HiPiHi in Public Beta: Interview With Xu Hui, CEO

Wed, Apr 2, 2008


HiPiHi is taking up the challenge of building a managed world with the emphasis on creating a strong virtual economy and a community built around the trading and creation of virtual goods, just at the moment when Linden Lab is beginning to make serious moves to an open grid (see here, here, and here).

While HiPiHi will not focus on real life integrations or enterprise applications, they will provide APIs for enterprises to do that themselves. They will be using the Chinese micro payment system Alipay, by alibaba which unlike PayPal does not have prohibitive costs for micro transactions.

IBM is a “solutions provider” for HiPiHi helping them design a systems architecture that will facilitate running a scalable world with a strong virtual economy. The early focus of HiPiHi is on building an architecture to support the virtual economy.

Toshitaka Jiku, HiPiHi’s new CTO and Executive Vice-President notes: “Virtual goods will be housed in a server for the purpose of creating a market place that will be our vision for an ebay for virtual worlds, so these virtual goods would be portable as opposed to having avatars being portable first.” IBM is also working with Linden Lab in the Architectural Working Group (see earlier post) on scaling and interoperability for Second Life and interoperability and avatar portability is part of the long term vision for HiPiHi.

And, HiPiHi is partnering with Intel to tap more CPU power. It has often been noted that one of the weaknesses of all current game engines and virtual worlds is they do not tap the power of the new CPUs.

HiPiHi has only 40,000 users so the focus of the public beta, which began April 2nd, will be on community building. While they have a future vision of interoperability with Second Life and other platforms based on the Linden Lab technology, the focus, for now, is on building a Chinese community. But they are experimenting with a dual naming system with avatars bearing English and Chinese names because international communication is very much in the HiPiHi vision of the future.


While HiPiHi plans for some mobile integration early on, IMing friends and inventory management for example, the emphasis at the moment is building the community inworld (also note Second Life’s recent integration with mobile, “Samsung Unveils Second Life..” ). But Toshitaka Jiku, HiPiHi’s new CTO is one of the first to develop a mobile interface for SL. And, Jiku comes from NGI the Venture Capital company that is also backing 3Di, so look for interesting innovation with mobile integration in the future.

While HiPiHi is commonly seen as a mere Second Life clone, the work they are doing with IBM and Intel on the system architecture is hoped to produce some valuable innovation. They are also researching the innovations of realXtend’s client. HiPiHi has a close relationship with OpenSim through their connection to 3Di and with Adam Fisby’s company, Deep Think, that is opening offices in Shanghai. It will be interesting to see how these relationship develop over time. Xu Hui and Philip Rosedale met last year and there is a long term vision of cooperation possible. These connections if they blossomed into cooperation and full interoperability would create a very interesting step forward for positive global development through virtual worlds.

Interview With Xu Hui, CEO of HiPiHi


Xu Hui, CEO of HiPiHi with Toshitaka Jiku, HiPiHi’s new CTO and Executive Vice-President

Bjorn Lee, Senior Manager, Marketing & International Business Development for HiPiHi, did an excellent job of translating for this interview, not only with Chinese and English but with the skillful and patient way he worked with me to find the essence of some of my long stream of consciousness questions! Bjorn also contributed many insights, and Toshitaka Jiku stopped by with some interesting insights into HiPiHi’s direction.

Tish Shute: Please could you tell me about your vision for the future of virtual worlds?

Xu Hui: The global virtual world industry will be undergoing a revolution over the next few years. What HiPiHi, Second Life and the other virtual worlds have done in the past few years has really been just setting the stage, exposing the world and educating on the possibilities – kind of like a proof of concept for what virtual worlds can do and can’t do. The goal this year for most virtual platforms will be to build system architectures that can truly scale for a massively-concurrent user base, in addition to inter-operability.

Tish Shute: I know that HiPiHi has formed a patnership with IBM. Could you tell me more about this?

Xu Hui: We are working very closely with IBM in terms of building new technical infrastructure for our platform. What this means is that we will specifically be collaborating very closely on aspects such as redesigning our architecture.

Tish Shute: RealXtend has been working on interoperability of virtual worlds with “real life” and working on meshes and facilitating 3D imports. Have you been in contact with realXtend yet?

Xu Hui: We are actively researching what realXtend is doing, as with other exciting virtual world technologies; and will seriously considering integrating them with our new system architecture.

Tish Shute: What is the strategy of HiPiHi re building a community of content developers?

