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Rift heading to China, in 'biggest game deal ever' for a Western MMO

Gamasutra speaks to Trion CEO Lars Buttler about how Shanda's decision to bring Rift to Chinese audiences is just another step in the company's plans for global domination.
Trion CEO Lars Buttler revealed today that his company's MMO Rift is coming to Chinese audiences via Chinese MMO giant Shanda -- and that this is just another step in the company's plans for global domination. "Let's say we dated a few, and they dated a few, and we fell in love," says Buttler, speaking of the Shanda's decision to operate Rift in China -- and Trion's own decision to go with Shanda. "They are innovative and have a huge reach," he says. "We definitely picked them, but they also, I think, fell in love with Rift." Shanda will release the game, released in March 2011 in Europe and North America, in China later this year; Buttler expects it to be a significant contributor of revenue to Trion. This comes on top of the fact that Trion boasts that Rift has already grossed over $100 million in revenue since its launch less than a year ago. "We talked to a number of the big operators," says Buttler. "Shanda is probably the best, and the most experienced company, at running these large-scale MMOs." Calling the relationship a "deep partnership," Buttler explained how a "SWAT team" at Trion's Redwood Shores studio near San Francisco, which originally developed the game, will be working on changes targeted at the Chinese market. "Shanda is the local expert, and they are localizing the game in terms of language and everything else," he says, but that team-within-a-team is "deeply involved" in changing the game to be suitable for the Chinese market on a "separate development track" from the core Western-targeted release. There's another reason for the partnership, says Buttler. "We do a lot right, but we think there's so much to learn from Asia, and a company like Shanda that has been in the market so long, and has innovated in so many ways, is a great partner to work with and learn from." On the strength of this performance and its upcoming premium-quality free-to-play MMO RTS End of Nations, the company recently landed $85 million in additional funding, says Buttler. "We had a great year," he says. This money opens the door to developer acquisitions, partnerships to develop new games, and increased investment in internal development -- particularly for its so-called "Red Door" initiative, which will see it take steps into opening its development platform and distribution channels to other developers. Gamasutra spoke to Buttler about this project late last year. "It's really to grow the company and continue on this path toward leading the industry to games as a service," Buttler says. He would not offer comment on any specific partnerships or acquisitions that may be in the cards. "Rift's massive online world has already attracted devoted fans around the world and we’re excited to leverage our experience and expertise in the region to create a blockbuster launch for Rift in China," said Alan Tan, chairman and CEO of Shanda Games, in a statement. Buttler says that the Chinese firm will work hard to market the game in the territory.

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