According to a key investor–Softbank Asia infrastructure Fund (SAIF)–Shanda Networking, China's largest online gaming firm, plans to seek a Nasdaq listing worth at least US$300 million next year.

Shanda, which has an estimated value of more than US$1 billion, would sell 20-25% of its share capital. According to the same source, the sale is being arranged by investment bank Goldman Sachs. SAIF, a joint venture between Japan's Softbank Corp and U.S. networking giant Cisco Systems Inc, invested US$40 million in Shanda in March.

Shanda has 170 million registered users, it said on its Web site www.shanda.com.cn. It was founded in 1999 by Timothy Chan, 31, ranked by Forbes magazine as China's sixth-richest person this year with net worth of US$490 million. Analysts have said that China's online gaming industry was conservatively forecast to be worth about two billion yuan (US$242 million) this year and growing more than 100 percent a year. Shanda was already profitable and should earn between 500 million to 600 million yuan in revenue from its South Korea-developed fantasy game, Legend, in 2003, analysts said.

"I think there will be a lot of investor appetite for its IPO because China Internet companies are really hyped right now," said Paul Waide, a director at Shanghai-based consulting firm Pacific Epoch. "They have revenue to back them up." Shanda's most popular offering is Legend, a multi-player fantasy game in which players choose to be a character and spend days, weeks or even months amassing powers and weapons. Players pay a flat fee of 35 yuan a month.

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