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Column: 'The China Angle: Happy Mid-Autumn Festival'

The latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column has Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo looking into golden holiday promotions both in-game and out, and the wider world o
With the country shut down for the week-long national "golden holiday," the latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column has Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo looking into golden holiday promotions both in-game and out, and the wider world of game-related product licensing that goes far further than just Coca Cola and WoW. China shut down this week as the country celebrates the seven day National Day holiday. During most years, the seven day “golden holiday” marks a mass migration as everyone leaves for vacation. This year, Mid-Autumn festival (according to the mysterious lunar calendar) falls in between the holiday, forcing many would-be travelers to stay at home for China’s version of Thanksgiving/Christmas. Mid-Autumn festival gives China’s online game companies an excuse to launch in-game promotions. It seems the creative game designers went on vacation early, as few of the online games had anything more interesting than a special quest or special item revolving around the holiday’s fruit cake analogue - moon cakes. The moon cakes (edible ones, not the virtual ones) did give an unscientific, but telling sense of game popularity. Our office received its fair share of moon cakes from the companies we cover. By far the most popular were The9’s World of Warcraft themed moon cakes. We still have not tasted those moon cakes, as everyone in the office had at least half a dozen friends that wanted one for their WoW collection. While we are usually not susceptible to bribes, the WoW moon cakes earned some brownie points. WoW themed moon cakes only scratches the surface of WoW’s licensing potential. Like the rest of the world, The9 partners with Coca Cola for WoW promotions. Following suit, Pepsi and a half a dozen bottled water and iced tea drink makers carved out their own online game partnerships. In 2005, Pepsi settled for the largest online game at the time – Shanda. The top Chinese online company in 2006, Netease, signed with sports drink and bottled water maker Robust. Online game and office productivity suite maker Kingsoft may have gotten the most value by partnering with popular ice-tea and instant noodle maker Uni-President. The cola wars go beyond co-branding with online games; one of the key battlefields is the distribution network for Internet cafe concessions. Internet cafes are China’s equivalent of shopping malls, and are the home away from home for China’s younger generations. Most popular activities in Internet cafes are playing online games, watching movies on the PCs, chatting online, and smoking. Most popular purchases in the cafes are prepaid online game cards, soft drinks, instant noodles, and cigarettes. Instant messaging platform provider Tencent already has a toehold in instant noodles, with QQ branded instant noodles. Cigarette co-branding is the last frontier. Recently, Chinese cigarette producer Huang Guo Shu Group sponsored a competition for Beijing online game operator Guang Yu Hua Xia's 2D Q-style MMORPG Ask Tao. Huang Guo Shu Group will award 100,000 Yuan to the competition winners. It is only a matter of time before Marlboro cowboys appear as NPCs in an online game. [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.]

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