Well, not really, but it’s a hard headline to resist when you hear that the Chinese Government has given its blessing to the establishment of a ‘virtual economy’. However it is obvious that by establishing this as a ‘new’ world, on the Entopia Universe ‘Calypso’ planet, rather than building the planned economy in SecondLife that this will be a rival. As with most things in China the scale is awesome, the planned development will target a market of 150 million users, allowing 7 million simultaneous users, with the project expecting to generate 10,000 job opportunities, and initial annual revenues of $1billion. Cyber Recreational Development, CRD, is the company created to build and operate with Swedish based Entropia Universe bringing in external skills based on their existing games on Calypso.

Those who have read my previous blogs on the topic will know that I am sure that virtual reality is a crucial development area for technology, but am less convinced on the leisure aspects of living out my fantasies in virtual reality, preferring to spend what free time I have with family and friends. This now appears to be a western developed economy point of view when compared to the Chinese views on the values of their new virtual world. Sadly these are hard to access as they are mostly in Chinese – (thanks to a colleague living there for the further information).
If you live in a vast rural economy with a poor infrastructure then being able to visit a ‘developed’ world, even if virtual, to be able to see the sites, visit shops, maybe even to meet distant family, and play chess, or other ‘physical’ games, has immediate attractions. Use a low cost currency to make what would otherwise seem to be unaffordable luxury goods available, and it becomes an even more interesting commercial proposition for a wide variety of retailers. In a less developed physical economy where the vastness means even large investment programmes will take years to make a difference a virtual economy has a different appeal.
And it’s the topic of to whom does it appeal, and why, that might turn out to be the true separation between SecondLife and Calypso. I am sorry to say it, but with increasing popularity, SecondLife is suffering from a new influx of SLifers who see it as an environment for some very undesirable social behaviour. The ‘freedom’ charter to allow SL to develop as its citizen’s choose is beginning to suggest there is a need for governance, or possibly even government. The news releases do feature the continuation of Chinese national policy on ‘managing’ Internet use, or abuse, and I assume will therefore have controls over identity, in my mind becoming a major issue in SL, and behaviour.
Is this good, or bad, development of virtual worlds? Time will tell, but it does show a different path will some alternative values that at least to me seem to make sound sense and offer real commercial value.