We are all used to the fact that our avatars on the Internet are just pictures ranging from randomly generated images on a forum to corporate photos in a messenger. Slowly, games and gaming platforms like Xbox have taught us that avatars can be "assembled and tuned" and 3D, mobile platforms connected to the front cameras of smartphones have shown that avatars can be not just 3D, but also animated by the user's facial expressions (e.g., Memoji in iOS).
This path of visual development of avatars will continue: from simple cartoon representations to photorealistic metahumans, from face animation to full body animation, including context-awareness (e.g., lighting), from limited customization to stores of attributes, virtual clothing, and special effects, from avatars tailored for one platform to portable and transformable through morphing.
And although you won’t surprise anyone with user pics, with avatars we have to go through many questions anew and for the first time. For example, how to relate to the effect of "visual freezing" of an avatar that preserves features of us 5-10 years ago? Or vice versa, compensating for "too young look-n-feel"? Or: what side effects await us if animated 3d avatars in zoom or Teams turn out to be more convenient than a raw webcam picture?
🔮 Insight. Avatar for a Zoom call
Metaverse avatars spread into the corporate domain via communication tools (video-conferencing, messaging) evolved for hybrid scenarios.
“How did it all start,” you will be asked one day in an interview in five years. And you're like, “Well, you know, nothing foreshadowed trouble. We just bought Zoom for video calls." The main channel for the delivery and distribution of avatars will be software for conference calls and messaging.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020-21 was marked not only by the rapid growth of stocks and demand for products from Zoom, Microsoft, and other companies for organizing calls and remote meetings but by the explosive flowering of experiments in this niche. Some applications like mmhmm have suggested rethinking the calling paradigm altogether, shifting the focus towards asynchronous communication. We will take a look at that shift later.
What has shown itself to be in demand will gradually be drawn from third-party additional applications and migrate to mainstream services as new features. Sequentially, these services become platforms (see, for example, the Zoom platform for developers) that are extensible with third-party solutions and become an integrated environment for collaboration that replaces office space.
Among other things, we can expect services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams to include three dedicated API groups (possibly some of them private):
- Filters for audio and video streams to process media content from a microphone and camera in real-time (for example, to distort the sound or clean up noise, available today from Nvidia, AMD, or from third parties) or apply social media-like video effects.
- Embedded engines for 3D avatars and room backgrounds with built-in recognition of facial expressions and gestures and the ability to apply effects and place objects. Who knows, maybe you will draw your next backdrop yourself in Paint3D, and messengers will learn to understand the USD format.
- Artifact shop (clothes, objects) for avatars and rooms, allowing you to dress up your avatar in the latest fashion or current circumstances.
🔮 Insight. All-virtual-hands events
Company experiments with all-hands meetings in Metaverse and hybrid modes.
Some companies will go all-in in their decision to move their all-hands meetings to the Metaverse, or at least a hybrid experience. Of course, it will be another AltspaceVR, or a custom project for some € 387k in Journee (it's okay if you haven't heard anything about this platform), but it's a start. And who cares?
The main thing is to show that you are in the mainstream of human progress and openly look to the future. And then, you see, some will decide to arrange joint races in the royal battle in Fortnite instead of team building. The Metaverse took you.
But no matter what you do there, an important transformation is taking place in the background: employees will encounter their default avatars en masse and begin to customize them for themselves.
It can be expected that messenger and Metaverse communication providers will evangelize the customizability of avatars and human diversity support in them as a significant advantage for choosing their particular platform.
⚗️ Experiment. A digital boss on your screen
First corporate courses are recorded with digital avatars of their leaders.
One day, a junior HR specialist, an over-expensive creative agency, or a consulting firm shining with its foreign insights will say you that it is now an emerging practice to create internal courses with digital avatars of key managers and top executives. They claim that executives' time is expensive, and digitizing them is just a matter of 15 minutes: record a voice sample once, capture a face in 360, wave typical gestures with arms and legs–and you are done. Next just sign the scripts.
Everything else: rendering, animation, voice acting, gestures, and drawing legs – will be done by the program, or even you can assemble the character on a specialized platform. That is an amazing life. Avatars are a time saver! Since then, no one has seen your directors' board in person.
It sounds a little creepy, but some companies will even dare to virtually revive their founders. Why not take a mentoring course from Steve? To honor the memory, so to speak. And some living leaders will consider this an opportunity to ascend into immortal history!
🚸 Risk. Things go meta-wierd
Digital avatars and backgrounds are overused by employees to express dissent and protest.
If you're a big enough tech company, strange rumors will start to creep up on you. It turns out that your employees are not only using third-party telegram channels and WhatsApp chats but also mastering the secret rooms of the Metaverse to the fullest to hold conspiratorial meetings to form a union!
"Where is my validolum?"
Employees also learned to put attributes of political and social solidarity on their avatars and background images. America will be great. Again. Let's save the beavers. Let's restore the mammoths. Stop the bee oppressors. It's time to restore the political department.
In this series of posts, I share pieces from the Corporate Metaverse report (v2) written by Constantin Kichinsky and based on the original research on the topic done by Constantin Kichinsky, Aleksei Kalenchuk & Ekaterina Filatova in 2022.