Company marks Asia HQ launch with sports game

Games giant Electronic Arts today celebrates the launch of its Asia HQ in Singapore by scoring a deal to kick a major online soccer game to a potential 20 million gamers in Southeast Asia.

Company pacted with Infocomm Asia Holdings Games to roll out “EA Sports FIFA Online 2″ to soccer-mad gamers in 10 Asia-Pacific territories. Endorsed by the sport’s governing body FIFA, the game builds on a version already played by more than 5 million online gamers.

EA has already bowed “FIFA Online 2″ in two of the world’s biggest online game territories — South Korea via Neowiz Games, and China via The9.

Game will bow in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam in the third quarter, followed later by other Asian countries.

“FIFA Online 2″ underscores the regionalization that EA aims to achieve by strengthening its position in Asia.

“FIFA” soccer games are usually sold as packaged products, which had the strongest appeal in Europe. But Asian players prefer online or mobile gaming.

While EA is pursuing its $2 billion bid for Take-Two Interactive, Asian expansion is the key to its growth.

It claims to be the biggest Western firm in the Asian market, but the region reps only about $200 million, or 6%, of group revenues. And EA doesn’t rank as the No. 1 games supplier in any major Asian territory.

“Currently, Australia and Japan are our biggest markets in Asia. Over time that will shift to Korea and China,” EA Asia prexy Jon Niermann said.

The Korean partnership with Neowiz is being used as a blueprint for localizing content and the model for local sales and marketing of future EA games.

“You need a strong local partner who is in the market and understands market conditions,” Niermann said.

China and Korea, which both exceed $1.5 billion a year in sales for games, could scarcely be more different markets.

In China gaming occurs largely at Internet cafes and games can be played for free.

Business model can see revenues of $25 per player through add-ons, paid for with pre-paid cards sold by The9’s sales team.

In Korea, the same game may be paid for by credit card, cell phone e-money services, monthly accounts or pre-paid cards.

“There will be a substantial increase in the number of online games we deliver, maybe going from two to 10 (over the next two years), with mobile games also very important,” Niermann said. Although EA now has development bases in Singapore, Shanghai, Korea and Japan and another for mobile games in Hyderabad, India, Asian localization will speed up after the Hasbro takeover. The merger will boost EA’s “casual gaming” portfolio.

“I’m here to jump-start local development,” said San Francisco-based Kathy Vrabeck, prexy of EA Casual Entertainment, at the Singapore opening bash. “Local development (is crucial) because the significant growth that I want to achieve is not going to come solely, or even largely, from bringing Western content over. It is going to come from developing local products, for local markets, that may never see release in Europe or the States.”

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