Tens of millions of Chinese citizens are flocking to online games, seeking fun, love and money, according to new research.
The number of online gamers in China will expand from 25.5 million last year to 61 million in 2010, predicts US research firm In-Stat.
"Chinese gamers are motivated by the opportunity to interact and communicate with a variety of other people, particularly those of the opposite sex," In-Stat analysts wrote in a research summary.
"There are countless stories of relationships, and even marriages, initiated and fostered in the confines of a virtual game world.
"Many online gamers in China are also motivated by financial gains that may be derived from their hobby."
The research firm suggested 'e-sports', competitive games paid for prize money and sponsorship, as one way in which China's online gamers can profit from playing.
Other sources have claimed that tens of thousands of people work in China's underground 'game farming' industry, playing all day to earn in-game items which can be sold for real cash outside China.
But despite the market's growth, 85 per cent of China's more than 300 online gaming companies are not making a profit.
The market is so competitive that many companies have been offering games for free, hoping to generate cash from sales of in-game items, advertising and other services.
Of the 25.5 million estimated online gamers playing last year, only 16 million were paying to play, according to Anty Zheng, In-Stat's research director in China.
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