Take-Two Interactive Takes on China with 'NBA 2K'

Take-Two Interactive Software is bringing the NBA to Asia.

The video game developer announced a multi-year partnership with Tencent Holdings, which runs China's largest instant messaging service and has a significant presence in the country’s online gaming market, to co-develop an online version of "NBA 2K" for the Asian marketplace.

Source: Take-Two Interactive

Gamers in China, Taiwan, South Korea and Southeast Asia will be able to play the online simulation, which will be based on the company’s 2009 PC version of the game. Take Two representatives say a launch date has not yet been determined.

The game, which will include all NBA teams as well as the likenesses of both current and retired NBA players, could give Take Two a chance to surpass Electronic Arts' successful "NBA Live" franchise. Take-Two and EA have been battling in the sports arena for some time, with EA typically topping the sales charts, thanks to its exclusive deals with the NFL and other sporting leagues.

Also undetermined at this point is the business model for the game. Traditionally, games in China are played in Internet cafes, where users pay a fee to access a computer with Internet access. Online gaming is one of the most popular activities at these establishments, with operators paying a licensing fee to offer specific games.

China is viewed as a key market for the video game industry. Nikko Partners reports online gaming grew 61 percent and generated $2.75 billion in revenue in 2008. It is expected to hit $8.9 billion by 2013.

Another analyst report, issued Monday, noted the Asian market and online gaming are likely to be two key drivers of future growth in the video game industry. Global Industry Analysts predicted gaming could be come a $92 billion business by 2015 — roughly doubling its sales in just six years.

NBA programming is popular in China, with more than 1 billion people tuning into NBA games through the regular season, says Take Two. That has been spurred, in part, by the addition of players such as Yao Ming with the Houston Rockets and Yi Jianlian of the New Jersey Nets.

"Given the universal appeal of sports, specifically NBA basketball, we believe that our partnership with Tencent to make 'NBA 2K Online' is the perfect entry point for Take-Two into this market," said Ben Feder, CEO of Take-Two, in a statement.

Take-Two declined to say whether the relationship with Tencent is exclusive to the NBA game or if the companies would be working together on other titles. Take-Two's Rockstar Games studio has long been rumored to be working on a massively multiplayer online version of "Grand Theft Auto," which could be an enormous global hit, with an ongoing stream of revenue for the company — both domestically and worldwide. (Both Rockstar and Take Two have declined comment on the rumors.)

"In terms of other products, we’re focusing on this one right now," says Alan Lewis, vice president of communications. "We're going to evaluate additional opportunities with [Tencent] after this has launched."