Chinese game developer zeros in on Southeast Asia

NetDragon partners Singapore-based online services company, in a deal worth US$440,000, to woo gamers and gain a first-mover advantage in the region.

SINGAPORE--A Chinese major game developer, NetDragon Websoft, is establishing its first footprint in the Southeast Asian market through a new partnership with an online games company here.

NetDragon has awarded distribution rights for its new massive multiplayer online role-playing game, Zero Online, to Sing-Gium International. The deal is worth about US$440,000, which essentially covers the rights to distribute the game, said Sing-Gium's executive manager Jeffery Tan.

Liu Dejian, founder and chairman of NetDragon, told ZDNet Asia that beyond the existing key markets for online games--Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan and more recently the United States--Southeast Asia is a new games hotspot as the Internet becomes increasingly pervasive in the region.

"Development companies like us always try to find the next wave, for the development and for the market," he explained. "For Southeast Asia, we can see a lot of development in the Internet space in recent years. The growth rate is in the double digits… we can see the momentum here."

Liu said that NetDragon hopes to enter the region early, ahead of Korean competitors, as this would "help in years to come" and provide a first-mover advantage.

NetDragon's confidence in the potential of this region will be demonstrated with the upcoming beta version of Zero Online which will be released simultaneously in Southeast Asia and China.

Describing Zero Online as "one of our most important products this year", Liu added that his optimism in the region also stems from how online games has become a "very affordable" choice of entertainment.

According to Sing-Gium's Tan, the company is targeting to have 2.5 million subscribers within a year of Zero Online's beta release in August.

Tan added that his company also hopes to migrate its server farm, which will host the game, from Taiwan to Singapore within the next six months. He explained that while hosting services in the United States and Taiwan are still cheaper than those in Singapore, new initiatives by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore to attract game developers and distributors to the island-state, will boost the games industry here.

"We are planning to use Singapore as a test bed to customize, market and distribute games to the Southeast Asian region," Tan said.