You can also read this post on ReadWriteWeb.com. The Chinese version of this interview with HiPiHi can be found here. Thanks to Ben for his contribution.

Even though the first millionaire from SecondLife is Chinese and this western virtual world has attracted a lots of attention in China, but till now the SecondLife has not officially landed on the China yet. But the rapidly growing Chinese Internet apparently would not wait for this. Here comes HiPiHi, the SecondLife-like 3D virtual world has started its limited beta test early this 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 world.

 

HiPiHi, founded at Beijing in October 2005 is a privately held company funded by GCIG. HiPiHi is the only one in China and probably the second company worldwide after SecondLife offering a truly collaborative, immense and open-ended experience to the users to create, inhabit and govern a new world of their own design.

HiPiHi Team

HiPiHi is very young, only 1.5 years old and its private beta test has just started a few days ago. People might feel it is just a business strategy to regard it as a new SecondLife if you know there are over 200 hundreds video-sharing sites declared themselves as Chinese YouTubes. However, unlike most of the 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 Guangdong High-Tech Chamber of Commerce. Its vice-president, Tracy Ji was the PR director of ZhaoPin.com which is the leading provider of online careers 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 web2.0 is just heating up. We asked Hui and Xinhua for their opinion on introducing the online virtual reality which is actually recognized as a feature of web3.0. Hui Xu said they had thought over the market from the first day when HiPiHi was founded. Most users will treat HiPiHi as another 3D game, but we dont really worry about that. Our responsibility is to build a complete 3D visual background which reflects different environment in the real world and also provide the users with powerful creation engine and tools and then guide them to create their own world step by step. Hui explained, before the public test, we are going to invite around 1000 100,000 users to be the original residents of HiPiHi world. There are four phases involved in current private test (of course 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), and they are:

Phase 1 – God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning; 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 with 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 the 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 for sure confuse them.”, Hui said.

HiPiHi and SecondLife

HiPiHi has obtained lots of media coverage most of which inevitably link it with Linden Lab’s SecondLife, and few of them even call it a clone of SecondLife. “When we started discussing the HiPiHi back to 2005, actually we had no idea about the SecondLife. SecondLife came to international attention in late 2006, then we study it and find out we both are working for a similar direction.”, Hui continued, “It is absolutely a misunderstanding of the virtual world if people think HiPiHi is a copycat of SecondLife. The virtual world is not just a 3D environment, but a complicate social system including the property policy, financial policy etc. HiPiHi is born in China, we really hope it can embrace our own culture”.

Xinhua also added, “According to the CNNIC‘s report (Jan,2007), over 70% of Chinese netizen is under 30 years old, but the average age of SecondLife is reported to be 32. The Chinese users have different interests and views on the Internet market. HiPiHi and SecondLife can learn from each other, but no one can simply copy the culture from the other”.

The Future of HiPiHi

When we come to the future of HiPiHi, Hui Xu told us, “We have invited many sociologists, economists sitting 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 will finally embrace the various cultures of the real world”.

SecondLife created its Linden Dollar, but it might be the Chinese Internet giant Tencent QQ which first introduced the virtual currency Q Coin. It was reported that the China government may restrict the usage of the virtual currency because of the worries about undermining the nation’s financial system. We asked Hui Xu if HiPiHi was going to introduce its own currency and how it would work. Hui said, “surely we have considered this, but it is still too early to finalize this topic. We have to take all sorts of factors inside or outside of HiPiHi into account and we will introduce it when the virtual world is ready for the trading”.

The Conclusion

HiPiHi is very young, but it is very special and also unique in the massive Chinese Internet market. We also had a chance to pay a visit to the HiPiHi world, and it was actually a very nice experience.  Some screenshots are followed.