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Tencent quietly updates QQ with Unreal game engine in possible metaverse move

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Tencent Holdings has quietly embedded video game engine Unreal Engine into its increasingly obsolete messaging platform QQ, according to an updated version of the app, and analysts say the move forms part of the social media and gaming giant's foray into the metaverse.

The Shenzhen-based company updated QQ this month and the new version, which was traditionally a chat app, includes parts of video games engine Unreal Engine, according to analysis by LibChecker, a third-party app analysis tool.

The update coincided with Tencent's launch of a new feature on the app called Super QQ Show, which is a 3D interactive space where users can socialise, watch shows and play games. As such, analysts say the move marks Tencent's latest effort to build its presence in the metaverse.

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The metaverse, already one of 2022's hot tech trends, typically refers to a shared, immersive 3D virtual space where people can interact and trade their assets, seen by many as the next iteration of the internet.

The move also signals Tencent's determination to revitalise QQ, its second-most popular messaging platform after WeChat with 590 million monthly active users, after it lost relevance amid a broad move by Chinese netizens to short video and new platforms in recent years.

Tencent declined to comment on the new update and Super QQ Show.

The metaverse is gaining popularity in China. Although the country has yet to roll out a nationwide strategy in relation to the concept, like South Korea has, some major city authorities have asked companies to explore the idea. For example, Shanghai's next five-year plan lists the metaverse as one of four frontiers for exploration.

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The Super QQ Show is available to a selected group of users for trials. Screenshots and video footage of the feature posted by Tencent employees, shows users dressing up their 3D avatars, decorating their homes and visiting one another, much like Nintendo's popular video game series Animal Crossing.

Unreal Engine is used by blockbuster games such as Bioshock and Mass Effect, and Tencent owns a 40 per cent stake in its US developer Epic Games, which runs the engine. Epic Games was one of the first international tech giants to make development of the metaverse its central mission last year. Epic's signature game Fortnite is often cited as one of the leading metaverse projects in the market.

In a question-and-answer session on Zhihu, China's equivalent to Quora, Unreal Engine's official account praised Tencent for incorporating the engine within QQ.

"First and foremost, we have to commend the QQ team for their technical chop," Unreal Engine stated. "The Unreal Engine 4, inside its IOS app, is likely a modified version assembled by its in-house team."

Cui Chenyu, a senior research analyst for games at London-based consultancy Omdia, said, "Tencent has no established metaverse project in particular yet while its major competitors are exploring the sector aggressively. This virtual and vivid QQ update might become the first metaverse product for Tencent."

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Given that Tencent has had to heavily modify the Unreal Engine to fit within QQ, Cui added that this may signal Tencent is working to improve its own capability to develop game engines, as another step towards the metaverse.

Tencent's interest in bringing the metaverse to QQ can be traced back to last October when it registered a series of metaverse-related trademarks including one called "QQ metaverse".

In its earnings call with analysts last November, Tencent executives said the company has an abundance of technologies to develop the metaverse.

Tencent's President Martin Lau said it could potentially approach the metaverse through a range of businesses, citing video game development and social networking as major strengths. But the 48-year-old executive also said Beijing would likely regulate the metaverse in a different way to the rest of the world.

In October, the South China Morning Post reported that Tencent's marquee gaming studio TiMi Studios was also launching a new studio, F1, to develop metaverse-like projects.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.