On December 21, 2021, Baidu Vice President Ma Jie gives reporters in Beijing a preview of how the company’s metaverse app XiRang will host a developer conference.
BEIJING – As the metaverse hype has swept the world this year, one of China’s gaming tech giants has revealed a version of the virtual ecosystem that is so far underwhelming.
The metaverse can be loosely defined as the next generation of the Internet – a virtual world in which humans interact through three-dimensional avatars. Social media giant Facebook jumped on the trend in October, changing its name to Meta and announcing related investment plans of $ 10 billion next year.
China is also abuzz with the headlines of the Metaverse. Beijing-based Baidu plans to hold its annual developer event in the virtual world of its metaverse app, XiRang, on Monday. The company says it will be the first metaverse conference in China.
However, in a preview event on Tuesday, the executive in charge of XiRang downplayed expectations by noting how many aspects still fell short.
Development of the app began last December, but there are still “six negative years” left after full launch, Ma Jie, vice president of Baidu, told reporters in Mandarin. In response to questions such as asking for details on this timeline, Ma set off an apologetic tone, “That’s a very good question, but I might not have a very good answer.”
Ma Jie, vice president of Baidu, shares plans for the company’s metaverse at a media event in Beijing on December 21, 2021.
Evelyne Cheng | CNBC
Baidu’s app, as it currently stands, can accommodate 100,000 virtual attendees for Monday’s conference, Ma said, showing reporters a graphical rendering of the virtual stadium.
He said Baidu aims to create an open source platform for metaverse developers – an infrastructure for a virtual world.
Monday’s event marks XiRang’s opening to developers, mostly in China for now.
“The metaverse, although a buzzword in the global tech and investment community, is still in its infancy,” Brian Tycangco, analyst at Stansberry Research, said in an email. “A lot of people don’t even fully understand what the word means today or will mean in the next 3-5 years.”
Baidu’s timeline reflects the company’s understanding of the metaverse, its conservative approach to handling expectations and China’s regulatory environment, he said. “Baidu is clearly trying to move forward to ‘own’ the metaverse in its home market while adhering to Beijing’s new policies to prevent monopoly situations, hence the open platform.”
The Chinese government has cracked down on alleged monopoly practices by Chinese internet tech giants with fines and new regulations over the past 18 months. Beijing also enacted a new data privacy law this year. Analysts say policymakers are trying to address issues of income inequality, while supporting innovation-driven growth.
Baidu said in a statement to CNBC that openness is an integral part of business and that by fostering open source development, applications can be adopted more widely and faster.
The company was founded almost 22 years ago as an internet search engine and has since turned to cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotics and other technologies.
The internet in China is tightly controlled by the government, with lockdowns on foreign social media sites Facebook and Twitter. Google only operated its search engine in China briefly.
The Global Rush for the Metaverse
Analysts disagree on how quickly China’s metaverse is growing compared to that of the United States
Alibaba has a webpage promoting its metaverse cloud offerings. In November, Tencent Chairman Martin Lau told a results conference call that he expects the Chinese government to support the development of metaverse technologies, with regulations specific to the Chinese market.
Earlier this month, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said he expects that in two or three years, most virtual meetings will move to the metaverse. Around the same time, Facebook (Meta) announced that its virtual reality ecosystem, Horizon Worlds, would end its invite-only phase and become freely accessible to anyone aged 18 and over in the United States. and in Canada. Users can interact with other avatars and create their own worlds and games in the system.
In the opinion of Dan Ives, US-based senior equity analyst at Wedbush Securities, “A six-year timeline for Baidu is disappointing for investors and a headache as they will miss this huge metaverse market over the next few years. coming years. Ives expects the monetization of the Metaverse to begin in 2024 and expand on a larger scale the following year.
Baidu’s XiRang app demos on Tuesday showed avatars to possess inhuman abilities such as sometimes being able to walk through walls or other objects. Some parts of the virtual universe would briefly turn black or purple while the system is loading.
The app mimics the real world by forcing avatars to walk or take public transportation. Video games typically display a map or offer other features that allow users to quickly move to other parts of the virtual gaming space.
Baidu’s concept of metaverse on XiRang begins with a “City of Creators” with a tall skyscraper at its center, according to this visualization shared with reporters on Dec. 21, 2021.
As the discussion of the metaverse captures public attention, Chinese state media have published a number of articles on the subject, often on the risk of scams.
The Chinese government’s central disciplinary commission on Thursday published an article on its website on the global history of the metaverse. The room too warned of the risk of non-metaverse hype by some companies, and the need for financial supervision in the virtual world.
Virtual land has become an area of speculation in the nascent metaverse.
But Baidu’s XiRang app won’t support digital currencies or asset trading like virtual property speculation, even though it uses underlying technologies similar to blockchain, Ma said.
He is not the only voice of moderation.
A full metaverse will take five to ten years of development, said Alvin Graylin, Chinese president of HTC, a smartphone and virtual reality company, noting that he could not comment specifically on Baidu. “For products and services that will include the metaverse, bits and pieces will come much sooner. “
“The main challenge in reaching the full Metaverse ecosystem will likely be less specific technology or products, but more the underlying infrastructure, international regulatory agreements and global standards,” Graylin said in an email. “It will take a joint global effort among many companies and governments to deliver on the Metaverse promise. “
He added that some of the things the Metaverse needs immediately include tax regulations and global coverage of high-speed cloud computing.