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Me, Myself and I(nteroperability)

Hi there, humans, I am Kelly Vero’s avatar. What she doesn’t want you to know is that although she says she likes to shake it up when she plays Runescape, WoW or Skyrim, she basically plays the same character (some kind of Elvish) every time. In this article, she’s exploring the crossover or interoperable nature of avatars and how, if at all, they might work wonders.

Photo by Dimitar Belchev

“Interoperability would just make everything more fluid and bring it back to what the metaverse is supposed to be about, which is accessibility for all.” Jacki Vause, Meta Daisies Groupie.

The thing about interoperability is that the Metaverse wants it soooooo badly, and interoperability could happen at the snap of your fingers (see Jacki’s testimony above). But guys, guys, guys (collective gender appeal): it’s not that easy, no matter how much you want it. I want to explore the good and bad of interoperability for avatars and how some of the greatest tech empires could both fall apart and strengthen beyond strength at the snap of your fingers.

I want to go back to 2018/19 and 2020, it wasn’t so long ago that we were in the grips of that dreadful pandemic. We couldn’t work unless we were in our sweatpants and we couldn’t socialise or god damn it: SHOP. As I’ve said a few times and in a few articles now, crises create innovation, we pivot well; especially in tech, so it’s good to know that early on we were thinking about digital twins (and system and process twins) as well as avatar development.

CryptoAvatars, based in Zaragoza, presented a wholly CC0 version of avatar development, a sort of post-cryptokitty NFT-driven open and interoperable avatar. It is utopian at most, but it is playful, kind and still isn’t focused on anything but getting avatars out into the metaverse in all its forms.

Avatars really only work if everyone is on the same page in the metaverse. I always say that standardising anything in a decentralised world is futile, yet these new my-way-or-the-highway tools pop up on a daily basis. Why? As consumers and end users, we need choice, but we need utility much, much more.

Let’s look at the positives first - because I really want interoperability more than anything in the metaverse. Ready Player Me might just have the answer to my prayers. Avatar? Check! Fashion? Erm, if a little cringe (boiler suits, anyone?), check!

Direct-to-avatar is not necessarily something that we would turn to, say, in medical instrument testing or training, even though avatars are very necessary - they’re more virtual crash test dummies than anything personalised or anthropomorphic. Could we really see an avatar version of ourselves being chopped up by a surgeon? No way! How about avionics? Do we all want to get onto a plane and test the safety provisions inside an Airbus 380? I am noping on this one. But where does that leave the rest of the verticals? The purpose of the system, process or digital twin is to create simulated objects and procedures in a photo or hyper-realistic environments (which themselves are simulations) to test, explore and you know the rest if you’ve read any of my previous articles (I won’t bore you here). Notice that I haven’t used the word avatar in this definition. It’s because avatars are us. And the best versions of ourselves can be found where else?


Video games present a very interesting opportunity for avatar development, for it is in games that we see and play a version of ourselves. Avatars have always been a personal choice in video games. They provide utility and personality that weighs value over everything else. My level 75 Kaldorei (if I could do it again, I would be Horde) in World of Warcraft is a character I have worked hard on, as though it were a day job or a life’s work.

In Elder Scrolls Online, we can select all the different types of classes and races and different types of face shapes and eye shapes and clothing styles that you can allow a Breton to have at the beginning of the game. It’s a psychology that I’m very passionate about in games and something I’ve studied through gameplay over the last 30 years.

Therefore, and this is just an opinion (based on years of actually working games, but still an opinion), it would be better to see yourself as Soap MacTavish in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare rather than just boring old Kelly Vero sat on a couch on a Saturday afternoon, wouldn’t it? I think so. I, for one, look great in camouflage. So I would really like to extend that idea further, but not for this article. For this article, I don't care about the opportunities for avatars in games for the creator and end user because that's already been explained a million times. I’m interested in what this looks like for the game developer. They’re the good folks who need to work with APIs to land the whale of interoperability. Because without that connective tissue between the avatar developer, the API, the game developer and the player, we’re just talking about unauthorised ownership, or IP infringement, or (in the case of FIFA or MOTOGP) image rights. Suddenly shit gets real.

