It was inevitable: A Chinese company
has launched is closed-beta testing a version of Second Life--and probably not the last we'll see. Called HiPiHi, it seems to have hit the Web late last year: Chinese blog posts that I failed to notice talked about it in some depth as early as December 6. No affiliation with Linden Labs, which created/operates Second Life, that I could see.
There's some biographical info on the founder/CEO Xu Hui here.
Are we going to see a mad rush by advertisers to get into HiPiHi? Is Xinhua going to set up a news bureau? Will HMB, or whatever the currency is called, impact the value of the RMB?
My gut 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. HiPiHi seems to have made dumbed-down object creation tools available while keeping more advanced options available to the more proficient--don't quote me on that, I've not really played around with it yet.
There's a definite feminine sensibility to the pitch video, which you can download (.wmv) here: a female narrator and avatar, emphasis on the outfits, the landscaping, the houses. Going after women is probably the right move: there are plenty of online gamers in China, but few of the hack-and-slash MMORPGs really work for women.
I'm curious to see whether they'll add distinctly Chinese elements to it--traditional archicture, music, prefab landscape things (say, like Guilin-style karst limestone formations). Also really curious to see what kind of scripts people write. Who knows? Someone might do good business making paired marble lions for people can flank their doorways with. Or selling a two-handed namecard hand-off script.
I'll see if I can get a beta invite, and get my wife to play around with it and report her feedback: she was really into The Sims for a while, and will probably dig this. (We set up Second Life accounts, but the lack of a Chinese interface was frustrating for her, and all she did was create an avatar that looked an awful lot like herself in real life. Vanity, thy name is...)
Thanks to VirtualChina for this.