Thursday, 22 November 2007

Virtual Worlds in the Far East

2007 has been a busy year for virtual world announcements in the Far East, so I thought I would take this opportunity to give you a quick roundup of some of the more recent ones that nearly managed to slip through my net. As usual, big thanks to Virtual World News for putting me on their trail. I don't pretend that this is, in any way, a complete list - but it is a start.

Second Life in Korea
First, let's step back a month, to October, during which Linden Lab announced that, as part of their Global Provider programme, T-Entertainment would be providing Second Life services in Korea. I can't find out much about this, but I assume that the large cluster of "sera Korea" sims in Second Life, which depict a map of Korea, are being constructed to tie in with this. According to Noneget Barnes, head of Korean Second Life build company Acid Crebiz, "sera" translates as "sl", so these sims therefore come out as "SL Korea." Y'see? It all seems to fit!

If you are not familiar with it, "the Second Life Grid Global Provider program is designed to assist international online communities in creating their own presence on the Second Life Grid. This program has significant requirements, obligations, and programme fees. It is only available to operators of existing online communities outside the United States. The Second Life Grid offers many international experiences outside of the Global Provider program, which anyone can support or join... The Global Provider program assembles custom resources, support lines, and localizable content for these operators to help them establish a unique presence on the Second Life Grid." I don't have a clear view of how many such providers already exist, but I did post some months ago about Kaizen Games in Brazil, which I believe was the first.

Incidentally, whether this is a coincidence or not, Cyworld have announded that they will be going 3D in 2008. An amusing volte face following their recent dissing of 3D virtual worlds as requiring too much computer grunt and bandwidth. Now, showing a somewhat remarkable absence of comprehension, SK Communications CEO,Shin Cho, has added: "The key difference between Cyworld 3D and Second Life is that... Second Life mostly provides ready-made content, while Cyworld 3D will focus on providing user-created content."

Second Life in China
You may recall there was some concern in SL circles earlier in the year, when Linden Lab failed to secure the Chinese state-sponsored contract to deliver a massive virtual world. The contract went to Mindark and their Entropia Universe, instead. However, during November, Virtual World News revealed that Linden Lab are, nevertheless, actively engaged in China, through the services of RTMAsia, a firm specialising in "Asian business acceleration to global technology companies." After a little digging I found that the announcement of this relationship dates back to August 2nd. Under the terms of the agreement, RTMAsia will act as direct representatives for Linden Lab in China, responsible for the development of business partnerships, management of business operations and liaison with media and industry bodies. On this basis, it seems that RTMAsia are acting more like local agents than a full-blown global provider partner. Several people have tried (and failed) to get Linden Lab to come clean about a possible office in China. However, given the nature of the relationship with RTMAsia I can see that such a step may not be necessary at this time. As Redline China put it: "Linden Lab is likely to face various difficulties in China such as government regulation, low user awareness and lack of marketing and distribution channels." It strikes me that RTMAsia is the company they have chosen to help steer a safe route through the pitfalls of working in China.

HiPiHi Partnerships
HiPiHi have announced that Intel will be launching an island in their virtual world today, 22nd November. Apparently the HiPiHi grid runs on systems powered by Intel Xeon processors. In addition, Worlds in Motion informs us of two more partnerships for the Chinese virtual world: Centric, an agency specialising in social media and virtual worlds, and 3Di, a Japanese virtual world content and service provider. The successful virtual worlds build and consultancy company MillionsofUs announced their partnership with HiPiHi back in October. Both MOU and Centric are expected to pull their impressive client lists into the virtual world, while 3Di will be offering building services. Incidentally, you may recognise 3Di as the authors of the Movable Life browser-based, text interface for Second Life.

That's enough for this post... but I know I've barely scratched the surface. Updates on the plethora of Chinese virtual worlds will need to wait for another day, as will consideration of what is happening in Japan. Roll on, 2008!

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