BEIJING: How will China’s metavers evolve? Look at the letter “c”. Clean, censored, compliant and crypto-less is the opinion of experts.
The descriptions point to the long shadow being cast by Chinese authorities, who have already indicated they will have a heavy regulatory hand in how it will develop — a shadow that some Chinese metaverse proponents fear will stunt growth.
From Microsoft’s $69 billion plan to buy Activision to Facebook changing its name to Meta Platforms Inc, much of the tech world is making a leap to build what many expect to be the next generation of the Internet: immersive virtual worlds that replicate many aspects of real life.
Experts say China’s metaverse efforts are lagging behind countries like the United States and South Korea, citing less investment by domestic tech giants. Leading products such as Meta’s Oculus virtual reality (VR) headsets have been banned in China and the slow development of attractive domestically made VR headsets has meant that China has yet to see a VR platform or metaverse gain popularity.
But interest has started to rise. In the past year, more than 1,000 companies, including heavyweights such as Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent Holdings Ltd, have filed for about 10,000 metaverse-related trademarks, according to the Tianyancha company.
Baidu broke new ground in December with the launch of “XiRang,” described as China’s first metaverse platform, though it has been widely panned for not offering a high-level immersive experience. Baidu says his app is a work in progress.
Start-ups are also seeing more investments. In the three months to the end of November, more than 10 billion yuan ($1.6 billion) was invested in metaverse-related ventures, far exceeding the 2.1 billion yuan in investment that China’s VR and related industries have attracted for all of 2020, according to Sino Global, a crypto venture capital firm focused on China.
“Investors and venture capital managers who hadn’t spoken to me in years suddenly started messaging – asking if I wanted something to eat and talk. They all want to talk metavers,” said Beijing-based Pan Bohang whose startup plans to launch a VR platform for social gaming.
A REGULATED REALM
Experts say the childhood of China’s metaverse gives Beijing plenty of room to co-opt its development, especially as the current metaverse buzz has coincided with an unprecedented crackdown from the regulatory and other industries.
“Traditional Chinese Internet companies developed first and then became regulated. Industries like the metaverse will be regulated as they are built,” said Du Zhengping, head of the metaverse industry committee of the state-backed China Mobile Communications Association, which was founded in October.
But China’s authoritarian approach is at odds with how the metaverse is developing in other parts of the world, where users are drawn to new ways of expressing themselves, and it will stifle growth, says Eloi Gerard, a VR entrepreneur. who worked in China for 10 years before recently moving to Los Angeles.
“The metaverse is already a place where you have religious groups, LGBT movements, who come together all over the world and use the virtual world to share ideas, this is what people are doing on VRChat right now… it’s insanely progressive and liberal ,” he said, referring to a popular VR platform in San Francisco.
“The idea of the metaverse is that you move between virtual worlds… this goes directly against the idea of one party, one vote, one vision.”
Experts also note that gaming – considered the gateway technology to the metaverse – is tightly regulated in China.
Games must be approved by the government and while combat games are allowed, highly violent content such as the depiction of blood and corpses is prohibited, as is anything that could be perceived as obscene. As part of their recent crackdown on the regulations, authorities have also sought to curb underage gambling and the excessive admiration of celebrities and money.
Gaming giants like Tencent and NetEase Inc have been quick to state publicly that they will abide by all rules when developing metaverse offerings.
The long arm of government seems to be making itself felt in other ways as well. An influential app, Xuexi Qiangguo, which is required reading for many Communist Party cadres, published an article in November stating that the metaverse should be used to improve the quality of compulsory ideological classes for schoolchildren.
At a January meeting of Beijing’s municipal political advisory body where the development of the metaverse was discussed, the proposals included a metaverse community registration system to prevent them from influencing wider public opinion and causing economic or financial shocks, according to the report. a state media report.
And while cryptocurrencies have become a defining feature of many western metaverse worlds, they are notably absent from China’s metaverse, having been banned by Beijing. Instead, the many forms of Chinese digital payment already in use, such as the central government’s digital yuan, are likely to take their place.
Despite the many potential constraints, some entrepreneurs say China’s metaverse will flourish simply because of the willingness of Chinese consumers to try new forms of online entertainment.
Nikk Mitchell, whose company is in talks about metaverse projects based on Chinese stories that will play out elements like Chinese calligraphy and traditional costumes, is one such believer, noting advances in domestic VR goggles and content.
When Chinese consumers are ready to give this metaverse-related technology another chance, “there will be mass adoption at a level that I don’t think will happen in the West as quickly,” he said.
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