Have you also noticed that more and more social platforms implement avatars? Last month Instagram added this feature, and shortly after, TikTok also included avatars in their app.Avatars have existed for a long time but recently gained a second wave of popularity due to the metaverse trend.
Users love avatars: It’s so exciting to have a digital copy of yourself. On top of that, you can be whatever you want in the digital world.So, what are avatars? Why are they so special to us? And what are their future utility?
Let’s start with the definition. Avatar is a graphic representation of a user, his online alter ego.
The word “avatar” takes its roots from Hinduism and means a being who embodies a god. Its initial goal was to reflect specific character traits of a person and help create a fairly accurate impression of his inner spiritual world and status (the nickname also serves this purpose).
Also, avatars had a decorative purpose. In addition, avatars simplify the perception of the topic discussion: They make it easy to associate posts with their authors.
The gaming industry was the first to implement the concept of avatars. It was used in 1985 in the computer game Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar for the first time. Ultima has been releasing its series of adventure games since 1981, and becoming the Avatar was the goal of the fourth part.
The term was later adapted in the role-playing game Shadowrun (1985) and the online role-playing game Habitat in 1987 (this game is considered a forerunner of the metaverse).
Today, most games offer users to create their avatars and select their look, equipment, and other features.
The rapid development of the Internet led to the active use of avatars (a commonly used word for profile picture) in blogs, forums, and instant messenger services.
In the late 2010s, even before the metaverse trend went viral, several companies established a special feature for creating avatars, for instance, Apple and their memoji, Snapchat’s Bitmoji, and Zepeto.
Now, 3D avatars are becoming more and more widespread. The main advantage of such avatars before 2D pictures is dynamics. That means avatars can move and interact with other users.
Avatars have come a long way from video games to an integral element of the metaverse. Let’s take a look at how avatars are used today and what their future prospects are.
Many social media platforms use avatars - Facebook (Meta), Instagram, Tiktok, IMessages, Snapchat, and Zepeto - just to name a few!
This can be easily explained by the fact that most social media developers understand the upcoming trend of virtualization and moving in the direction of metaverse development. Indeed, In Web 3.0, social media will be transformed, so avatars will be a vital part of them.
Have you ever spent money to buy “skins” for your character in the game? Users are fond of making their avatars unique and are willing to modify them by purchasing different appearance items. And if something can be monetized, brands immediately jump at it.
Some brands, like Nike, MacDonald’s, or Gucci, have already contributed to this area and even created their own metaverse space. And avatars are expected to be used there.
Consequently, brands have started designing different skins and fashion items for avatars to sell online. Fashion and luxury brands will have a particular advantage in this field: Customizing the character not only with ordinary skins but also luxury items with a certain value, isn’t it cool?
Games will evolve and become more immersive. The need for avatars representing gamers in the metaverse is becoming more crucial.
The quality and resolution of in-game avatars will increase, and with innovative motion-capture technology, player facial expressions, emotions, and movements can be transferred to the game.
In the future, AI-driven avatars that don't require any human management will be a part of our daily lives. Such smart avatars can be helpful in different fields: from bot-consultant in retail to personal assistants and virtual influencers.
Of course, AI-driven avatars can be anything, but to accelerate user adoption, these avatars will look like people. Such skeuomorphism is used to give something new a familiar look to speed up acceptance and adoption. In other words, to feel more comfortable chatting with AI-avatar, we would still need a person to see.
Beyond that, these avatars can be indistinguishable from real humans. A neural network, of Samsung NEON, for one, can create an image of a person and animate it based on a huge database of uploaded photos.
And this is no longer a futuristic concept! Artificial humans like Lu do Magalu or Lil'Mikela are taking over the digital world. They have millions of followers; meanwhile, they represent fashion brands and collaborate with different companies. On YouTube, they rack up 1.5 billion a month and earn $100,000 a week from donations.
Avatars in the music industry are not new. You obviously know Gorillaz, whose performances created a real sensation at the beginning of the 21st century. At that time, no one could imagine that holograms could sing.
Another example is K/DA, a virtual K-pop girl group of four League of Legends characters. K/DA was developed by Riot Games, the company behind League of Legends. The group first performed at the Opening Ceremony of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship Finals with their debut song, "Pop/Stars." "Pop/Stars" topped the World Digital Songs Billboard charts, making K/DA the fourth female K-pop group to top the chart.
And last year, in September 2021, US TV channel Fox launched a new TV show where digital avatars perform on stage instead of humans and fight to win the competition!
Furthermore, real artists can have their avatars to give concerts in the metaverse. The company Wave offers such services. Among their clients are Justin Bieber, The Weeknd, Alison Wonderland, and others.
Cinematography influenced the nature of avatars not less than video games. The movie Avatar, as the name suggests, was one of them. The technology of motion capture was used in that movie. Simply put, the blue creatures in the film are high-realistic 3D models, not SFX-modified actors. This led us to ask the question: Do we really need people to act in the film now?
These kinds of hyper-detailed avatars can be seen in the movies such as Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, or Rachel in Blade Runner 2049.
Today, however, motion capture technology competes with deep fakes when recreating an actor who is no longer alive.
Now we are seeing how the technology, that once was designed for games and social network users, is being transformed into a way of representing a living person for various needs. And this is just the beginning. With the development of the metaverse, everyone will have their own avatar, and perhaps even several.