales of 285 million yuan (US$34.5 million) from January to June, almost the same as the 300 million yuan (US$36.3 million) chalked up for the entire year in 2002, according to China Internet Network Information Centre, a semi-official organization.

The sector is predicted to grow by 115 percent year on year in the coming three years.

The market is witnessing a surging number of online game population, which hit a record high of 8 million by the end of June, some 13 percent of the web population. Each spends an average of 9.9 hours per week on games.

By the end of 2006, the sector is expected to generate a revenue of 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion), ten times of the figure in 2001.

In face of such a lucrative market, online game companies have accelerated their pace to cash in.

17173.com, which initiated the concept of "online game portal" in the Chinese mainland, plans to hold an international online game exhibition in Guangzhou from November 7 to 9. The event, the first of its kind in China, is to raise the company's profile and attract more players.

Five-year-old Ourgame.com, China's flagship online game site, is scheduled to make some "big moves" next year to enhance its dominance, according to its spokesperson Zhang Yan.

The site now boasts 90 million registered accounts, including 1 million paid users.

However, concerns still remain on the future of the sector.

"Have a glimpse at those online games, and I feel disappointed," said Ai Xingyun, a 25-year-old PC gamer. "Except some chess and card games featuring Chinese culture, there are so few 'made-in-China' games.

"I still remember those days when I burnt the midnight oil to play the Legend of PAL. After that, no home-made game makes me stay up all night," said the faming enthusiast.

Legend of PAL, a role-play game with a strong Chinese cultural background, is widely believed to be the most classic and successful home-made PC game.

Experts also urged Chinese game makers to create more exciting products, pointing out that the sector needs domestic products to ensure sustainable development.

"We should not be satisfied with being brokers for foreign giants," cautioned Liu Fei, a Beijing IT analyst.

In addition, the idea that playing PC games is decadent is embedded among the middle-aged, which makes a dent in the prosperity of the sector.

"I dislike my son indulging in web games, and I don't see any good in those bloody fights," said Wu Baofeng, a 46-year-old mother, while her 20-year-old son was sitting beside her and was cheering a victory in a cyber-war.

"Online gaming is an integration of wisdom, inspiration, team spirit and emotional exchange. I can learn much from it," said the son.

Online game providers support his view, believing gaming itself is harmless.

"You can't simply say gaming is good or bad. It depends on how you play," said Chen Jiang with 17173.com.

(China Daily August 29, 2003)

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