worldofwarcraft.jpgChina's online games market raked in 2.8bn in 2008, up 63% on the previous year according to Pearl Research, a US-based research house.

Online games are one of the most popular pastimes for Chinese internet users and the industry has grown to have several sizable players. Six operators — Tencent, Changyou, The9 , Netease, Shanda and Giant — now have annual revenues above now crossed the $200m watermark.

These were the first Chinese companies to list in the west, during the late 1990s internet boom, and in stark contrast with the short-lived fortunes of many dotcom stocks in the west, they have not only survived but prospered, thanks to the popularity of gaming among China's 300m internet users, around three quarters of which are aged under 30. Nearly 65% of online users in Pearl Research's surveys played online games.

China's most popular online game, Netease's Fantasy Westward Journey accumulated 1.8m peak concurrent users, followed by Giant's Zhengtu Online with 1.5m users, Tencent's Dungeon and Fighter at 1.2m users, and Blizzard's World of Warcraft (pictured) at 1m.

Chinese internet giant Sohu also scored a major hit with its TianLong Babu game, based on a famous Chinese novel. The title generated approximately $200 million for Sohu in 2008 and resulted in the spinoff of its gaming unit, Changyou, which earlier this month had an IPO that raised $128m from US investors.

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