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Swedish software company to create Chinese virtual world

HONG KONG (AP) – China has the world’s largest population and one of the world’s largest economies. Now it will get a massive virtual universe to match.

Swedish software company MindArk, which operates the online game Entropia Universe, has authorized a Beijing company to create what it calls the largest-ever virtual world for China, MindArk said Friday.

Entropia Universe, which has more than 580,000 players, is an online game set on a fictional planet in which users can work, meet friends, trade and buy virtual land with real cash.

Gothenburg-based MindArk said in a statement the Chinese virtual world will have a capacity of 7 million concurrent players and aims to draw 150 million users in total.

It said the new game is expected to generate US$1 billion (euro740 million) in economic activity every year.

Elina Heng, a spokeswoman for the new project, said MindArk aims to launch the new game in August 2008.

MindArk Chief Marketing Officer Carl Uggla said MindArk will train artists from its Chinese partner, Cyber Recreation Development Corp., in Gothenburg to design and run several planets within Entropia Universe.

”They will design the planets to suit China, Chinese users,” Uggla said in a phone interview.

He declined to say how much the deal is worth.

The MindArk executive said it’s up to Cyber Recreation Development to decide whether to allow the Chinese government to censor communications within the Chinese planets.

”That’s something between them and the Chinese government,” he said.

Cyber Recreation Development didn’t immediately respond to faxed questions from The Associated Press.

Some have expressed worries that China’s lack of Western-style civil liberties will carry over to the new virtual society.

Though China’s communist government promotes Internet use, it has also set up an extensive surveillance and filtering system to prevent Chinese from accessing material considered obscene or politically subversive.

Hong Kong Apple Daily newspaper predicted Friday in a full-page story virtual police will exist in the Chinese game, and that it won’t allow players to protest the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, which killed hundreds of people.

Uggla said Friday, ”we don’t have any police force in Entropia Universe.”

Google Inc. has acknowledged it agreed to self-censorship in offering a Chinese search site that omits politically sensitive information, such as details of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Its agreement with China has provoked criticism from human rights groups.

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