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May 13, 2008 3:44 PM

Google finally going for online gaming? Industry big says it's in the works

Posted by Brier Dudley

During his keynote speech at the ION Game Conference today in Seattle, Won-il Suh, vice president of Seoul-based Neowiz, talked about how the industry is becoming more global as game companies look abroad for new markets.

Asian game companies like his are looking to partner with game companies in the U.S., and they're also exploring opportunities in developing markets like Southeast Asia and even South America.

Suh said Neowiz is a 10-year-old game company operating in eight regions around the world. It has about 1,000 employees, up to 600,000 gamers playing at peak hours and expects sales this year of $230 million.

Then, a bit later, he slipped a potential bombshell into his speech:

Google's thinking about offering its own online game.

"I don't know where Google is in their initiative in the online game side but there has been a lot of internal talks about whether they should do something like this," he said, adding that "In the next couple of years they will."

Games are a hole in Google's growing lineup of online applications and services.

But Google isn't a content company, and it's trying to build a business placing ads in other people's games, using technology it acquired last year. Wouldn't a Google-branded game spook those ad partners?

On the other hand, an online game -- or partnership with a publisher -- might be a way to extend its footprint in China and other fast-growing online game markets. A game would also be a clever way to lure people into Google's registration system and maybe mesh with messaging and social networking tools.

Microsoft and Electronic Arts are also exploring online gaming opportunities in Asia, and media companies such as Time Warner are heading there as well, Suh said.

He predicted the free, ad-supported approach will catch on in the U.S. within a few years.

After his speech, Suh told me that Google isn't one of the companies that Neowiz is working with. How does he know about Google's internal discussions?

"I hear things," he said.

I asked Google's PR team for confirmation or denial. It said it is looking into the matter.

Still, very intriguing.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.