China has revealed details of an advanced plan to use virtual worlds to supply customised goods to consumers across the globe.
Beijing's Cyber Recreation Project (CRP), which is jointly owned by the Chinese government and industry, is creating a Second Life-style virtual world. It will allow people to buy customised goods from Chinese manufacturers.
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So far 200 manufacturers have located to the physical CRP site, ready to receive orders from virtual world customers when the project formally opens next summer, prior to the Beijing Olympic Games.
Clothing manufacturer Berkam Group will offer the first service, offering customised shirt manufacturing.
CRP's chief scientist, Chi Tau Robert Lai, said that the aim was to cut out the middlemen. "A shirt made in China for £1 typically sells for £20 in Europe. We have a big manufacturing capacity," he said.
Lai said China has a large and growing middle class who, along with 20 million virtual game players, are best reached through virtual worlds. The firms will also sell goods to the rest of the world.
This Chinese initiative, based on Internet Protocol version 6, aims to build an open and accessible environment. Handling currency conversions, global integration and interoperability are core requirements for success.
"The virtual world has to integrate with the real world," said Lai. "Some form of government in the virtual world is needed in the future to ensure trust and quality."
Swedish companies are leading the way in collaboration. Paynova is providing international online payment services, and MindArk, which produces the Entropia Universe virtual world, is helping provide a virtual world infrastructure.
CRP is also working with MasterCard, Visa and the China Everbright Bank to build a financial platform, and with suppliers including IBM.