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The China Angle: 'All-Singing, All-Dancing, No Promise'

The latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo investigating the good, bad and ugly in China's casual and online markets with op
The latest edition of Gamasutra's regular 'The China Angle' column sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo investigating the good, bad and ugly in China's casual and online markets with operators 9you and The9 each performing their own song and dance. The New Chinese advanced casual game operator 9you made waves last week by purchasing the top sponsorship for the second season of Shanghai Media Group (SMG) talent show Dancing Star (Wu Lin Da Hui) for 20 million Yuan (8 Yuan = US$1). The show was renamed 9you Dancing Star and the official website is now hosted at w.9you.com. An online game based on the show is planned for 2007. 9you is best known for its casual music games, starting with licensed games O2Jam and Audition from Korea's O2Media in 2005, and later with in-house developed Super Dancer Online and Burst A Fever. The four games combine for more than 100 million registered user accounts. 9you's marketing for its music games is on overdrive in 2006. The company hosted a real life music concert in Shanghai in July and has also organized several parties at dance clubs. Dancing Star is 9you's most ambitious marketing move to date, but also the most risky. 9you's existing music games all have an urban flavor, a complete opposite of Dancing Star's more sophisticated Latin and ballroom dance competitions. According to an employee at a SMG rival, Dancing Star's target audience leans heavily towards older viewers and is ill suited for 9you. Unfortunately, the two talent shows most popular with the younger audience -- My Show and My Hero (both SMG programs) -- have already sealed sponsorship deals with Lycra and Sprite, respectively. The Old Dancing Stars (the game) will come on the heels of another game based on a hit domestic TV program. World of Warcraft's Chinese operator The9 and Taiwanese game developer Winking are readying an advanced casual game based on China’s American Idol knockoff Super Voice Girl. The show was a run-away success in China, earning record contracts and movie deals for most of the top 10 finishers in the 2005 competition. Super Voice Girl Online allows players to explore a virtual Shanghai and interact with judges and contestants in the 2005 competition. Aside from the player's avatar, each player also has a virtual bedroom to stock up with furniture and decorations. The game is expected to use the free to play operating model and charge for virtual items. Super Voice Girl Online should also be the first online game in China to see significant revenue from in-game advertising. Unfortunately for The9, Super Voice Girl's spectacular 2005 season was followed by an anemic 2006. Due to unpopular changes in competition format as well as a slew of competing talent shows like Dancing with the Stars, Super Voice Girl's user rating in 2006 fell to half of what it was in 2005, significantly below many of its newer competitors. However, Super Voice Girl still maintains strongholds in lower tier cities and rural areas, markets where The9's flagship game World of Warcraft still has relatively low penetration. And The Ugly The9 may be a year late in taking advantage of the Super Voice Girl craze, but the delay is nothing compared to Ubisoft's debacle in licensing the online game rights for the movie The Promise. The Promise was the most expensive movie in Chinese history and was billed as the next Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Renowned Chinese director Kaige Chen saw the movie as his bid for the Oscars. At the time, Ubisoft was still in the online game operating business in China, and wanted a Chinese MMOG for Chinese gamers. The game was also a launch vehicle for the company's expansion into in-house MMOG development. The MMOG was planned for simultaneous release with the movie. News of the licensing deal was leaked in early 2005, but the game made no headlines during the media blitz leading up to the touted movie's release. It was clear by the movie's debut in late 2005 that The Promise MMOG was nowhere close to ready. The movie turned out to be the most expensive dud in Chinese movie history, and is famous today primarily for a twenty minute spoof using clips of the movie. Half a year later, Ubisoft finally scrapped The Promise MMOG project. [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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