NetEase has posted almost flat first-quarter profit growth as the popularity of an existing title is waning and the mainland's largest online game provider has not found the next hit. First-quarter profit rose 2 per cent year on year to US$39 million yuan but fell 5 per cent quarter on quarter. Revenue was US$71.8 million, rising 4.69 per cent from a year earlier and 2.64 per cent from a quarter ago. Although NetEase's top game, Fantasy Westward Journey, continued to gain popularity, its Westward Journey II showed signs of decline. The average concurrent users of Westward Journey II dropped 5 per cent quarter on quarter to about 167,000 despite the winter holiday. The firm delayed the commercial launch of a new game, Tianxia II, after unflattering response during its free trial period. Datang, an earlier addition, was turned into a free-to-play game after a poor trial run. 'Although the company fails to come out with a new hit, its existing games seem to have a longer than expected lifecycle,' said Dick Wei, China internet analyst at JP Morgan. Fantasy Westward Journey attracted a record 1.5 million concurrent gamers during peak hours in the quarter, driven by major weekend events and the Chinese Valentine's Day, said chief executive William Ding. Its average concurrent users rose 12 per cent quarter on quarter to 510,000. NetEase plans to release an expansion pack of Fantasy Westward Journey in the second half of this year and upgrade Westward Journey II in the second quarter. The company is facing stiff competition from smaller rival The9, which agreed recently to sell a 15 per cent stake to the world's largest video game company, Electronic Arts, for about US$167 million. The9 will also get exclusive rights for EA's FIFA Online football game in the mainland, which is expected to be launched by the end of the year a free-to-play game and charges users only for in-game items. Separately, NetEase, whose self-developed online search engine will be rolled out in the second half of this year, said it would end a partnership with Google after the launch.