The flow of free to plays coming from Asia to Western markets doesn't seem like it's going to stop any time soon; THQ has announced plans to bring Dragonica, a Korean-developed casual MMO, to North America next year in partnership with Chinese game operator ICE. Dragonica will be free to play, supported by pay-for-content and microtransactions, and is a 3D side scrolling game. From what I've seen of it, it looks sickeningly cute. Will we have another MapleStory-esque sleeper hit on our hands? Full release after the jump. THQ Announces Joint Venture with China Online Operator ICE Entertainment to Bring Casual MMO Title Dragonica to North America in 2009 New Joint Venture Provides North American Platform for THQ Online Games AGOURA HILLS, Calif., Sep 16, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — THQ Inc. today announced that it has formed a joint venture with ICE Entertainment ("ICE"), an operator of online games located in Shanghai, China, to launch Dragonica, a free-to-play, micro-transaction-based massively multiplayer online ("MMO") casual game scheduled for release in North America in 2009. ICE's Chief Executive Officer Sun Tao is the former Chief Technology Officer of The9, a leading operator of online games including World of Warcraft(R). The new joint venture combines ICE's online operating experience with THQ's product development and retail publishing expertise to create a new platform for online games in the North American market. "We are extremely excited to be working with ICE Entertainment to bring this free-to-play, micro-transaction-based online game to the robust yet largely untapped market for online casual gaming in North America," said Doug Clemmer, president of THQ's casual gaming subsidiary. "We are even more pleased to be building a strong and mutually beneficial relationship, which we hope will lead to additional opportunities to deliver online gaming content globally." "We are looking forward to combining THQ's extensive marketing and retail expertise with our advanced technology and proven online game operating know-how to deliver a great new casual gaming experience for North American consumers," said Sun Tao, chief executive officer, ICE Entertainment. "We also look forward to working with THQ more closely to develop new games and explore future publishing opportunities in both markets." The market opportunity for online casual gaming in North America is estimated to be $2.2 billion by 2013 (Source: DFC Intelligence). China's fast growing online games market was valued at US$1.7 billion in 2007 and reached more than 42 million online gamers. The market is expected to grow to US$4.2 billion by 2010. (Source: Niko Partners). About Dragonica Dragonica is a massively multiplayer online casual game developed by Barunson Interactive Co, based in Korea. Dragonica is free-to-play and players may choose to pay for additional content and features on a micro-transaction basis. Barunson Interactive spent seven years developing Dragonica, which brings cartoon side-scrolling action online games to a new peak. The game's totally 3D rendering design, fresh cartoon characters and scenery modeling, create a new visual perception of side-scrolling games. Dragonica skillfully mixes the elements of action and arcade, and creates various ultimate skills to enhance playability. ICE currently has the rights to operate the game in China and plans to commence its closed beta for that market in late 2008. About ICE Entertainment Founded in 2006, ICE is an online game operator based in Shanghai, China, with an established online technology platform and proven management team, including CEO Sun Tao, former vice president and chief technical officer of leading Chinese operator The9, among others, with many years of experience in the online game field. ICE is focused on the development and operation of massively multiplayer online games. More information about ICE Entertainment may be found at www.icee.cn. About THQ THQ Inc. is a leading worldwide developer and publisher of interactive entertainment software. The company develops its products for all popular game systems, personal computers and wireless devices. Headquartered in Los Angeles County, California, THQ sells product through its global network of offices located throughout North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. More information about THQ and its products may be found at www.thq.com. THQ and its respective logo is a trademark and/or registered trademark of THQ Inc.