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Chinese Starcraft II launch scheduled for April

Open beta begins today, with analysts predicting big gains for publisher NetEase

Local publisher NetEase has announced an open beta for Blizzard's Starcraft II, with the game due to transition immediately to a full released from April 6.

The open beta for the genre-leading real-time strategy begins in mainland China today, allowing players to access all the multiplayer modes of the game for free.

Following the beta users will be able to purchase game time in 30-day increments for a price of RMB20 ($3), for both the multiplayer and single-player elements.

The very short beta period has come as a surprise to analysts, with Cowen and Company's Doug Creutz suggesting in a note that NetEase will now be able to monetise the game for almost all of the company's second quarter.

As a result Creutz has suggested a $0.02 increase in second quarter earnings per share estimates of $0.71, with previous full year predictions of $3.14 potentially rising by the same amount.

NetEase shares are currently trading at 11 times the company's earnings plus cash, which Creutz does not view as expensive.

"The original Starcraft is considered to be one of the classic real-time strategy games, which are highly popular among Chinese players, and we believe that Starcraft II will bring even more exciting competitive action to the Chinese gaming community," said NetEase CEO William Ding.

"We are currently focusing all of our efforts on the final phase of preparation for the launch of the open beta, and we look forward to welcoming Chinese players into the game and onto soon," he added.

Starcraft II was originally released in July 2010 in the rest of the world, selling more than 1.5 million copies in its first 48 hours and going on to a lifetime total of 4.5 million copies worldwide.

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