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Watch out Second Life: China launches virtual universe with seven million souls
« on: 2007-06-03 12:24:39 »
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Source  : The Guardian
Date    : June 2, 2007

Watch out Second Life: China launches virtual universe with seven million souls
  • People to work from home in alternate reality
  • Entropia Universe will create 10,000 'real' jobs

Vic Keegan
Saturday June 2, 2007
The Guardian

This week may mark a coming of age for virtual worlds - the three-dimensional spaces on the internet where people have their own avatars, or on-screen characters. Last night BBC2's The Money Programme was screened in Second Life, the best known of the dozens of virtual realities that are springing up. This week Sky News opened a replica of its studio in Second Life and IBM sponsored a ballet.

Yesterday the Swedish virtual world Entropia Universe announced that it was teaming up with CRD, an offshoot of the Beijing municipality, to build a virtual universe able to handle 7 million users at any one moment. David Liu, chief executive of CRD, claimed that virtual worlds would generate about 10,000 jobs in China.

He added: "An important aspect for this project is also the positive effects on our environment that we foresee. People will actually be able to work from home inside Entropia Universe as many people do today, even from rural areas, thereby decreasing the amount of pollution generated by travel."

Entropia beat other bidders, including, it is understood, Second Life, for this venture. Even Second Life, with a claimed 7 million members, rarely has more than 40,000 on simultaneously, which means that the Chinese venture, if it succeeds, would have a population greater than all but the biggest countries. This raises the prospect that such ventures could become major economies in their own right with no allegiance to any particular administration (or tax gatherer).

Second Life, which is still in its early days, has a daily turnover of $600,000 (302,000) and claims to have created the equivalent of 6,000 full-time jobs as its residents make furniture or clothes or sell land or services. It is talking about having its own chancellor to control the money supply and manipulate interest rates when its banks start lending money.

Second Life and Entropia are three-dimensional reproductions of almost anything in the real world, virtually all of it created by users. At first Second Life was a barren landmass divided up into lots of 500 sq m. It is now so big that it is reckoned that no person could see it all in a lifetime as businesses, universities, arts institutions, pop groups, casinos and, of course, the sex industry start to colonise it.

Corporations such as IBM have found it is a good place to hold international meetings without needing to burn aviation fuel. Thousands of other individuals are working on projects, often in partnership with people in other countries, raising the prospect that virtual worlds could not only boost the trend for home-working but also give globalisation a human face bringing individuals as well as corporations together on a big scale.

Second Life's supporters claim it has three "killer" applications. First, unlike the internet, it has a system for micropayments using its own currency, Linden dollars, which are convertible into real dollars. Second, unlike other virtual worlds such as the massively popular World of Warcraft, it lets residents keep the intellectual property rights to what they create. Third, its owner, Linden Lab, recently welcomed the "open source" movement, allowing anyone qualified to create their own applications whether games, education or business projects.

These could generate the kind of conditions which lead to massive growth, even, it is sometimes argued, to the emergence of new economic sectors comparable to agriculture or manufacturing - unless China gets there first.

One of Entropia's claims is that it is more secure than other virtual worlds. Mr Liu says that it provides a secure operating platform for business transactions and cultural exchanges. Its virtual universe has two planets but intends to expand this to hundreds by September next year.

It recently launched a cash card enabling users to convert virtual dollars into real dollars at high street cash machines.

Last month MindArk, the owner of Entropia, raised $404,000 in an auction for banking licences in its virtual world. If the recent explosive growth of virtual worlds continues, the distinction between real and virtual may become very indistinct.

Governments don't seem to have got the message yet - except for Sweden, where Entropia is based. On Wednesday it became the first major country to open an embassy in Second Life.

Olie Wastberg, director general of the Sweden Institute which promotes interest in the country abroad, said: "Second Life allows us to inform people about Sweden and broaden the opportunity for contact with Sweden." There are no plans to issue passports.

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