While Meta has grand dreams of a metaverse future, where all of us will be interacting in wholly digital environments, and where we can be and do anything in entirely immersive worlds, there’s one significant impediment to that process at it stands right now.
Can you guess what it is?
Apparently, the metaverse renders legs obsolete. And while the current avatars are also functional, in a basic sense, if Meta really wants to get people engaging with digital items, like clothes and other customization elements, to make people more aligned with their virtual identity, it’ll need a better creation process, so that you can build the representation that you choose – down to the shoelaces in in your virtual sneakers.
Which is where this new development comes in.
As you can see in this new video, posted by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s currently developing new technology that would enable the creation of more customized digital recreations which simulate actual human movement.
That could go a long way towards building truly personalized and representative avatars, which Meta’s also developing via its Codec Avatar tech.
As you can see in this example, which Meta shared last year, the ultimate goal is to enable users to create fully realistic versions of themselves for use in virtual worlds, which would include legs and full gesture mapping.
If, of course, they choose. Via the same process, you would also be able to edit your look and change your digital self to suit your own expression. But the base concept is that you will have almost endless customization options available, which will enable you to conduct virtual activities with a fully-formed representation of yourself, customized as you choose, and eventually, fitted out in digital clothing, the same as you would purchase clothes in a physical store.
That’ll open up a range of new opportunities for eCommerce, in terms of both selling real items (as you’ll be able to see how they look on you before you buy) and digital items, which will be the expansion of the early NFT push.
While there’s a level of excitement about NFT profile pictures online, the true future of digital items is not in these cartoonish images, but more in virtual items, like digital clothes, that you can buy and sell, and take with you to other elements of the metaverse as you see fit.
Users buy the digital outfits, or ‘skins’, that they want to use to represent themselves in these game worlds – but at present, their usage is restricted to each individual property. The ultimate goal of the metaverse is to create a network of interoperable environments, where you’ll be able to take these customizations with you – so if you choose to dress up as a banana character in Fortnite, you could then hop into a work meeting in the same character design.
These advanced creation tools from Meta are another step in that direction, and it’s interesting to consider the scope of possibilities they could facilitate in this respect, and where such developments will get to over the next ten years.
Which is the timeframe that Meta’s outlining for its metaverse shift. While many are looking to get in early, and be pole position for the next tech development, the reality is that these systems will take time to formulate, and become more accessible for everyday users.
As a basic example – for an accurate avatar system to work, and create a fully customized depiction of you in 3D, you’ll need to scan yourself within a digital camera room, like the one in the Meta video above.
That, eventually, could be another element of Meta’s retail stores, the first of which was opened in California earlier this month.
Meta Store, our first brick and mortar retail and experience space, opening on May 9 at our Burlingame campus (322 Airport Blvd, Burlingame, CA). Check it out! ???? pic.twitter.com/6UpKVOWiN5
— Boz (@boztank) April 25, 2022
It’s not there yet, but as Meta looks to expand its physical store network, it could also, eventually, add in VR scanning booths where users will be able to capture their virtual self for these advanced avatars.
It’s still some way off, but you can see where these developments are headed, which could have big implications, in a range of ways.
Meta Shares Insights into How Consumers View the Next Big Tech Shifts, Including the Metaverse
The metaverse has become such a vague term, incorporating so many different tech elements, that it’s hard to say what people really understand about the next stage of digital connection – which, it’s important to note, does not actually exist as yet.
With that in mind, it’s not entirely clear what this new survey data from Meta actually means, in a broader marketing context.
In order to gauge consumer sentiment about the metaverse, and the opportunities that it will provide for brand connection, Meta conducted a survey of 30,000 shoppers from around the world, to see how they feel about different aspects of advancing technology, which Meta has then attributed back to the broader metaverse concept.
As per Meta:
“[We] found that today’s shoppers are interested in next-level experiences with brands. Whether it’s exploring a product through immersive technology, or making sure their avatars are every bit as stylish as they are in the physical world, shoppers want a greater sense of connection and inspiration with the brands they engage with.”
Which could point to some significant brand considerations – with some provisos on specific data points.
For example, among their key findings, Meta says that 28% of people are using, or have used AR while shopping, while 42% imagine that AR can improve the shopping experience ‘by bridging the gap between online and the physical store’.
Which is no doubt true – advancing AR try-on tools, in particular, can provide a great complement to the online shopping experience. But that’s not the ‘metaverse’ as such – AR is not the same as the VR worlds that Meta’s building to support its metaverse vision.
It’s this kind of extrapolation of related tech that Meta’s using to promote its metaverse vision, though it’s not actually the same thing. AR, VR, Web3 – these are all elements of tech development that are separate, and while it is likely that you’ll eventually be able to combine aspects of each, it doesn’t all come under the umbrella of ‘the metaverse’ necessarily.
