The connection between the country of China and online gaming has been a running theme in recent years, with the negative press of 'farmers' outweighing the news of enthusiastic investments by regional businesses. The Virtual World News site has a fascinating discussion of some momentous plans by the Chinese Government to invest in the virtual world market. The article there has some low-level details of the project, which appears to be a collaboration between government officials and corporate interests.
Astonishingly, the overall goal of the project is to build a sort of 'Virtual World business neighborhood', a plan they're calling the China Recreation District. A further posting to the GigaOM site by well-known Second Lifer James Wagner Au adds clarity to these somewhat weighty issues:
[The project is] set for a June 2008 launch (just in time for the Beijing Olympics in August) ... The CRD complex will include a corporate park, a public center showcasing numerous virtual worlds, and ... the organization expects 150 million users (!) by 2010 ... Entropia Universe will provide a virtual world platform for the CRD, but 10 or more other virtual worlds will also be featured there, including Chinese-based HiPiHi and probably Second Life via RTMAsia, Linden Lab's representative in China.
It's amazing to see a national government becoming so involved in the workings of online worlds; only time will tell whether the efforts of the officials in Beijing are meant to open up the marketplace for their countrymen, or (as Au fears) "is [this] actually part of a government move aimed at better controlling the industry - by partly co-opting it?"