New Avatars!

Posted on June 19, 2020

Summer brings with it many welcome changes: longer days, lush greenery, warmth and full permission to indulge in small luxuries like ice pops or fireflies. This summer also brings with it AltspaceVR’s next major update!

Our team has been hard at work building, polishing, and testing several new features, and while there’s a bit more work yet to be done we’d like to offer a small sneak peek into one of the most highly anticipated changes-to-come: avatars. As AltspaceVR continues to grow and mature as a versatile product, it becomes increasingly important that individuals seeking a new way to connect, share, and explore feel comfortable, welcome, and represented. With that in mind, our team set out to build new avatars that prioritized customization and empowered authentic self expression.

The Building Blocks of Identity

As we embarked on the journey, we saw an opportunity to challenge some of the real-world hierarchies and inequalities that exist. Instead of building avatars as static options subject to specific cultural assumptions that limit true expression, we’ve instead built a wide variety of “connective pieces” that unlock imaginative combinations. The new avatars give individuals the freedom to choose how they define and express things like gender or race, for example. With the new avatars, users will have access to every accessory, every body shape, and even a palette of alternative skin tones like blue or pink. They’ll be able to construct the version of themselves that will make them feel comfortable and safe, as well as allow them the freedom to explore their own curiosities around identity. Additionally, this “building block” approach to avatar selection is highly scalable and will give us the ability to continue to expand options well into the future.

Creating a Collective Culture

When considering the individual experience, it was equally important to think of the collective. The experience of choosing an avatar and building a virtual self is crucial, but the experience of stepping into a crowd of people is just as essential– so we were very intentional to prioritize safety and comfort.  We wanted to ensure that not only did individuals feel comfortable in their own virtual body, but that they also felt comfortable speaking and interacting with those around them. For this reason our new avatars are built in our signature art style. So while each individual avatar can differ greatly from the next, in a crowd of avatars there is a comfortable uniformity and familiarity. This signals to people that regardless of their customization combinations, they’re a welcome member of the collective. And while this means that we’ll be sunsetting all of our old avatars we’re excited about the opportunity to thoughtfully build a collective culture that welcomes all.

Empowering Deeper Connection

Our final major goal when building the new avatars was to ensure that they not only empowered self-expression but that they also enabled true connection. After all, Social VR is all about being able to connect and collaborate with others. As social beings, humans rely heavily on signals like body language and eye contact. We put much thought and consideration into this and, as a result, have programmed features like reactive eye-movements and expressive mouth movements. Two avatars engaged in conversation will lock eyes, blink, and gesture to one another. So whether you’re talking to a group of people or trying to get your boss’ attention in the middle of a board meeting, you can trust that your avatar will not simply be a static face.

We understand that avatars are a big part of AltspaceVR. We also know that while we’ve done a lot of work, there will be room and need to continue to refine our avatar offerings. To that end, we’d love to hear what you think of the sneak peek and how you feel about the changes-to-come. Here’s a link to a quick questionnaire if you’d like to share your thoughts.

Our summer release is around the corner and there’s plenty more to come. In the meantime we’re excited to share more soon!

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