Human-like avatars are the most common avatars we see. Even from the creation of the word “metaverse” in Neal Stephenson’s book, Snowcrash, people walked up and down “the street”. The movies Tron and The Lawnmower Man also represented people as human-like avatars. Ready Player One branched out a bit, but represented the main characters as virtually enhanced versions of their human selves.Representing ourselves with human-like avatars in the Metaverse makes sense. We already know how to design clothing, environments, and objects for human interaction. It’s more difficult to do if some people are walking around as humans and others as dinosaurs or tiny version of Ant-Man.
While we’re used to seeing avatars as human-like, the Metaverse is supposed to be a place where anything goes. We can look, sound, and, potentially, smell like anything we want. This leads us to the question…
Why do we need avatars anyway?
The Metaverse is still in flux. Various definitions of what it is and how it works exist; however, everyone agrees that the Metaverse is three-dimensional, involves virtual environments, and is interactive. That means as people access the Metaverse, they need a way to join the community, socialize, and interact with the environment. Avatars provide the best way to do that.
Avatars can be:
- Human-like, mythical beast, or tree
Avatars allow us to experience presence in virtual, 3D worlds. Nick Borelli, Director of Marketing Growth at Meetaverse, said, “I don’t think a human-like avatar is essential for all Metaverse experiences. I think what’s essential is that you have a sense of identity and presence for it to be considered a Metaversal experience, but that can take different forms depending on your activity. For instance, if the goal is immersion within a specific IP-based world, your avatar would, ideally, help you feel connected to that fictional space.”
Why people like human-like avatars
Avatars do more than let us look a certain way and interact with the Metaverse. Research shows people will imitate the behavior of an avatar in real life if it looks like themselves. In a Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab study, people who saw avatars that looked like themselves on a treadmill said they were more likely to exercise. The study also showed how avatars’ dress affects people’s perceptions of that avatar. This behavior is backed by research that suggests “the appearance of avatars and the environment, along with their interactions, can affect people’s sense of presence in the Metaverse.”
While Borelli doesn’t think a human-like avatar is essential to participate in the Metaverse, he believes they have their place. An avatar is your identity. Who says you can’t have more than one?
Avatars for business and events
People most likely want a professional look when it comes to using avatars for business meetings or events. And while much of our interactions are online, through social media and video calls, attendees like to see the actual people behind the avatar. Meetings and events are about networking, closing deals, or learning from subject matter experts. Knowing the real person behind the avatar brings credibility to that specific Metaverse experience.
Borelli explained, “if the goal is to represent yourself and your actual identity in places of business where non-verbal communication and trust are essential, seeing your face in a video format is more helpful.”
There are a few different ways of projecting people into the Metaverse as themselves, instead of a virtually rendered avatar.
Mixed reality-enabled headsets
Mixed reality-enabled VR headsets like Microsoft Hololens or Meta Quest have options to cast yourself into the Metaverse. Meta opened their first store where shoppers can book slots to play virtual reality games while showing their person on a giant curved screen in the store.
Holograms are no longer relegated to movies like Princess Leia in Star Wars or Cortana in Halo. Hologram technology has brought back to life famous celebrities like Tupac and Michael Jackson. Now, thanks to volumetric video capture, anyone can be turned into a hologram.
Artificial intelligence offers a new technological way to represent real people in the Metaverse. Remco Sikkema, Senior Marketing Avatar in the Movella & Xsens Metaverse, explained that AI “generates 3D animations from video data using AI and sometimes also machine learning.” Sikkema continued in his LinkedIn post that there will be lots of avatars in the Metaverse. “They will be playing, chatting, shopping, experiencing live concerts, and all kinds of stuff. And right now, these avatars all move the same. It would be much more genuine with your unique movements applied to your avatar using a motion print.”
We can also port video to the Metaverse. This option is great for people who want to attend 3D, virtual events, but don’t have the hardware to film themselves in volumetric video or access to a mixed-reality enabled VR headset.
Metaverse professional platforms like Meetaverse offer a mix of video avatars. This is where people can experience the benefits of 3D spaces and virtual environments while also seeing real people in the space. Meetaverse uses video to project your feed into your avatar so that as you move through the conference or meeting, you know exactly with whom you’re interacting.
To the Metaverse and beyond
The Metaverse is an opportunity for people to explore all of their identities and different types of realities. Much like how we have outfits for work, play, and going out, we can explore those aspects of ourselves through avatars in the Metaverse. Sometimes a completely virtual avatar is the best use, while other times, a mix of virtual and real (through video) is what people need, especially in a professional Metaverse setting.