Game developer to put growth plans into play

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 12:00am

Even as Object Software's latest game for personal computers is coming on to the market, the Beijing-based company is already making plans to go into online gaming and considering entering the console gaming market.

After experimenting with other game genres, Object has decided to specialise in role-playing games based on Chinese historical themes.

Thus, its new game, The Battle of the Red Cliffs, follows characters from the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms, while the upcoming Prince of Qin will be set around 210 BC, the period of China's first dynasty.

The PC release and the online version of Prince of Qin are planned for early next year, according to Object chairman and chief executive Richard Wallis, though details for the online project have not been settled.

Object saw itself as a game design house and, therefore, would be looking for partners to set up and manage the data centres needed for online gaming, he said.

The PC versions of Prince of Qin have been licensed to some of the world's largest games publishers and distributors: Strategy First in North America, Capcom in Japan and Korea, and Acer in Greater China.

Object planned to have the online version of the game operating only in Greater China, Mr Wallis said, and Acer would have right of first refusal on managing the project.

Beta testing should be at the end of this year.

Object has about 30 artists and designers working from an office in Beijing's Haidian district, home to some of the Chinese capital's best universities and the up-and-coming Zhongguancuan high-technology district.

This level of staffing makes Object perhaps the largest game development house in China, where a number of smaller start-ups have only recently opened for business and where international developers are just beginning to explore.

Object's first game, Hooves of Thunder, was published in 1995 - and before that sister company DTMC Entertainment worked on games for Nintendo's Game Boy - but the commercial breakthrough came with Fate of the Dragon, which was published last year by Eidos Interactive of Japan.

The game has sold more than 120,000 copies in China and won some acclaim from game reviewers in other markets.

The sales in China, where a good portion of games sold are pirated versions, have helped, but Mr Wallis said it was sales in other markets that helped Object become profitable.

'Without the international markets, we couldn't survive,' he said.

Online gaming is seen by many developers as a way to get around the piracy problem, as players would need to register and pay before they can access the games.

It is also potentially lucrative for companies that can find a hit game, as the popularity of NC Interactive's Lineage has shown in Korea.

Console gaming is another area the company is interested in, with its installed base of millions of enthusiastic game players, but Mr Wallis said that getting a foothold in that area would be harder than going into online gaming.

The market was limited to the major console makers - Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft - and the publishers who worked with them, but Object was in talks over the possibilities, he said.

The Battle of Red Cliffs is set for release today in Taiwan and next week in Hong Kong.

Released under the name Dragon Throne: Battle of Red Cliffs in North America, the game has sold about 10,000 units since March.

Mr Wallis said he expected sales of up to 25,000 units for the game's first three months on the US market.

As PC penetration increases in China, and as faster network connections make online gaming more viable, a number of other companies have begun looking more seriously at the market.

Several of Taiwan's largest games companies have opened mainland development centres and companies such as Sony and Microsoft are looking at launching their gaming consoles in the Chinese market.