Xu Hui: This is one of the focuses for HiPiHi this year. We are looking into incentive systems for content creation, including monetary and non-monetary forms. For the former, our approach will be to facilitate universal trade and have a secondary market for people to exchange their virtual goods, their creations, their applications, and so on. But in China, the model will be slightly different initially as we favor an ecosystem approach where we work with third-party providers of virtual economy functions and services. An example could be in payment systems, where instead of reinventing the wheel, we could explore ways to facilitate transactions conducted through Alipay, often regarded as the Paypal for China.

Tish Shute: I am a Mac user and, of course, I am really interested to know when there will be a Mac Interface and easy to use english version?

Bjorn Lee: I am a fellow Mac user too, along with an increasing number of colleagues. So do rest assured we have an internal Mac evangelist team! Since December, we have had a very basic English version but our lack of bilingual staff has affected the development of a satisfactory support system, not to mention interface only for English users.

Tish Shute: How big is the market in China for Mac?

Bjorn Lee: It is about 1%. But of course it is out of a larger population base here in China. Despite their relative lack of scale among China users, Mac users here are very enthusiastic, grassroots, and very tightly knit. Macbook Air ads are playing heavily across Beijing too and have garnered strong brand awareness among the younger set of Chinese consumers.

Tish Shute: What are some of the goals for the public beta which is starting in early April?

Xu Hui: The Public Beta will begin April 2. For public beta what’s interesting is this dual naming system that we are developing for the very first time. The first phase is for the current Private Beta users to migrate to the new naming system before we release that naming system to the public.

We expect a fair amount of proactive user feedback in the initial days, as with all things new. But I think it’s a good step forward because it will try to bring together the English and the Chinese speaking worlds. In a “first” for the virtual world, this new naming system displays both your English (that we call international name) and your Chinese name on top of your avatar. Across many in-world interactions such as chat, social networking, and for future commerce , we are trying to break down the language barrier in the virtual world.

But we are trying to do something to move forward in trying to foster multi-cultural interaction, with the foreign audience and local Chinese audience. Because there’s a lot of demand from local audiences here who want to internationalize and meet people from overseas and the same feedback is coming from our foreign users such as Suezanne C. Baskerville who seems very keen on learning some Chinese. She would like to put some Chinese and English on her avatar too – it’s like a social “code”, you start putting Chinese words in your avatar and so you say that you know I’m friendly and I’m willing to speak to Chinese users. And so too for the Chinese because with the English names up there it doesn’t look so foreign to the foreign audience.

In the later part of the year after our new system architecture is up, we will begin to consider micro payment systems. But because we are migrating to this new infrastructure, the initial stages of the public beta will just be to get more people to use the tools and continue to gather feedback.

Tish Shute: “What is the business model for HiPiHi?”

Xu Hui: Our platform is oriented more for the individual users, that is the residents as opposed to the enterprises and the corporate residents. A lot of the features we are adding and a lot of the feedback that we’re taking is user centric. But, as for our relationship with corporate residents, we will be opening a series of programs and that includes opening our API to allow development on our platform by the enterprises. We think of it as a self-service approach, in the form of open APIs and maybe incentive programs for enterprises to kind of drive this for themselves. But we will design and customize the platform more according to our core user group which are the non-corporate users.

Tish Shute: What is HiPiHi’s relation to other virtual world initiatives, e.g., Entropia’s and other virtual world start ups in China?

Xu Hui: My starting point in responding to this is the definition of a virtual worlds in our company’s opinion is an open-ended user-directed environment. User-directed means that users would drive the content creation, the development of not just their own content, but also feed back to the company, and what they hope to see on a platform level. Open-ended also in the sense that they can have a freer rein in creating and managing their creations.

Concerning that kind of concept, as it plays right now in China, we are the only company that really does that. A lot of the other initiatives that have sprouted recently from the interested companies or other startups in this space have more of what we classify as virtual communities which means that they place real limits and constraints on the users ability to create, and actually have more control over their lifestyles in these worlds.

We will welcome other players as they enter too. We actually welcome the entry of others into this ecosystem because it helps this ecosystem grow and mature faster. And, it can only be good for the users to have so many different companies push out their products and try to reach out to them. So it’s good because then they’ll be able to make an intelligent choice and see how fulfilling a virtual lifestyle they want.

Tish Shute: How do you plan to expand beyond China and how will HiPiHi differ in other countries? I know Linden Lab has met some interesting legal challenges as they have expanded globally.

Xu Hui: HiPiHi will be the sole platform operator for China. As for regions outside China we will take a partnership approach to finding local companies which will then operate this platform. They will be licensed and hence operate this world on our behalf. Thus they will be entitled to benefits commercially and so will have to be responsible to bear the legal costs and challenges. This will reduce the amount of legal burden on our side. A US based operator of the HiPiHi platform in US will certainly have to follow US laws to be entitled to collect revenues but also they will have to handle US based law suits.

