China’s tech giants are cautiously investing in the Metaverse
Compared to Meta and Microsoft’s deliberate focus on the Metaverse, Chinese companies are taking a more cautious approach towards the concept.
Currently, Chinese tech industry leaders seem to have caught the “metaverse fever.” According to investment giant Morgan Stanley, the estimated market value for the metaverse in China is around 52 trillion yuan, or around US$ 8 trillion; understandably, companies would want to explore opportunities in the area.
Front-runners of the Chinese Metaverse
Tencent CEO Pony Ma believes the Metaverse can expand the current capabilities of and add growth to the gaming industry. Reportedly, the company is already exploring opportunities in the metaverse.
ByteDance – owner of Tik Tok and its Chinese variant Douyin - is already implementing building blocks for its foray into the world of gaming and virtual spaces. The company acquired the VR headset maker Pico in August. It can leverage its existing expertise in VR experiences, social media and gaming.
Alibaba also announced this year that it was developing augmented reality glasses for virtual meetings. The company even launched a “virtual influencer” named Dong Dong for the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Even Baidu, China’s prominent internet company, unveiled its early launch for their metaverse app Xi Rang (which translates to “Land of Hope”) in December last year. The app offers a virtual world capable of holding up to 100,000 people at once and interacting simultaneously. It can be accessed via smartphones, computer or virtual reality goggles. However, the product is far from assuming its finished form, and executives say it could take up to six years before it is fully developed.
The Metaverse in the highly regulated China
As promising as all these sounds, Chinese tech companies still have to comply with strict regulations of the government such as anti-monopoly rules, a Personal Information Protection Law that tightly regulates data collection, and a restriction of internet time for children under 18.
Analysts have predicted that these regulations would extend into the new metaverse projects.
In the words of Hanyu Liu, a China market analyst at Daxue Consulting, “We should also expect to see strict censorship, meaning there will most likely be an isolated, Chinese metaverse that is separate from the international.”
“China knows just when and where it needs to keep its hand; close enough so that it can keep a careful watch, but not to the point where it would cause irreversible harm to the industry,” Liu said.
Even Chinese cities are showing interest in the metaverse. In December, the city of Shanghai disclosed its five-year development plan, which encouraged the application of the metaverse concept in major areas of the public services, business office and social entertainment, industrial manufacturing and more.