Electronic Arts invests $167m in online game firm

Electronic Arts (EA), the world’s leading video game publisher, is set to buy about 15 percent of China’s The9 Limited for about 167 million dollars to help its global expansion, the two companies said.

The9, a Chinese online game operator also obtained the exclusive rights to publish US-based Electronic Arts’ popular soccer game FIFA Online in China, the two firms said late on Monday.

"We are seeing strong interest in online sports games in China with the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in 2010," said Zhu Jun, chairman and chief executive of The9 in an statement.

International game publishers have been keen to expand in China, home to the world’s second largest number of Internet users of 137 million at the end of 2006, despite rampant illegal copying in the country.

"The agreement builds on EA’s strategy of partnering with proven regional operators to bring online games to Asia, and The9’s strategy of expanding its game product offerings in the Chinese market," they said in a statement.

The market has more than 30 million online game players, mostly youngsters below 30 years old and the market reaches about 6.5 billion yuan (850 million dollars) in 2006, the official Xinhua news agency reported in January.

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Electronic Arts invests $167m in online game firm