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Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, is serious about the metaverse and you can see that in its more expressive cross-platform avatars.
The company updated its avatars for use across multiple platforms, with some uniformity across Facebook, Instagram Stories, Messenger, and Meta Quest (formerly Oculus Quest) virtual reality headsets.
It is also launching a couple of clothing options for NFL fans with a focus on the teams heading to the Super Bowl. And it has more inclusive avatar options, including avatars with cochlear implants for the hearing impaired as well as avatars in wheelchairs.
Aigerim Shorman, general manager for avatars and identity, said in an interview with GamesBeat that it has created cross-platform avatars across Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger. But for now the Meta Quest VR avatars are separate creations. You can use the avatars in Instagram Stories and direct messages (DMs).
“Avatars are supercritical for our vision for the metaverse as we talked about at our Connect event,” Shorman said. “You obviously cannot be present with others unless you have a way to embody yourself and avatars is how you do that. And that’s really exciting. The other aspect that we haven’t talked as much about, but I think is also really critical as avatars unlock a whole new way for people to express different parts of their identity, express who they are, how they’re feeling.”
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She said the company last overhauled the avatars in April 2021 to make them more expressive, more customizable, and more diverse. But that was just the start as the company still wants to have its avatars better reflect the billions of unique people on this planet.
Today it is adding new facial shapes and assistive devices for people with disabilities. It will also be adding limited-time offerings for NFL fans as we begin to bring real-world fandom into the metaverse. Meta created a partnership with the NFL for fans to wear the shirts of their favorite team in the Super Bowl, which is coming up on February 13.
Starting today people in the United States, Canada, and Mexico can show up as their virtual self across apps via stickers, feed posts, Facebook profile pictures, and more.
Meta wants to build towards a future where you can sit in the same room as loved ones who are actually thousands of miles away or work naturally with a talented team that spans the globe. VR and Quest are a key part of that metaverse vision — but only a single piece of the whole.
“I have red hair in my avatar,” Shorman said. “And it’s nothing that I have dared to do since high school, but with avatars, why not?”
Meta already had avatars on Facebook and Messenger. Now it’s rolling them out more broadly on Instagram.
“We need to be bridging VR, AR, mobile, and computer experiences in the metaverse,” Shorman said. “We have new face shapes, skin tones, cochlear hearing aids, and wheelchairs to just give people more ways to represent themselves.”
Meta sees the metaverse as an interconnected digital world, one that bridges VR and AR, but also works with more familiar platforms like your phone and computer.
Being able to have the same avatar across our platforms is an early step towards making this a reality, and one the company has been working towards for a long time, Shorman said.
A quintillion options
The company said the number of combinations the new avatars support is one quintillion, or a one followed by 18 zeroes.
And today it is adding cochlear implants and over-the-ear hearing aids (for one or both ears) in a variety of colors, and on all platforms including VR. It also includes wheelchairs, which will appear in stickers on Facebook, in Messenger chats, and in DMs on Instagram.
It has also subtly adjusted certain facial shapes and tweaked skin shaders to make avatars more authentic.
In April 2021, Meta added new eyes and noses, beards and hairstyles, outfits, body types, and more. As for nonfungible token (NFT) avatars? Shorman says they’re not here yet.
Meta also announced today that it would join a group promoting open patent licensing for the crypto sector.