China to get 'largest' virtual world

June 3, 2007 - 7:59AM

China has the world's largest population and one of the world's largest economies. Now it will get a massive virtual universe to match.

Swedish software company MindArk, which operates the online game Entropia Universe, has been chosen by a Beijing company to create what it calls the largest-ever virtual world for China, MindArk said.

Entropia Universe, which has more than 580,000 players, is an online game set on a fictional planet in which users can work, meet friends, trade and buy virtual land with real cash.

Gothenburg-based MindArk said in a statement that the Chinese virtual world will have a capacity of 7 million concurrent players and aims to draw 150 million users in total.

It said the new game is expected to generate US$1 billion ($A1.21 billion) in economic activity every year.

It wasn't immediately clear how much the deal is worth or when the virtual world will launch.

A spokeswoman for the new project, and its China partner, Cyber Recreation Development Corp, didn't immediately respond to e-mailed or faxed questions from The Associated Press.

MindArk's statement suggests there will be a link between its existing game Entropia Universe and the new Chinese game.

Entropia Universe revolves around the fictional planet Calypso.

MindArk said "the cooperation agreement with China willgenerate hundreds of new planets and open up space for travel between the planets."

Some have expressed worries that China's lack of Western-style civil liberties will carry over to the new virtual society.

Though China's communist government promotes internet use, it has also set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.

Hong Kong Apple Daily newspaper predicted in a full-page story virtual police will exist in the Chinese game, and that it won't allow players to protest the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, which killed hundreds of people.

Google Inc has acknowledged it agreed to self-censorship in offering a Chinese search site that omits politically sensitive information, such as details of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Its agreement with China has provoked criticism from human rights groups.