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-------------------------------------------------------------- This story was printed from ZDNetAsia, located at,2000010021,20082377,00.htm. --------------------------------------------------------------
X-Men: Coming to a handphone near you
By Julian Matthews,
October 26, 2000

A Riot is here and this is no rumor.

SINGAPORE - Can't get enough of Wolverine, Mystique and Dr Jean Grey? Well, you will soon be able to assume their identity and do battle with Magneto's evil mutants on your handphone.

Finnish wireless game developer Riot Entertainment Ltd (Riot-E) is bringing X-Men and a pantheon of over 4,700 Marvel comics characters to Asia.

The company has set up office in Singapore, which will be its launchpad for an aggressive regional roll-out of games and entertainment services mainly on the Short Message Service (SMS) and Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) platforms.

Riot-E is flying high after a successful second round of venture capital of US$15 million on Oct 12, led by the European venture arm of private equity giant Carlyle Group, existing investors Nokia Ventures and Softbank UK Ventures, and new investors CDB WebTech, Stratos Ventures and Lago Ventures.

"A significant piece of the US$15 million will be allocated to ramping up operations in Asia, setting up satellite physical presences in various countries and investing in technical infrastructure," said Alan S. Giebel, senior vice president, Riot-E Asia.

Riot-E's maiden product from its exclusive tie-up with Marvel in August was X-Men: The Mobile Game, in conjunction with the release of the 20th Century Fox movie, but the Helsinki company has also developed its own stable of homegrown games.

Giebel said apart from X-Men, the popular mobile match making service, Riot date and Riot football manager may see early roll out. Others on the cards are possibly a Spider-Man movie tie-in, a 3D action adventure game called Santageddon, a lifestyle chat and community service, a new series of WAP action games and nine different forecast services such as horoscopes and biorhythms.

Giebel said Riot is already testing its games on Japan's NTT DoCoMo's i-mode service and a deal was recently concluded to have the X-Men characters available for download by its 13-million subscribers set to go live on Nov 1.

"Games will be modified or developed separately to appeal to specific Asian markets. In the long term, we hope the Asian operation will have the production capability to deliver high impact original content for local markets," he said.

Giebel said Riot-E chose Singapore to set up its regional headquarters for its central location and proximity to key markets where its current products could be rolled out straight "out of the box".

The 85-staff company has only five staff presently in Asia but hopes to build up local capability to produce new products as country-specific deals with highly visible brands are completed.

PDA versions of its services are also in the works. "Our initial focus has been on handphones as the tool to interact on Riot Entertainment platforms, but development is underway to expand that to any mobile device, including PDAs," said Giebel.

Giebel was unwilling to comment on burn-rates and profitability as the eight-month-old company was still in the early throes of its build-up phase.

The company draws its revenues from a combination of royalties, revenue sharing and subscription billing. It hopes to raise additional funding in the coming year and an IPO is definitely planned for going forward.

Riot-E previously stated that its global roll-out would also extend to major telecom partners in Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, the Philippines and Hong Kong to capture a projected combined user-base totaling over 50 million.

Games and entertainment are the forerunner "killer apps" and potentially lucrative areas that various analysts have touted will make data services over the phone popular. Industry forecasts suggest there will be over one billion handphone users worldwide by 2003.

Handphone vendors have been encouraging the industry through various incentives. Finnish giant Nokia alone has signed on more than 300 game developers and publishers under its Mobile Entertainment Developers program.