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China’s second-largest video gaming company NetEase is set to commercialize Yaotai by launching a smartphone app as early as August. Having recognized competition in the metaverse, NetEase is keen to expand its user base.

Liu Bai, NetEase Yaotai head, said the company’s technological foundation is consistent with that of their games. It is part of their effort to use many of the existing capabilities of NetEase Games. Yaotai hopes to quickly bring it to the market and help solve the users’ problems. The launch of the app would mark an important update for the platform as it would be accessible via desktop and smartphone through links. It would also significantly lower the cost of using Yaotai.

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Liu highlighted that NetEase was inspired in 2020 when it was requested to hold a meeting inside a game and enable attendees to visually display their papers and not just communicate through voice calls. This inspired NetEase to come up with a team to develop a virtual conferencing product.

Yaotai was first commercialized in 2021. It attracted users who could not attend offline events because of strict travel and social distancing restrictions owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, around 100 virtual conferences have been conducted on Yaotai by international customers, including universities and enterprises.

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Yaotai made a big splash in December 2021 when William Ding Lei – NetEase founder and CEO – endorsed the platform’s capabilities during the virtual listing ceremony in Hong Kong of Cloud Village. Ding had two avatars of himself, one aged 29 and another aged 50, to grab eyes.

This highlighted NetEase’s sharpened focus on the metaverse along with fellow Chinese internet peers like Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding. Tencent is looking at the metaverse through video game development and social networking. Alibaba is venturing into the augmented reality (AR) space with AR-powered glasses that will enable users of the workplace app DingTalk to conduct virtual meetings.

Liu believes that from Web2 to Web3, metaverse-related products have evolved from browsing a system on a two-dimensional basis to entering the system through an immersive three-dimensional experience. Yaotai is doing the same by bringing in “virtual human avatars”. Users can customize their avatars before entering a virtual meeting. This feature is powered by NetEase’s AI-focused Fuxi Lab. It has been widely adopted in the company’s games such as Justice Online and Naraka: Bladepoint.

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