Let’s take a breath. I hope that as a result of this claim of mine, loads of game studios will actually jump to the defence of avatar interoperability creators and say, “no, no, Kelly Vero is absolutely 100% wrong about this: we totally want your avatar API in our game.” But the problem with most APIs is that they’re pretty rigid. Can I make myself look like Leroy Johnson for fun when I’m playing No Man’s Sky? No. If I can make myself look like Soap MacTavish when I play Runescape? Er, why? Can I also make myself look like Commander Shepard? No, you can only choose one. But, why? Because these are player characters. These are not avatars.

There is a real difference between a player character and an avatar. A player character is somebody who is entrenched in the storyline, reliant on the outcome and their entire raison d'etre is about the game's plot. To put your fun avatar in that space, which has been created outside of the game in a different engine, is going to be super difficult because it breaks that gravitas: taking away all of the personality and the psyche of that particular character. But, I want to be proven wrong. Because I believe it would be so much easier to do a Dreamcast VMU-style removable, portable, mobile Avatar creator than having to go through the entire Skyrim race, class, etc churn of console/pc gaming. It would be a dream to load my ESO Breton or WoW Night Elf, created on my train commute, directly from Ready Player Me/ A.N.Other Creator and inserted directly into the game. Wouldn't that be nice?

However, here comes the nope: where's the story of the avatar? Your story? It’s more than YOU. It’s everyone in your clan, team, squad. It’s the overarching narrative, the side quests, the plot, the movie, the anime, the web series. It has to be transmedia, metaversal, or it’s alone in the kitchen at a party.

Would you want that story to be open to everybody inside and outside of every game? Would you want people to know exactly who you are, and what you stand for? Well, perhaps you would, but a lot of people wouldn't. A lot of people play video games because they don't want people to know who they are. A lot of people play video games because they want to escape from whatever it is that they're living through in their day to day. Therefore, bringing all that data through my API, and all the history of everywhere that I've been would be invasive wouldn’t it? Perhaps exciting? How would that data be managed? Who owns that? Who watches the Watchmen etc?

I talked to my good friend Jacki Vause, more than just a Meta Daisies groupie, she’s the CEO of Dimoso. We’d worked together on a project with rock supergroup The Dead Daisies, who, thanks to the pandemic, were well and truly grounded. All that rock’n’roll was on hold - so we worked quickly with the guys in the studio to get a full-on listening party in the metaverse to keep over a million worldwide visitors and fans happy in one wonderful shared online space. I asked Jacki what she thought avatar interoperability would bring to the metaverse from her experiences with the Meta Daisies. “Interoperability is what we’ve been searching for. We’d developed some incredible avatars in Unreal Engine, and we’d spend a lot of our budget trying to customise them for use in different worlds/metaverses/universes.” The whole premise of the band is that they are the first actual band in the metaverse created specifically for a physical real-life band. The Meta Daisies being the digital offspring of these rock gods. She continued, “we created them with an idea that they would play all over the metaverse regardless of the world or platform.” What she found was that the costs incurred in trying to interoperate The Meta Daisies were incumbent on the team from a time and financial standpoint, and how open, transparent and free is that really?

But look, we have the beginnings of a beautiful stroke of interoperability. What that interoperability might do for the avatar is allow it to become a gateway to brands later. Why do I say later? Because as a game developer, I see it’s a low-hanging fruit for avatar creators. What avatar creators and developers should focus on is the deliverable to the game studio, the impact on IP, the breaking of the story or the fiction, the weakening of studio DNA by the need to be there in that space no matter what.

Here’s my take on how this will invoke for studios, publishers and players in the metaverse, games or not. It will be relentless. This relentlessness will gain critical mass, and then along comes our games stalwarts at your favourite consoles who will refuse to play ball and instead make their own interoperable avatars across their walled gardens. Don’t believe me? This week’s Meta Connect Summit featured a tête-à-tête between the two titans of tech, Satya and Mark, on a shared vision for the new Quest Pro and Quest 2. Enterprise software? Check! Legs on an Avatar? Check! Playing 2D Microsoft games on the Meta Quest Pro? Whaaaaaaaat?

Sony, Steam, Nintendo: your move.


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