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Ready Player Me has launched its Avatar API that improve interoperability for cross-game avatars. The aim is to let users take their avatars with them wherever they go in the metaverse.
The New York company believes this application programming interface is an essential piece for building cross-game avatar experiences and economies. And this is important as Ready Player Me has more than 4,000 indie game companies using its avatars for a variety of applications, said Timmu Tõke, CEO of Ready Player Me, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The API is part of an effort to come up with standards in both games and the metaverse, and it is sharing the API with those that are creating standards for the metaverse. That’s why the company worked on the API for about a year.
“Everybody is talking about interoperability in Web3 and the metaverse,” said said Rainer Selvet, CTO of Ready Player Me, in an interview with GamesBeat. “But it hasn’t been practically possible before. In our case, the launch of our API will essentially enable interoperability of our avatars and other cosmetics and wearables, clothing assets, and the wearables of the metaverse for the apps that are already on the network.”
One question is whether the biggest companies in the industry will back Ready Player Me’s API, or if they will all go their own way or they will pursue a different technology as a standard for avatar interoperability. So far, Ready Player Me has Web3 partners like Spatial and VR Chat, and it has enterprise customers like Verizon. But Ready Player Me doesn’t have a lot of triple-A game companies on board.
But the game dev community has a lot of interest in supporting a standard, as it will allow them to offload the task of making avatars and allow the devs to focus on making a game.
Tõke said many believe the gaming industry has few standards in — different engines work with different asset formats, rendering pipelines and ways to define how 3D content should get rendered and interacted with. An interoperable avatar for the metaverse needs not to just technically work, but look visually pleasing and very importantly, consistent across all the games and applications it’s used in.
Games often implement custom character systems with their own unique constraints, different styles, custom asset build pipelines. Studios create their custom animation libraries and proprietary character skeletons. Developers have specific and very strict requirements on the performance of the avatars.
Users want the avatars to be representative of themselves or of the heroes they want to embody. Hence a default avatar system for the metaverse needs to not only work well in that chaos but win the hearts of game developers, designers and end-users alike.
While it’s very difficult to create an avatar system, it’s far more difficult to create one which works well for thousands of games with their quirks, which lets users customize their avatars with body shapes, detailed customization options, and continues to remain performant for any gameplay scenario and enables users to seamlessly travel with their wearables (which could be NFTs) across different metaverse applications.
At the same time, the aesthetic representation might change from game to game. The big challenge is establishing the right standards that developers are willing to adopt and building the technology that lets 3D avatars to fit into a wide spectrum of apps, enabling interoperability.
Ready Player Me’s Avatar API is a major step towards building out the interoperability layer for the metaverse, an infrastructure and rails for avatars and their wearables to reach the metaverse, Tõke said. Selvet said the API is an avatar interoperability layer that improves avatar performance and integration flexibility.
“Game companies have avatars with custom character skeletons and different engines,” Selvet said. “It’s a Wild West. Every game is implementing something completely differently. We need to figure out a system that is capable of delivering avatars in a way that they remain interoperable across different applications.”
With the launch of the Ready Player Me Avatar API, developers get access to seven controls that help them tune the avatars to fit into their applications:
- Reduce avatar size and memory consumption by setting an upper limit for the size of textures included in the avatars;
- Use the mesh level of detail (LOD) option to reduce the triangle count of the avatars;
- Using the morph targets parameter, you can now decide which of the 90 (?) facial animation morphs to include on the avatar. Or use none for reduced file size;
- Reduce file size by compressing avatars with Draco mesh compression;
- Generate a texture atlas of desired resolution and retrieve single draw call avatars.
In addition, the company is introducing two parameters that help devs define the pose and hand configuration of the avatars.
Developers familiar with the existing API can immediately start using the new features by extending the 3D avatar URLs with the new parameters. With those parameters, the avatars can be reduced up to eight times in disk size and up to three times in GPU memory usage.
Many apps target multiple platforms from desktop, mobile, web, and VR where they expect to configure the same avatar ID differently dependent on which device the user is using. With the Avatar API, it is now possible to use any number of different performance settings whenever requesting the avatars.
In addition, the Avatar API brings several ease-of-use and other improvements to Ready Player Me. Starting today, you can define in which body type (full- or half-body) the avatar editor is loaded in, get easy access to 2D avatar renders, and support all PBR channels in texture atlases.
