Electronic Arts (ERTS) and Chinese online game operator The9 (NCTY) have announced a licensing agreement that gives The9 exclusive publishing rights for EA Sports FIFA Online in mainland China.

"EA will be a strong partner for us in the rapidly expanding online game market in China," said Jun Zhu, chairman and chief executive officer of The9. "We are seeing strong interest in online sports games in China with the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in 2010, and FIFA Online is set to be a top favorite in the Chinese market."

Upon completion of the equity investment, EA will own approximately 15 percent of the common shares of The9. The investment is roughly US$167 million.

Hubert Larenaudie, president, EA Asia Online, said, "This is another significant step in EA's strategy to build an online presence in Asia. The9's proven expertise will be a tremendous advantage in bringing FIFA Online to a growing market and we look forward to partnering with them to bring the best online football gaming experience to millions of Chinese gamers and football fans."

Last year, EA and Seoul-based Neowiz partnered to launch EA Sports FIFA Online in Korea. The9 has exclusive publishing rights for the game in mainland China.

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