Tish Shute: Will HiPiHi have a strong ID verification system tying virtual identities to real identities as a way to try and control griefers etc?

Xu Hui: This question itself doesn’t address how we think about identity. First, we are not going to have a very strong link between real world identity and virtual identity because we feel that our focus would really be to improve accreditation of what is popularly known as a reputation system for virtual identities. So we will focus on building an attractive incentive program for avatars to view their virtual identities in our virtual world as opposed to saying that you’re going to tie this virtual identity very tightly to your real identity.

We want to create mechanisms to facilitate and encourage residents to improve their in-world reputation. But it doesn’t mean we’re not going to manage disruptive behavior such as griefing, which is already known to create problems for virtual worlds like Second Life.

We will have a monitoring mechanism for these troublemakers in our virtual world. But our intention is to let the actual policing be done by residents themselves, through self-organized groups and features we provide for them. .

Tish Shute: The next generation of the Linden Lab grid architecture will separate avatar identity from what constitutes their environment. Will you be going in this direction too.

Toshitaka Jiku: (HiPiHi’s new CTO) Our server architecture will have a different focus. Our server architecture picks out virtual goods as an item that we will separate from the others in the sense that we are going to place them on different servers first. So virtual goods will be housed in a server for the purpose of creating a market place that will be our vision for an “ebay for virtual worlds”, so these virtual goods would be portable as opposed to having avatars being portable first. These are just our first steps and it does also mean that avatars would be housed in a separate server. But the focus right now is to make virtual goods portable and enable the virtual economy.

Tish Shute: How is HiPiHi going to deal with issues of protecting IP rights? This issue has become quite a difficult one in Second Life.

Xu Hui: This is a very big question. I am just going to lay out some basic principals. We like the concepts of giving back the rights of a media creation and returning it back to the creator, enhancing the motivation and incentive systems for people to share their creations and so on. A lot of our influences come from Creative Commons – that is the first part. The second part is when IP rights are infringed we understand where we stand in the whole legislative environment. We are not a legislative body, nor can we judge or rule on certain issues of conflict. Hence what we can do as platform is to provide the data but when it comes to actually making decisions in the legislative environment we are going to rely on third-party intermediaries. This could involve bringing in real-world law makers and courts to uphold some of these IP right because we can’t do that ourselves. So we do face limits somewhat similar to Second Life.

Tish Shute: What are your goals with IBM and Intel?

Xu Hui: IBM to us is really a solutions company. They have expertise in almost every single aspect of the IP sector which makes them a very good partner for us because we considering the architecting of our systems across all areas, client, the backend, algorithms and so on. They can help because they are pretty broad in their understanding of all IP areas.

But Intel has a little bit more focus. Intel is the father of the CPU. They are still the best right now in their understanding of CPU performance and we believe they are going to continue to lead this sector. So when we work with them it is going to evolve around the understanding of the CPU unit – what kind of features and abilities are we able to extract and are going to be useful for virtual worlds. I think this is something many virtual worlds have not focused on – that is extracting value from the CPU. And where better to find out how than from the makers themselves which is Intel. So we work across a broad spectrum with IBM, but with Intel we work in the vertical, and we drill very very deep.

categories: 3D internet, china, crossing digital divides, interoperability of virtual worlds, Linden Lab, Second Life, social media, Virtual China, Virtual Citizenship, virtual communities, virtual economy, virtual goods, virtual world standards, Virtual Worlds, virtual worlds in china, Web 3D, Web3.D, World 2.0

2 Comments For This Post

  1. Aleister Kronos Says:

    I have just been in using the latest HiPiHi client (50013)
    There were 4 people inworld as far as I could tell. Unfortunately, this (and prior) version of the client does not offer any English whatsoever. A bit of a minus after version 50011, which did – but which is no longer compatible.

  2. RoxiReina Says:

    Can i play HipiHi in english version??? from where download english version or
    Beta Hipihi……(IN ENGLISH)

1 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. UgoTrade » Blog Archive » HiPiHi in Public Beta: Interview With Xu Hui, CEO « Unable To Connect - SuezanneC Baskerville Says:

    [...] 4, 2008 — Sue Baskerville (SuezanneCB) A nice article on Hipihi and it’s new CTO. UgoTrade » Blog Archive » HiPiHi in Public Beta: Interview With Xu Hui, CEO On the left is the big boss of Hipihi, Xu Hui, CEO of HiPiHi ,and on the right is  Toshitaka [...]