Plants vs. Zombies heads to China with new game versions

PopCap is releasing a Plants vs. Zombies game for Chinese social networking website Renren

PopCap Games is releasing new versions of its Plants vs. Zombies title in China, with the aim of raking in more revenue from a major market that is currently swimming in pirated copies of the game.

Although Plants vs. Zombies was originally developed as an English title, it's biggest user base resides in China, according to PopCap Games CEO David Roberts. The U.S. company estimates that the game has already reached 100 million downloads in the country. But most of those downloads are of free bootleg versions of the game.

On Wednesday, PopCap announced that it would soon be releasing a Chinese language version of its Plants vs. Zombies game for Apple's App Store. Later in June, the company will also launch a closed beta of the game designed for the Chinese Facebook-like site Renren. This will make it the first time the game will be available on a social networking site.

PopCap has been steadily working to release more products for China, establishing an office in Shanghai two years ago that now has 100 employees. Like other firms in the IT industry, PopCap is hoping to tap a market with nearly 900 million mobile phone users and 457 million Web users, according to official estimates in the country.

"We think our games should be as popular as Mahjong or Monopoly," Roberts said while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.

Currently, China often ranks as Plants vs. Zombies' second largest revenue maker on Apple's App Store. Launching the game on to social networking site Renren will mean using a new business model. While the game will be free on the site, it will offer virtual goods users can buy, providing another revenue stream for the company.

Users on Renren can be invited for the closed beta when it goes online June 4 by signing up on the site's fan page for Plants vs. Zombies. Renren has 31 million active monthly users.

PopCap is also looking to cash in on Plants vs. Zombies' popularity by launching a clothing merchandise for the game in China. The company has also partnered with Lenovo to pre-install the game on to its new LePad tablet, an Android device released in China. PopCap Games will receive a small portion of revenue generated from each sale of the tablet.

In spite of the piracy of Plants vs. Zombies, PopCap believes this has developed the marketplace for their product in China, Roberts said. "Better business models that match the Chinese market is the right way to look at it," he said. "Essentially we want to provide a better game than the pirated versions and that's what we will do."

Roberts also said PopCap is preparing an IPO for the U.S. stock market. The company could be ready to list as early as November. "Whether we go will depend on the market, whether we feel we are ready, we don't want to rush into it," he added.

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