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May 10, 2007 12:54 am

Shanda to imitate online life

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Shanda Interactive Entertainment, a leading Chinese online games operator, plans to launch a title similar to the ground-breaking US internet role-playing title Second Life, according to Chen Tianqiao, the group’s founder and chairman.

Shanda’s interest in Second Life reflects the Nasdaq-listed company’s determination to expand beyond the swords-and-sorcery “massively multiplayer online role-playing games” (MMORPGs) that have made it China’s biggest internet company.

It also highlights international interest in the style of play offered by Second Life, founded in 2003 by San
Francisco-based developer Linden Lab.

Second Life encourages players to develop and trade virtual property and to live an internet version of modern life, unlike traditional fantasy MMORPGs that centre on the slaying of monsters and accumulation of power and wealth.

Mr Chen said Shanda had recently reclaimed its status as China’s biggest online games operator, after seeing its revenues surpassed by fellow Nasdaq-listed rival last year.

“We are moving to diversify our games,” Mr Chen told the Financial Times. “The only thing we care about is what users like, so we are also having a try  . . .  at this Second Life kind of direction.”

The Shanda chairman declined to comment on when the Shanghai-based company might release such a title or offer any further details. However, he did say: “We have this kind of plan.”

A Second Life-style title would be bad news for
HiPiHi, a Beijing-based start-up that is also developing a Chinese copy of the
US game.

HiPiHi has already begun limited testing of its game with about 2,000 registered players.

However, Mr Chen said the success of a game like Second Life depended on the rapid creation of a large “virtual community” of players, giving Shanda – which already boasts millions of players on its other MMORPGs and “casual” online games – a key advantage.

“Shanda has a huge user base,” he said. “We are also among the strongest on the technical side.”

However, two major elements of Second Life’s virtual world could be difficult to replicate in China: online sex and gambling.

Beijing has been stepping up efforts to control the internet, with the ruling Communist party Politburo recently calling for more online promotion of Marxism and a crackdown on “decadent” content.

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