Mon, Jan 17, 2005 - Page 10 News List

Bumper crop of online games set for holiday release

NEW TITLES Suffering from a stagnant market for months now, the nation's online game companies have pinned their hopes on a raft of new games and sequels


Looking forward to the Lunar New Year holiday but don't know what to do? Indulging in the dazzling virtual world by logging on to gaming sites may be a good option besides gorging and watching cloying New Year's special TV shows.

Expecting the traffic to peak in Lunar New Year and the winter break, online gaming companies are set to offer new games during the period to feed customers' appetite, ranging from the mainstream "massive multiplayer" online role-playing games, casual games such as mah-jongg, poker, chess, sports games, to a variety of puzzle games.

"We will introduce new games by the holiday to stimulate the gloomy gaming market that persisted throughout last year," said Jane Hsu (許德箴), a public relations official at Gamania Digital Entertainment Co (游戲橘子), one of the nation's major online game providers.

Heavyweight games set to hit the market include EverQuest II, a money-making product of Sony Online Entertainment Inc that Gamania formed an alliance with, and San Ma Do developed by Gamania, Hsu said.

Gamania's signature game is the Lineage series, which has accumulated 4 million members with 160,000 players online in real time. Hsu said the company expects traffic of the game to continue rise during the Lunar New Year holidays.

The nation's largest online game provider, Soft-World International Corp (智冠科技), is also preparing for the new year, saying that besides its staple Ragnarok Online, it is pinning big hopes to RF Online (Racing Force Online), a popular game title developed by Seoul-based CCR Corp that the company is expected to release soon, said Wang Han-ching (王涵靖) an executive officer of Soft-World.

Ragnarok Online has attracted 3 million members with 310,000 players online at a time, and Wang said the company hopes to draw a similar number of subscribers to RF Online.

To stir the gaming market -- which has been sluggish since the second half of last year -- Soft-World also released new editions to its games including Jin Yung Online II, Swordman Online, Flame Dragon Online and Twin Heroes Online.

The major reason for the stagnation is the lack of new game titles, so Soft-World will introduce a total of five brand new games such as Legend of Three Kingdoms Online this year, Wang said.

Role-playing games, which create social interaction between gamers with different levels and virtual treasures, will still lead the market this year, she said.

The growth of the online game market in Taiwan, however, is slowing down as the market approaches saturation. This has forced local game developers -- including Soft-World, Gamania, Softstar Entertainment Inc (大宇資訊) and Wayi International Digital Entertainment Co (華義國際) -- to put more focus on expanding to overseas markets.

With its similar culture and language background as well as its mushrooming number of gamers, China has become a critical gaming market in recent years. But as the Chinese authorities tend to protect their own game developers with licensing requirements and stricter requirements for foreign companies, Taiwanese companies are closing their operations in China and have Chinese partners distribute their games instead.

"The high threshold, as well as charges that are about 40 percent lower than those in Taiwan, force us to change our marketing strategy to reduce costs," said Wang Chin-po (王俊博), president of Soft-World.

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