But Meta, which has gone all-in on the metaverse concept, wants to make you think that it does, because it can then lead the way in the broader ‘metaverse’ space, and beat out the competition that may be working on individual elements. Really, ‘metaverse’ in this context is synonymous with ‘technology’, with each of these being elements of technological advancement, not metaverse-related entities within themselves.
Which, again, is important to note does not exist. A fully immersive, fully interoperable digital world, where people can interact in all new ways is not a reality at this stage, and may take years to even get close to being a thing. Not only will it require big take-up of VR, but there’s also work to be done on establishing universal agreements to facilitate cross-platform integration, partnerships that need to be established between tech platforms which likely have little interest in signing any such agreement, along with advancements in body scanning, interaction (i.e. giving VR avatars legs), control tools, etc.
Meta may be keen to place itself at the forefront of the next digital evolution, but we’re not there yet.
But still, Meta’s keen to convince brands that they need to invest now, or risk missing the metaverse boat.
Among other key findings from its survey:
- 42% of shoppers believe that the metaverse will positively transform their shopping experience.
- 51% say that virtual stores will offer a more convenient way to shop
- 50% of respondents indicated that they believe that brands will need to have a presence on gaming platforms and other virtual worlds to be successful in future
Again, this is based on concept – if somebody showed you one of Meta’s polished, edited, animated depictions of its metaverse vision, you’d no doubt also agree that this could be amazing for how we connect.
But that’s not real. Meta’s selling people on a concept that it cannot deliver just yet.
Will it be able to deliver on such in future? Maybe, but there’s a lot that needs to happen before brands need to truly consider how they appear in a metaverse space, be it the one created by Meta, or any other.
The only real, valuable insight in this new survey comes in the latter elements, and how people view their digital selves:
“Shoppers are ready to start purchasing digital twins – a virtual, identical good that comes with a physical item. In our survey, 46% say it’s important that new real-world products become available as virtual products as well. We found that 46% of shoppers surveyed say virtual products provide a feeling of association with a brand by offering something rare and unique, and 48% say it makes them more loyal if a brand offers a virtual good as a reward for their loyalty.”
This is an aspect that seems will definitely become more valuable, with avatar depictions, already available via Snapchat’s Bitmoji characters, or even Facebook’s own avatars, increasingly being used within online communications and activities.
This stems from gaming worlds like Roblox and Fortnite, where youngsters have spent years interacting with each other in avatar form. That behavior is likely to translate as they move into older brackets, and as such, the depiction of self via digital avatars will become a bigger consideration.
And brands can tap into this to help expand their promotions.
“Avatar personalization is a key driver of the interest in digital goods, and according to our survey, 49% of shoppers want their avatar to look the same as their physical self. Meanwhile, 28% want to appear different, but still like a person, and 23% want to present a more surreal identity.”
This is another important note – part of the emphasis within the recent NFT fad was that users will be able to use their NFT characters as their digital identity, which would theoretically include using depictions of, say, a Bored Ape character as a 3D avatar in these virtual worlds.
But history, and data insights like this, show that this likely won’t be the case. If people can, they’ll choose avatars that look similar to themselves, which potentially lessens the projected value of NFT characters moving forward.
In summary, yes, there are opportunities in future-facing tech, but they likely don’t go as deep, at least at this stage, as Meta wants to make businesses believe.
Meta says that brands looking to ‘fully lean into the metaverse’ can start experimenting with AR try-on effects or build experiences in Meta Horizon Worlds. But the former is not necessarily associated with the metaverse concept, and the latter is not fully functional, or relevant as yet.
But this is what you can expect – many consultants, advisors and entrepreneurs looking to cash in on the early knowledge gap will indeed be keen to tell you that you need to invest in these concepts right now, or you’ll risk losing out, and many businesses, a lot of which dismissed social media in its early stages, will offer up handfuls of cash to ensure that they reserve a seat at the virtual table, and can hook into these new trends.
Do you actually need to be investing in these technologies at this early stage?
Staying in touch with AR developments is likely valuable, and there are various ways to experiment with AR tools that can keep you up to date in this respect, while understanding VR developments is also important.
But what if a new, universal agreement is formed on what the requirements of metaverse avatars are, and that renders your avatar characters obsolete? What if some of these early metaverse projects are not able to meet the eventual requirements of the broader, interconnected metaverse, and are forced to shut down as a result?
There’s a lot that has to happen before the metaverse concept becomes a thing, and it’s important to view each of these elements in isolation, not as a singular, broad-reaching concept.
You can check out Meta’s latest metaverse shopping study here.
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