Shanda Interactive Entertainment expects so-called 'casual games' to account for as much as half of revenue later this year as the audience for internet-based games grows beyond traditional multiplayer role-playing titles. The online game company, the largest in China, has built its business around role-playing games such as The Legend of Mir 2, in which hundreds of thousands of gamers can take part at the same time. However, Shanda saw casual titles dominating the industry's future, with gamers paying for virtual items to enhance play or virtual clothing to improve the look of their online avatars. Casual titles accounted for 24.85 per cent of the company's US$53.5 million in game revenue in the first quarter, compared with about 10 per cent at the beginning of last year. 'I think it's going to be 50-50 pretty soon. I'd say within a year. And I think it's going to tip over next year,' said director of research and development Montgomery Singman. He noted that multiplayer role-playing games once dominated the market in South Korea but now casual games and their online avatar communities were more popular. 'I have a feeling the same thing is going to happen in China.' Shanda is not alone in its optimism for the casual game market. Sina.com recently said it expected casual titles to account for half of game revenue in the mainland market in the near future. Tom Online has announced it will launch nine casual titles, while foreign companies are also planning to join the fray. David Gardner, senior vice-president of international publishing at Electronic Arts, said the United States-based company hoped to launch several casual games in China within the next 12 months, 'We've hired [20 to 30] Chinese contractors to work on our casual games for China. They've been working with the teams in America,' Mr Gardner said. Market researcher Niko Partners believed many of the new casual titles appearing on the mainland actually belonged to a new segment in the industry called 'mid-session' games. These games give players a break from the multiplayer role-playing titles that consume hours of playing time. Played for about 30 minutes at a time, mid-session games also have avatar communities and virtual economies like their casual game counterparts.