Designing your avatar: DAZ 3D’s MogBox will allow users to design an avatar inside 3-D modeling software and then transfer the character to virtual worlds. In part, the technology relies on controlling the avatar’s level of detail, which can go from textured high resolution all the way back to the wire frame, shown above, that underlies the character’s structure. As a result, the MogBox can adjust an image for the resolution requirements of different virtual worlds.
Efforts to carry avatars from one world to another or out onto the Web are still plagued by the lack of interoperability among virtual worlds and inconsistent standards for graphics. Though more than 20 companies announced last fall their intention to develop standards for virtual worlds, those standards are yet to come. Patrick O’Shaughnessey, vice president of software development for the Electric Sheep Company, which makes content for virtual worlds and works with many different platforms, said at a panel during the conference that the interoperability forum is still “talking about how they want to talk about” standards. In the meantime, companies have gone ahead with their own efforts to connect worlds, supporting standards to whatever degree they now exist (for example, DAZ 3D supports COLLADA and FBX, two popular formats for 3-D images).
Robin Harper, vice president of marketing and community development for Linden Lab, maker of Second Life, says that one problem with handling avatars is that people have different needs for their online identities. “In an enterprise situation, you are most likely to want to use your real name, like people on Facebook use their real names,” she says. Harper says that virtual worlds can serve a similar role to that of social networks in business, with the added benefit that they make it easy to interact in real time, instead of limiting users to asynchronous communications. When people use avatars for business purposes, they often want to be easily recognized through their avatars and want to keep those avatars in place wherever they go.
However, Harper notes, not everyone wants that kind of locked-in identity. Though she gets many requests from people wanting to use their real names in Second Life (which makes users choose from a list of possible last names), she says she also hears from people who are very attached to the anonymity their avatar allows. Harper says virtual-world providers and users will need to think more about these questions as more users carry real-world identities into their avatars, or try to bring their avatars out into the larger Web.