Internet companies, provincial authorities in China rush to the metaverse
Metaverse fever has hit China, with companies of all sizes and local governments vying to be forerunners in the fast-growing industry worldwide that aims to create fully immersive virtual reality.
The emergence of various virtual worlds rolled out by tech giant Baidu and smaller start-ups such as True.ly, the parent company of Zheli, has also raised questions on the type of political and social controls that can be expected in China's metaverse.
The term metaverse was first coined by American writer Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash to describe how people use digital avatars to explore the online world, often as a way of escaping a dystopian reality.
Digital properties cash in on metaverse wave in China
Investors are snapping up digital property in China which typically are non-fungible tokens (NFTs) in games.
NFTs are unique digital assets that can be verified on blockchain technology, and come in all sorts of forms, including artwork, digital homes or in-game items.
In July last year, Chinese artist Huang Heshan sold 310 digital homes for 400,000 yuan (S$85,700). They were on display at Alibaba's Taobao Maker Festival, which encourages do-it-yourself enthusiasts to put their own creations on show.
Bigger stage in the metaverse for China's virtual idols
Virtual idols such as Ayayi, which has promoted fashion powerhouses including Guerlain and e-commerce platform Tmall, are a fast-growing business in China, tapping on increasingly life-like animation technologies and high-profile celebrity scandals.
Virtual idols generally come in two forms: Those like Ayayi look as human as possible, and others like Luo Tianyi, China's first digital-only singer launched in 2012 that resembles anime or cartoon characters.
The virtual idol industry is expected to hit 333.47 billion yuan (S$71.45 billion) by 2023, up 40 times from the 8.09 billion yuan in 2017, according to an industry report by market research firm iiMedia last year.