Avatars: the way of the metaverse
Avatars (not the blue alien movie) are defined as electronic images that represent and can be manipulated by a user. Over the years, avatars have evolved from basic 2D designs to life-like 3D characters today.
Today, avatars are available almost everywhere online. Apart from gaming, avatars have also grown in popularity in social media, especially with the metaverse promising endless possibilities for avatars. While there are some limitations on how much realism an avatar can offer to its users, technology is slowly closing this gap as well.
According to a report by Blockchain Research Lab, the avatar market is expected to exceed US$500 billion by 2030. This is mainly due to the growth in the avatar markets that exist on a variety of online platforms. Today, the markets on these platforms allow users to purchase virtual items such as clothing and accessories, as well as accessories to customize their avatars.
For example, in gaming platforms like Fortnite and Roblox, users can customize and upgrade their avatars by spending online. Last year, Meta announced plans to launch its Avatars store, where users can buy clothing for their avatars from brands like Balenciaga and Prada.
The report also highlights that the market size of avatars, as demonstrated by Web 2.0 virtual worlds and avatars, is significant. For example, Roblox reported 200 million monthly active users in Q3 2021, of which, on average, 20% update their avatar daily. The more than 2.7 million creators received payouts of US$538 million in 2021, indicating the enormous demand and potential for avatar markets in Web 3.0, which incentivize creators even more.
As fourth-generation worlds bring more realism through 3D, virtual reality, and augmented reality, the avatar market will only get bigger. The report highlights that fourth-generation worlds may be decentralized or owned by a community, and they allow all stakeholders to create content. They also allow for portable, cross-platform identities and assets such as cryptocurrency or NFTs.
“The emergence and development of Web 3.0, which focuses on the integration of blockchain technology and decentralized systems, has the potential to change this. Web 3.0 offers the opportunity to create interoperable value and identity layers within the internet that are transparent, secure, and controlled by the users themselves. This shift towards greater user autonomy and control can revolutionize the way we interact and conduct business online, and these are exciting times to be a part of this transformation,” stated the report.
When Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his version of the metaverse, it was designed specifically as a space for anyone to enjoy working from anywhere they want. While most avatars are designed for gaming, avatars in the metaverse were actually meant for users to go to work, attend meetings, and communicate with each other.
Soon, everyone was hyped about the metaverse. But many failed to deliver what the metaverse was intended for. As the tech gained traction, there was an increase in startups and enterprises investing in developing future workplaces in the metaverse. However, these ideas were short-lived.
Not every C-level exec was interested in having a virtual avatar of themselves represent them in important meetings. No matter how real the avatars were, many still preferred to keep avatars away from work. It was also pointless to work in the metaverse from the office.
However, this does not mean the metaverse was a failure. It may not have succeeded in replacing hybrid and remote working, but it did improve the entire experience of having avatars and creating their digital identity. In fact, Meta insists the metaverse is still the next big thing. In a Bloomberg report, Nick Clegg, head of global affairs for Meta said that the future of computing will take place on that still not-quite-yet-defined virtual world.
The Blockchain Research Lab report also states, “the emergence of the metaverse and decentralized online spaces powered by blockchain technology has led to a shift in the understanding of digital identity. In the future metaverse, users will hopefully have greater control over their personal information and its disclosure to others, and may even maintain multiple digital identities that correspond to their various real-world identities, such as work and personal personas.”
Digital identities mean there will be endless possibilities for who an avatar could represent. This would allow anyone, regardless of their background or resources, to participate and connect with others in a virtual environment.
“It would also enable the integration of a wide range of services and applications, ensuring that users have access to a diverse set of tools and resources. By putting the power in the hands of users and fostering a sense of community and collaboration, an open metaverse has the potential to revolutionize the way we interact and engage with each other online.”
The future of avatars
If an avatar commits a crime in the metaverse, can it be charged? For now, the laws are still not very clear on this. The report predicts that the future development of the metaverse will face a range of challenges, including technological limitations, security and privacy concerns, legal and regulatory concerns, ethical, social, and cultural questions, and economic considerations.
“While a centralized entity may be able to address such challenges more efficiently, a decentralized approach that draws on a range of perspectives and expertise promises superior results. All things considered, some balance between centralization (e.g. legal certainty) and decentralization (e.g. empowerment) is probably best suited to address the challenges and ensure the best outcome for users.”
Hence, it will be crucial for the industry to have collaboration, especially in building an open metaverse and integrating diverse perspectives, ideas, and resources. Technology can’t be slowed down, and avatars will only gain more usage in an open metaverse.
“As the metaverse continues to evolve, the importance of digital identities is set to grow. In the future, people may rely on their avatars to access a variety of services and experiences, both in the virtual and the physical world. As such, it will be important for individuals to carefully manage and protect their digital identities, to ensure that it accurately reflects who they are and what they stand for.”
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