It may seem weird to spend money on enhancing your social or gaming personas, but not if you understand the shifting trajectory of our lives to digital worlds.
There is a transformation happening from living purely “physical” lives to coexisting in digital spaces through avatars of our creation. This is having profound effects on people’s everyday lives, and also on broader conceptions of “what is real” and “what is of value.”
This is especially noticeable in younger generations whose tech literacy and immersion in social platforms dwarf some of us old folk. They are living more and more of their lives digitally and placing more value on things to improve their digital personas (what we’ll generally refer to as avatars) as opposed to their “real” person.
Here we will explore how this will only get more far out with the explosion of augmented reality and immersive media.
Epic Games’ Fortnite famously made around $400 million over the course of 12 months mostly selling outfits and other in-game products to its players. This causes sheer amazement from outsiders. After all, you can compete and play in the game for free, so who cares what your character looks like? The outfits don’t help your play at all – they are purely an avatar fashion play.
Now let’s take a step back a couple of decades, when reality was more secure, for some context. Many kids bought super expensive Air Jordans to sport at school. They didn’t play basketball in these shoes (what they were purportedly created for), they just rocked them to impress their friends; it’s just fashion.
Now consider that the kids of today hang out and exist in digital worlds – like Fortnite or Instagram. Their presence in these worlds can be just as impactful to their lives as physically being with friends or peers. So they value what they look like inside these platforms. They buy outfits for their characters to look cool for the same reason we used to buy Air Jordans (sneakerheads still buy and sport expensive shoes, of course).
We are amazed at how long it will take a teenager to shoot the perfect TikTok dance or take a perfect pouty selfie. What we miss is their coexistence in what we consider the real world and as avatars in a wholly separate digital world.
In a platform like Instagram, the avatars are meant to at least attempt to mimic their real lives. But everybody knows you used a filter and that’s ok because the platform has created new standards for how an avatar can present themselves.
Augmented Reality and Avatars
Augmented reality will create an even more profound shift in the perceived value of digital products. Air Jordans were worn to school to show off, but now consider that an Instagram or Snap picture shared online can have the same effect. Their peers are just as engaged in that space.
So imagine that a teen can’t afford or doesn’t see as much value in owning a physical pair of Jordans. They could get the same utility out of AR versions of the kicks wearable on their favorite social or gaming platform. They will place as much value in that picture, video, or gaming experience as they do in their normal wardrobe.
As noted above, this is already happening in gaming and has been for some time. But the limitations in augmented reality technology haven’t fully opened up the ability to wardrobe or present yourself in different environments.
The ability to publically augment your person in AR is relatively new. There are probably some cool examples of the super early stuff, but let’s just date the beginning for these purposes to the Snap flower crown.
Because of the power of the selfie, it made sense to start social AR technology by being able to recognize and augment the face.
With the advancement in optimized 3D modeling and head tracking, we can now move into “deep fake” territory. I’ll appropriate the term away from putting celebrities’ faces onto other bodies and apply it to “Are they really wearing that?” It will become increasingly difficult to discern what is physically real in social media. But this will become old-school thinking as the lines blur on what’s considered real.
Once the head was tracked, the technology has moved to the feet, the wrist, and even the torso in Snap’s latest release. Though you can track the full-body, the technology isn’t quite there on the torso to create a “deep fake” of a moving person.
But pretty soon your Snap or IG avatar will be able to completely dress themselves up and present that outfit in the same way as a traditional image or video selfie. The question of “is that real” will become far less relevant. And don’t try to convince yourself that this will be some isolated young person thing on Snapchat.
These types of augmentations are already popping up in our video calls. There are multiple camera plugins that you can install to work with your favorite video chat platform. Just wait till people are regularly wearing sunglasses in your meetings so the boss doesn’t know they’re not paying attention.
The Value of Digital Assets in Social
Whereas it seems assured that these types of “deep fake” pictures and videos will be part of our future, it is a bit of an open question of how they will be valued. There are a couple of paths this can take, and like an electron, the progression will probably follow a multi-path to some endpoint.
There will certainly be free assets to use to spruce up any of your digital personas. Some brands will probably give them away, like swag, to get organic marketing. Others will create partnerships with specific platforms to exclusively dress up their avatars.
This is already happening – Snap partnered with Ralph Lauren to bring your Bitmojis exclusive outfits, and Marc Jacobs with Animal Crossing. This is free for the user, but far from free for the brand to sponsor. Brands are and will pay untold sums for the right to dress your avatars.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this new value chain is limited releases of augmented reality assets. This mixes both of the hottest terms in tech – blockchain and augmented reality. Companies will be able to release products verified by the blockchain that are exclusive to the purchaser (until, of course, there are meta-knockoffs!).
Nike already has a patent on “CryptoKicks” – outlining a future where you buy a pair of Nikes and get a blockchain-certified digital asset along with it. Obviously, Nike still wants to sell physical shoes, but there will be full marketplaces of purely digital shoes for sale in limited quantities. The “shoe drop” will very likely look far different in the near future.
To sum up, think of it this way – dressing avatars in games is well ahead of AR capabilities and in a single game they make $400 million on selling assets. There’s been just about $0 in selling augmented reality fashion for social media. Social is somewhere around 10x bigger than gaming, so just imagine what the future market is for dressing your social and digital persona.