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Wizard 101 game to enter China in TaoMee deal

By Liana B. Baker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - KingsIsle, the U.S. maker of the popular online game "Wizard 101," is coming to China through a partnership with TaoMee Holdings, a publicly traded Chinese company that runs websites for children.

Wizard 101, which lets players team in a Harry Potter-type world, had 20 million registered users last month in the United States, the company said. The game is free to download but the the Texas-based KingsIsle, relies on selling virtual items in the game and a $10 monthly subscription fee to make money.

KingsIsle, which is privately held, is the latest U.S. video game company to enter China. Last month, social games maker Zynga said it was launching its first title in mainland China in a tie-up with Tencent Holdings.

Competition in China has become fierce, with rivals such as Tencent and NetEase.com taking big slices of the online games market.

KingsIsle will tap into TaoMee's 30 million active accounts to find new users, said David Nichols, president and chief operating officer of KingsIsle, in an interview. In 2011, the Chinese games market is forecast to rise 21 percent to $5.8 billion, according to Niko Partners.

"Obviously China is a huge market with the largest population and largest number of Internet users in the world so we feel like it's got a lot of potential," he said.

The first Chinese version of the Wizard game will be out in 2012. Nichols declined to comment on how many users the game might attract in China or on the game's revenue model there.

KingIsle has drawn in users to its online game in the U.S. by appealing to young teens. To publicize Wizard 101, it has attracted high-profile celebrity partners, such as singer Selena Gomez, who at one point had an avatar in the game.

TaoMee shares, which were listed on the New York Stock Exchange in June, closed at $12.96 on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Liana Baker, editing by Dave Zimmerman)