The MMO Gap

A recent report from GameDailyBiz blew my mind. A Chinese government agency has apparently announced plans to spend the equivalent of $1.8 billion to stimulate the development of dozens of online games and online gaming companies. Thanks to Rafat Ali’s Paid Content for pointing me to the GameDailyBiz report, which itself cited the publication Shanghai Youth as the ultimate source of this news.

According to GameBizDaily: “The Shanghai Youth recently reported that the 15 billion Yuan would be spent to speed up video game development centers in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as in the Sichaun province,” and included a comment from an official of what is called, in English at least, the Press and Publication Administration of China (PPAC). That agency would seem to be to source of the investment but that is not made explicit. MondoTimes contains a link to the Shanghai Youth home page, and if your browser accepts simplified Chinese characters — and you can read them, you can check this out first hand.

Meanwhile, let’s accept GameDailyBiz at face value when it reports, citing no source, that: “Of China’s 1.3 billion citizens, over 500 million live in cities, which allows them cheap online access via Internet cafes. Of those 500 million, only an estimated 22.8 million played an MMO in 2004, indicating significant room for growth. Those 22.8 million spent over $500 million on online games that year, which indicates how incredibly large the market is likely to become, as more Chinese enter the online arena.”

I recently became interested in what are often called massively multiplayer online games or MMOs in the course of writing an article about the economics of these virtual worlds. The featured online environment was Second Life, created by Linden Lab. Once upon a time I read the novel Snowcrash. Second Life is in many ways an eerie embodiment of the online metaverse that was the core concept of that novel. Among the things I learned in the course of reporting that story was that South Korea — perhaps the world’s most heavily wired nation — appears to have the largest single concentration of gamers. So something is brewing in Asia in regards to the metaverse.

If you’re interested in the economics, politics and sociology of these MMOs, visit the TerraNova blog. I got some flame notes from the direction of a blog called BrokenToys that seems to be populated by hard core gamers.

My interest in China goes way back. In the Navy I fell in love with Asia and China in particular. I studied Mandarin in college and, but for a fateful choice, I would have finished my senior year at Chinese University of Hong Kong, with the intention of becoming a China correspondent. Instead I ended up a middle aged reporter with a focus in technology.

Hence my particular interest in this peculiar news. Here is a nation coming into its own, that is at once trying to crack down on everything from Falun Gong to critical emails, and yet it is pumping money into virtual worlds. I would say incrutable but if this bipolar behavior didn’t make perfect sense to this former student of China — which has long tried to accept Western technology while rejecting western values.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media