First Looks at a "Chinese Second Life"

HiPiHiThere’s been a lot of buzz recently over this trailer for HiPiHi, which purports to be a Chinese version of Second Life. The dialog is all in Mandarin, which I don’t speak, so I’ve been holding off on commenting until I could get a translation/summary from those who do. Two Asia media/VC bloggers, Bjorn Lee and Kaiser Kuo, have taken up that gauntlet, so now we have numerous nuggets to work with, summarized after the break:

HiPiHi (pronounced “high-pee-high”) literally translates to “The World Exists Because Of You.” (Quite similar to Second Life’s official slogan, “Your World. Your Imagination”.)
– Has been in development since 2005, only going into Beta now.
– As with Second Life, includes 3D user-creation tools, purports to allow users to retain retain property rights over their creations, and includes an in-world currency.
– Includes two discrete products: HiPiHi World, and HiPiHi Home, a private space for users in which they can invite their friends. Lee points out the similarity in this regard to South Korea’s CyWorld, the extraordinarily popular apartment-based online world/social network which boasts 18 million users.

“My gut,” Kuo comments, “tells me that done right, this could be quite substantial in China, and might have more legs than its U.S. counterpart. For one thing, MMORPG culture is pretty deeply embedded among Chinese netizens, and many players are very used to ‘repatriating’ currency earned in the in-game economy to real life.” He’s not kidding: another virtual currency has become so popular in China, government officials there are condemning it as a threat to the country’s currency.

Online world game design guru Raph Koster (who spotted Lee’s analysis) thinks it isn’t directly competing with Second Life, so much as Makena Techology’s There. “I didn’t see any mention of scripting; I also didn’t see any 3d modeling,” Raph notes. (SL has both.) “What I saw was lots of tweaking of pre-fabs: adjusting hues, scalars, and so on. Looks like it has some decent building tools for landscapes.”

To me, the main question is how a native user-created world can even exist in China. As industry expert Lisa Cosmas Hanson recently told me, while the Chinese government actively supports homegrown game development, they’re most sensitive to regulating controversial content, which very, very broadly includes “anything that is detrimental to state security, anything that instigates discrimination, anything that discusses religion, anything obscene, and anything that disrupts social order.” So what happens when the first HiPiHi user adds a Falun Gong shrine to their home, or instigates a rally against Japanese iconography, as has happened in other Chinese-based online worlds— or even more likely, opens up a red light district?

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