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The China Angle: 'Cupid Puts In Overtime'

The second edition of Gamasutra's new 'The China Angle' column sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo taking a look at China's third Valentine’s Day of 2006 (!), as well as Tencent's rise to merchandising greatness and multiple new Chinese MMO beta launches.
The second edition of Gamasutra's new 'The China Angle' column sees Pacific Epoch's Shang Koo taking a look at China's third Valentine’s Day of 2006 (!), as well as Tencent's rise to merchandising greatness and multiple new Chinese MMO beta launches. Cupid Puts In Overtime China celebrates its third Valentine’s Day of 2006 on Wednesday this week. Holidays in China often occur in twos – one of the benefits of following the lunar calendar. Everyone in China celebrates New Year according to the Gregorian calendar and then takes a week off for the Chinese New Year a few weeks later. According to the lunar calendar, the month of July in 2006 occurs twice. Luckily for China’s restaurant and retail industries, Chinese Valentine’s Day falls in July. For China's online game companies, an extra Valentine's Day is nearly as good as having an extra Christmas shopping season. Most have already taken advantage of the first Chinese Valentine's Day on July 31. Every company launched special in-game activities for the holiday. Netease was the big winner with around two-thirds of its 300 server groups at full capacity for its Q (cute) -Style MMORPG Fantasy Westward Journey during the activity. Activities for this week include special Valentine's Day quests, virtual roses and presents, and in-game weddings. [Wedding in Shanda’s MMORPG Magical Land pictured above.] Virtual weddings are cash cows for online game companies. The wedding itself can take several hours, making it the perfect activity for China's predominantly pay by the hour online game industry. Many companies also charge for virtual wedding dresses and flowers. Hangzhou-based Tianchang Networks has taken the Valentine's Day festivities a step further. The company partnered with Zhejiang Shan Xia Hu Pearl Company for its MMORPG Da Tang Feng Yun and will give away 2 million Yuan (8 Yuan = US$1) worth of real life pearls. Quantity Has A Quality All Its Own One company that has mastered online virtual gift giving is Tencent. The company’s QQ instant messaging platform has over 224 million active accounts and is averaging around 20 million peak concurrent users daily. In Pacific Epoch's surveys, male QQ users spend twice as much on virtual items for avatars as female players, yet male avatars normally wear nothing more than a pair of boxers while female avatars are decked out in new clothing and accessories. QQ virtual clothing usually expires after three months, allowing male users plenty of opportunities to express their love. Recently, Tencent has leveraged its online popularity and its virtual brand name for real life products. QQ branded sausages and instant noodles are already hitting Internet cafes around China. Soon, real life teenagers (not avatars) will be sporting QQ branded sneakers. According to Cnxz.cn, Tencent’s authorized QQ brand agent has licensed sneaker manufacturer Sansda to produce QQ sneakers. Sansda, Tencent and Donice reached an eight-year cooperation agreement on QQ shoes. Sansda will set up boutiques in Guangdong, Fujian and Hunan in August for QQ shoes, and plans to expand to second and third tier markets over the next five years. Tencent will likely have an easier time expanding its foothold in the MMORPG sector than taking on Nike and Reebok. With its universal account system, every QQ instant messaging user already has an account to play Tencent games. Tencent’s casual game platform already sees more than 2.5 million peak concurrent users daily; its Q-Style MMORPG QQ Fantasy still has over 100,000 average concurrent users despite its complete lack of graphical and game play advantages over dozens of other generic Q-style 2D MMORPGs. A second MMORPG will join the QQ platform this week. In October 2005, Tencent acquired a 19.9 percent stake in Chinese game developer Shenzhen Domain Networks, which developed the popular MMORPG Huaxia Online (HX Online). Tencent started open beta testing for HX Online's sequel HX Online 2 on Monday. Like QQ Fantasy, HX Online 2 is tied into Tencent's instant messaging account network. However, the 2D HX Online 2 is a deviation from Tencent's cute cartoonish product line-up, and instead competes against older, and more serious titles like Legend of Mir 2 and its knock-offs. HX Online 2 will test Tencent's ability to leverage its QQ community for products that does not contain cute cartoonish avatars. Drum Roll Please China's godfather of online games Shanda Interactive launched open beta testing for its licensed game Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) on Monday. DDO is the first big name Western 3D game to hit China after World of Warcraft, and Chinese gamers are anxious to try an alternative. Shanda has steadily lost users in the past year when its first MMORPG Legend of Mir 2 started showing signs of age and desperately needs DDO to be a success. DDO is the last major game as well as the most anticipated game Shanda has in its near term pipeline. Early signs are good, as DDO has received frequent coverage in Chinese online game press since Shanda licensed the game in April 2005. Also on Monday, Beijing based online game company Perfect World launched closed beta testing for its Q-style MMORPG Wu Lin Wai Zhuan (My Own Swordsman) Online. The company opened the game's official website earlier in August and recorded 700,000 visitors and over 150,000 postings on the forum within seven hours of the website's launch. Wu Lin Wai Zhuan is based on the mega-hit TV show of the same name. Based on ancient martial arts legends, but filled with pop culture references and parodies, the sit-com is one of the very few domestically produced TV popular with Chinese youth. Perfect World is better known in China for its in-house developed 3D MMORPG World2, which in late 2005 quietly sneaked in to fill a vacuum between World of Warcraft and older 2D titles. [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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