The metaverse is coming – not now, and not for some time yet, but it is evolving, and as per the name, Meta is keen to take ownership of that next stage, and ensure that it remains relevant in the future iteration of the web as we know it.
And this is another step in that direction – today, Meta has released an updated process for its 3D avatar creation on Facebook and Messenger, while it’ll also now enable people to use their custom avatars in Instagram Stories and DMs as well.
As you can see in this image, Meta’s new 3D avatars have more refined features and customization options to make them look more like the actual people that they represent, while Meta’s also adding more inclusive customization features, including Cochlear implants, hearing aids and wheelchairs, giving more users the ability to represent themselves in its apps.
Meta’s offered its 3D avatars as an option in its main app since 2019, with the capacity to create a digital depiction of yourself that can then be added to stickers, posts, reactions and more.
But while some people have adopted these characters, they haven’t really caught on in a major way. Meta will be hoping to change that with this new expansion, which also, as noted, will enable Instagram users to create their virtual self.
Which will additionally open up new opportunities for sponsored content.
“From now until February 28th, you’ll be able to outfit your Avatar to support either of the two Super Bowl LVI contenders – or if you can’t bring yourself to cheer for either team, there’s also a neutral Super Bowl LVI shirt you can choose instead.”
Digital clothing is fast becoming a key commerce trend, with Snapchat also offering a range of digital items to outfit your Bitmoji avatar in its app. And when you also consider that a virtual Gucci bag sold for $4,000 on Roblox last year, there’s clearly a rising demand for such items, which may seem odd to those outside of these worlds, but actually makes a lot of sense, given the status and prestige they can bring in these alternate, digital cultures.
When then leans into another element, in NFTs, the latest big trend to takeover social media circles.
One of the confusing things about the current NFT trend is that it’s not entirely clear what the purpose of these artworks is, in relation to the next stage of digital connection. Is the idea that you’ll display these digital artworks in the metaverse, in your own, custom space, or is it, as many NFT projects have suggested, that you’ll eventually be able to adapt these profile images into full-body, 3D avatars, which you could then use to represent yourself in a theoretical, all-encompassing VR or AR world?
In the case of the latter, that seems unlikely to be a big focus, as we already have various metaverse-like platforms, including Roblox and Fortnite, where people can buy digital ‘skins’ for players, and based on the trends we see in those apps, it’s unlikely to be random images of apes and cats that are going to become prominent depictions of people within these settings.
The latest Marvel characters, popular Star Wars villains - character depictions based on trending films and TV shows tend to win the day in these apps, and while users can go for more obscure pop culture references, the most common, coolest skins at any given time generally see the most use. The concept of NFTs is that you own a unique character, that no one else can have – but with the option to either look like yourself or go with a popular character instead, will people really want to look like a pixelated punk in full size? Cultural trends of the time will play a much bigger role than originality in this respect.
Indeed, Fortnite’s character skins are hugely popular – in fact, Fortnite makes the majority of its revenue from the sale of digital items, including skins, not from season battle passes (effectively in-game subscriptions) as some might expect.
Purchasing a new look for your character is second nature to the next generation of consumers, and its these audiences that are likely to drive the metaverse shift, with Meta repeatedly noting that it will take years, likely a decade or more, for the broader metaverse vision to take shape.
Will people really want to depict their digital self as a bored monkey from 2022 a decade on?
I mean, maybe that is the case and I’m missing the point, and maybe displaying your digital art works in your own dedicated space is the goal. But it does seem to me that, as an investment in the metaverse shift, you’d be better off looking at projects that are building universal, transferrable elements, like avatars, which can be adapted for the next stage, and will enable users to create custom visual depictions that align with existing trends, and are being built with portability in mind from the ground up.
That’s why projects like Ready Player Me seem more interesting, with custom avatar creation tools that aren’t confined to a specific trend, and will, ideally, eventually translate into the schemas and requirements of a universal metaverse platform.
Which is also where the expansion of Meta’s avatars comes in. With the capacity to build a depiction of yourself that becomes familiar, and which you can adopt as your virtual identity, Meta is positioning itself right now to be the originator of these characters, which will represent you in the space.
Which will be a key development focus for the company moving forward – as noted by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
“One day you'll have multiple avatars ranging from expressive to photorealistic. Looking forward to sharing more soon."
Meta’s photorealistic avatars are already well-advanced, and could, one day, be used as a true representation of yourself in digital environments.
But we’re a long way off that stage, which would require in-person digital scanning, along with massive amounts of computer power to facilitate full movement.
That likely won’t be a fully-functional option for some time, and until then, you’ll be using cartoonish depictions of yourself, like those we already see in VR, to engage and interact in these spaces.
This early development by Meta is a move to own this element, which is also a step towards owning the metaverse more broadly. Because for all the talk of Web3, and a fully decentralized, democratized internet, the reality is that someone will need to provide the platforms on which to build these new experiences.
Blockchain systems are already using masses of energy to facilitate decentralized networks, based on each computer in the chain acting as its own node, and the feasibility of that type of system being used to power more complex digital networks seems tenuous at best. Which likely means that the big tech players will need to, at the least, build the foundations, which others can then expand upon, and within that, it may well be that Meta dictates the requirements of the metaverse, potentially in partnership with other players to ensure interoperability.
But it’s a big ask, and it will take some time to evolve.
Meta’s working now to embed itself into that shift. And given its reach and presence, and its capacity to facilitate connection with custom avatar tools, this could be an important step.
Meta’s new 3D avatar tools are now available to users in the US, Canada, and Mexico.