Until today, updates to the avatars exported from Ready Player Me have only occurred in case users used the Ready Player Me editor within the application. Starting today, any changes users make to their avatars get reflected within partner applications, without strict user interaction needed.
The avatar creation becomes dynamic, and avatars are assembled just in time when requested. Update your avatar in Ready Player Me Hub, and the next time a player loads a favorite game, an updated avatar will be waiting for the player.
An avatar system needs to worry about more than its performance, however. Users expect to represent themselves better with body shapes, weight and height options, granular customization choices, the ability to age the avatars, and more. An avatar system for the metaverse needs to translate avatars and their cosmetics seamlessly between styles allowing identities and wearables of users to carry over from one app to another while the aesthetics of the avatars change.
These are tricky problems to solve as they’re intertwined with an extensive, dynamic, ever-expanding cross-application content library that Ready Player Me together with our partners produce, Tõke said.
With the API in place, those problems are easier to tackle, helping the company build a more native, in-engine avatar creator that lets avatars be more deeply integrated into the environment of games, provide multiple styles of avatars, improve the diversity through body shapes, including animations, and more.
The continuous developments of this API help make the Ready Player Me avatar creator more flexible and performant for the many types of developers we work with, Tõke said. It’s a necessary backbone for an interoperable avatar system that can respond to vastly different requirements of applications, and different artistic styles, allowing third party avatars and content to be wearable across the network.
“The avatar API is a culmination of our efforts,” Selvet said.
Working with standards and partners
It gives devs easy access to a link for an avatar in the 3D glTF format. It can run on Unity, Unreal, the web, or most anywhere. Behind the scenes, the API converts the avatar to be usable within specific game environments. Ready Player Me also exposes the controls for the devs so they can tune parameters and technical settings so the level of detail can be set in real time to fit in the specific game.
“You can jump from one game that is very stylistic into a game that is very realistic with the exact same ID of an avatar with the same identity,” Selvet said. “Your character can jump from one game to another, almost like through a portal.”
One example of a partner using this is Adidas, which builds clothing assets for games that can be used wherever the avatars work.
“One of the bigger challenges for us is shifting your mindset that the character is not just something that you building for an engine and bundle in an application,” Selvet said. “It’s not like you just ship to an app store. The metaverse is so much more dynamic. People purchase items all the time and so the avatar characters are always changing and need to be updated in real time within the applications.”
Ready Player Me lets devs tune the resolution of a character to fit a specific polygon budget for a game. Depending on if you have two characters in a room or 20 in a room, you might need different resolutions for each avatar. That has to be controlled in real time by the developer.
While Ready Player Me wants to be part of the Metaverse Standards Forum, it has no guarantee that the group will set a standard for avatars or set one that is compatible with the path that Ready Player Me has chosen. The company wants to build on top of open standards as much as possible, and it has already open sourced its software development kits.
“We’re tapping into many of the open standards, for example, pushed by the Khronos Group, and some other open source initiatives,” Selvet said. “So we believe that we’re building the standard. It’s a little opinionated, but it gives developers enough flexibility.”
Tõke added, “The plan is definitely not to be more proprietary over time. It’s the reverse.”
Selvet said that the way to future proof the company’s plans is to open source the bits of the technology with the community and to use open source tech as much as possible.
The challenge of AI and NFTs
Eventually, the hope is that AI will eventually be able to take a given avatar and adapt it to the right format when it crosses from one border to another. That software doesn’t exist today, and the current software is not AI driven.
“We definitely believe it’s possible. I think the solution to that will be something relatively simple in the beginning and actually quite elegant. We have a very early version of that already supported in our API,” Selvet said. “We have plans for building something more complicated in Q4 of this year.”
Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) also represent a challenge in terms of avatar interoperability, as companies can use many different chains and implement NFTs in different ways. If you have an NFT in a wallet, Ready Player Me can see that and it will unlock access to a particular 3D wearable associated with that NFT. If it’s a necklace, it has to be rendered with particular specifications in mind. NFTs play a role in authentication, but when it comes to delivery of the items in the game, Ready Player Me’s API has to be ready to do that.
If the NFT is created to be compatible with a specific standard, then Ready Player Me will guarantee that it is interoperable and compatible with the applications that use is API, Selvet said. While NFTs authenticate assets, they don’t make the 3D assets themselves. “You need to make them work as 3D assets,” Tõke said.
Selvet added, “We want anyone to be able to create metaverse-compatible assets as easy as possible.”