Long before NFTs became the art market’s hottest property, Baidu was making in-roads into the blockchain. In 2018, the Chinese search engine giant announced plans for its own blockchain protocol, Xuperchain, which had its beta launch in January 2020, on which businesses and developers could create and deploy their own decentralized applications. Most recently, in a sign of its broader ambitions, Baidu has unveiled its latest blockchain project, its very own metaverse.
On December 27, Baidu launched the first domestically produced metaverse, XiRang, also known as Land of Hope. Accessible as an application on computers, smartphones, and wearable devices, the virtual world invites Baidu users to login and create an avatar to explore the environment and engage with other users. For now, the metaverse can support up to 100,000 users interacting in real-time.
According to Baidu, XiRang is still a work-in-progress, but the multi-person virtual platform already boasts a number of cultural highlights. Featuring a fusion of historical Chinese and futuristic design elements, the Möbius band-shaped space includes the sci-fi-themed Three Body Museum, an ancient Shaolin Temple, and the Creator City region, which has already played host to Baidu’s Create 2021 symposium.
Functionality remains limited (users, for instance, cannot zoom in or out on exhibited paintings), but the environment does include immersive audio that enables users to experience 3D sound and chat content as they traverse the metaverse. In line with the Chinese government’s ban of cryptocurrencies, though, XiRang does not support digital assets or digital transactions.
Why it matters
Though still rough around the edges and limited in features, XiRang serves as a proof-of-concept for Baidu’s approach to the metaverse. Expanding on Xuperchain’s offer of blockchain-as-a-service, the XiRang app presents digital-infrastructure-as-a-service, allowing businesses to build and customize their own virtual brand experiences as a form of digital marketing. According to Ma Jie, Baidu’s Vice President, XiRang is welcoming partners from sectors including gaming, culture, entertainment, and advertising.
The XiRang app doesn’t just demonstrate Baidu’s emerging blockchain technology, but more so, China’s exploding interest in the metaverse. As of a December 2021 count, some 8,534 trademark applications for metaverse-related projects have been filed by more than 1,360 Chinese companies, most of which are tech players. Baidu’s competitors, Tencent, NetEase, and Alibaba, have also announced their own gaming-centric metaverse plans.
While China’s Ministry of State Security, through its affiliated think tank, has highlighted “national security risks” presented by the metaverse, the momentum of these ventures has yet to cool. Ma, however, foresees it would take another six years for XiRang to be fully deliverable — a cautious timeline that would allow Baidu to work out the kinks in its metaverse technology, while being watchful of governmental regulations.
Translated by Min Chen