SecondLife has attracted a lot of attention in China and the first millionaire from SecondLife is Chinese, this western virtual world has still not been officially launched in China. But the rapidly growing Chinese Internet apparently could not wait for it. Last week a Chinese virtual world was launched, named HiPiHi. It's a SecondLife-like 3D virtual world and it started a limited beta test last week. We had a very nice talk with HiPiHi’s founders, Hui Xu (CEO) and Xinhua Liu, to find out more about this new Chinese virtual world.Even though
HiPiHi was founded in Beijing in October 2005 as a privately held company funded by GCIG. HiPiHi is the only Chinese virtual world and probably only the second company worldwide after SecondLife to offer a truly collaborative, immersive and open-ended experience for users to create, inhabit and govern a new world of their own design.
HiPiHi is very young, only 1.5 years old, and its private beta test just started a few days ago. People might feel it is just a business strategy to copy SecondLife, just as there are over 200 hundred video-sharing sites declaring themselves as Chinese YouTubes. However, unlike most of these startups, the HiPiHi management team is very experienced in this market.
Hui Xu, the founder and CEO of HiPiHi, was the General Manager of MyWeb China and was nominated as one of the “Top Ten China Internet Heros” in 1999. Hui was also the chairman and CEO of JingQi XiShu Co. Ltd, which became one of the most successful e-commerce site in 2000. Xuewei Rao, the Director & COO of HiPiHi, founded Iscreate Communications Co. Ltd in 2000 and was also the vice-president of the Guangdong High-Tech Chamber of Commerce. Its vice-president, Tracy Ji, was the PR director of ZhaoPin.com - the leading provider of online career and recruitment resource in China. Another founder, Xinhua Liu, was the vice-president of 3721.com (a leading software development company acquired by Yahoo in 2003) and also the co-founder of “EMBA Club International”.
The HiPiHi World
The Chinese Internet is still not mature and web 2.0 is just heating up here. We asked Hui and Xinhua why they started an online virtual reality. Hui Xu said that while most users will treat HiPiHi as another 3D game, he said they are aiming to build a complete 3D visual background which reflects different environments in the real world. It also provides users with a powerful creation engine and tools, which helps users to create their own world step by step. Hui explained that before the full public beta, they are going to invite around 100,000 users to be the original residents of the HiPiHi world.
There are four phases involved in the current private test. Note that these four phases reflect Chinese mythical events, but for better understanding here we are translating it into the corresponding Biblical story of God’s creation of the world in 7 days. They are:
Phase 1 - In the beginning God created heaven and the earth = the tools for rendering the terrain, hills, fields, terraces, water, flora etc are introduced.
Phase 2 - God created Adam and Eve and the human race using the image of Himself = the tools for creating more detailed avatars are introduced.
Phase 3 - God created all earthly things = the tools for creating all sorts of objects are introduced.
Phase 4 - The Mirage = the economic system and social system are established.
“Every phase is given a distinctive theme, in the hope of guiding users in the creation of the virtual world. This arrangement mirrors the real evolution of human society, from barbarians to civilized society. We want to let the users experience the course of civilization, instead of forcing most of our arbitrary creations down their throat from the get-go, which will surely confuse them.”
HiPiHi and SecondLife
HiPiHi has obtained lots of media coverage, most of which inevitably link it to Linden Labs' SecondLife - a few of them even call it a clone of SecondLife. We asked Hui for his thoughts on that:
“When we started discussing the HiPiHi back to 2005, actually we had no idea about SecondLife. SecondLife came to international attention in late 2006, then we studied it and found out we are both working towards a similar direction. It is absolutely a misunderstanding of virtual worlds if people think HiPiHi is a copycat of SecondLife. The virtual world is not just a 3D environment, but a complicated social system including the property policy, financial policy etc. HiPiHi is born in China, [so] we really hope it can embrace our own culture”.
Xinhua also added that “according to the CNNIC’s report (Jan,2007), over 70% of Chinese netizens are under 30 years old, but the average age of SecondLife is reported to be 32. Chinese users have different interests and views on the Internet market. HiPiHi and SecondLife can learn from each other, but neither of us can simply copy the culture from the other”.
The Future of HiPiHi
Discussing the future of HiPiHi, Hui Xu told us:
“We have invited many sociologists and economists to sit down with our technicians to discuss the future of HiPiHi. We are working hard to improve our 3D environment, and we do hope we can create a perfect society - a shared and fair world which will finally embrace the various cultures of the real world”.
On the economics, while SecondLife created its Linden Dollar, it may've been the Chinese Internet giant Tencent QQ which first introduced a virtual currency - Q Coin. It has been reported that the China government may restrict the usage of virtual currencies, because of concerns about undermining the nation’s financial system. So we asked Hui Xu if HiPiHi is going to introduce its own currency - and if so how it would work. Hui said that “[certainly] we have considered this, but it is still too early to finalize this topic. We have to take all sorts of factors - inside and outside of HiPiHi - into account and we will introduce it when the virtual world is ready for trading”.
HiPiHi is very young, but it is very special [to Chinese users] and also unique in the massive Chinese Internet market. I had a chance to pay a visit to the HiPiHi world, and it was actually a very nice experience.