A recently formed Metaverse Standards Forum Working Group is connecting key industry stakeholders across the avatar ecosystem to promote increased cross-platform interoperability through cooperatively developing an Avatar and Character Translation Framework.
The Need for Character and Avatar Interoperability
The surge in popularity of sophisticated, customized avatars and characters in gaming, virtual worlds, and the metaverse continues to grow. But with this broadening market demand comes the potential for industry fragmentation, with a myriad of avatar standards, formats and tools, often designed to be used with specific use cases, platforms and applications.
The new Interoperable Characters/Avatars Working Group at the Metaverse Standards Forum aims to foster avatar and character interoperability to increase business opportunities across industries through collaboration, for example, by enabling:
- Avatar authoring tools to create, generate or enrich avatars for multiple platforms, creating a larger market demand for sophisticated avatar tooling.
- Runtime engines and platforms to ingest and process avatars created by a variety of tools for richer content and faster innovation.
- Platforms to opt into non-siloed economies of scale for deeper end-user experiences with reduced development costs.
Overall, enabling the use of characters across multiple platforms, increases the incentive for users to invest time and money in sophisticated avatars that don’t have to be recreated for every application, while projecting a consistent persona.
“The Interoperable Characters/Avatars group unites experts and key stakeholders to forge next-generation avatar and character translation framework for seamless character interoperability,” says Working Group co-chair and Character Labs founder, Zeno Saviour. “With our collective effort, we’re shaping an exciting future where character and avatar portability becomes second nature.”
Working Group Achievements
Since its inception, the Working Group has created a welcoming space for over 200 Forum members from over 140 organizations to cooperate on business-critical avatar interoperability.
Working from its consensus-based Charter, the Working Group has hosted multiple educational sessions, inviting experts to provide insights into cutting-edge developments in the avatar/character technology landscape, including:
- Avatar LOD
- Core 3D Asset Interop USD / glTF Update
- An Introduction to VRM and VRoid Projects
- Digital Fashion Wearables for Avatars
- The SANDBOX: Building the Open Metaverse
- Second Life
- MPEG-SD: User Representation and Avatar
- Khronos’ Body Anchoring Standards and glTF Extension Proposal
- Characters As A Service (+ Non-Humanoids)
- UsdSkel and How it’s Used at Pixar and Disney for Character Interoperability
- Explore the Virtual Market of Avatar 3D Models in VRChat and Web
- Characters for the Metaverse with Reallusion
- MPEG Video-based Dynamic Mesh Coding (V-DMC) for Avatars
- ITU Focus Group on Metaverse: Exploring Metaverse Standardization
These session recordings are available on the rapidly growing Metaverse Standards Forum video library on YouTube.
The Working Group is now creating a matrix of priority use cases for avatars and characters, that will be used to exercise and refine the Working Group’s other deliverables.
“The notion of digital identity can only take full force once users can freely move across multiple virtual worlds and platforms with their Avatars, their digital belongings (items, wearables, skins, equipment, etc) and their progression, track record. To achieve this, standards will need to emerge and an open dialog and collaboration across both emerging and leading virtual worlds and gaming platforms need to happen. We are glad to be part of the Interoperable Characters/Avatars group and contribute to such a goal,” Sebastien Borget, The Sandbox.
Avatar and Character Translation Framework
While the Working Group aims to facilitate industry cooperation to create universal guidelines and frameworks for character/avatar interoperability, it is vital that cooperative initiatives are not invasive or counterproductive for any industry participants if they are to achieve broad adoption. For example, it is not feasible or even desirable for multiple applications to use the same internal avatar format as runtime engines typically use proprietary formats internally due to development history, platform constraints, business and use case imperatives, and aesthetics. However, this can make cross-platform exchange of avatar and character data problematic, as any tool or application would need to import or export multiple proprietary formats.
The Working Group is working on a solution that will enable cross-platform avatar interoperability on a voluntary and incremental basis – an Avatar and Character Translation Framework. The Translation Framework comprises a common baseline asset format using the glTF 2.0 standard from Khronos, together with a set of recommended guidelines for handling import and export of meshes, materials, skeletons, animations, physics, and metadata.
Tools and platforms may choose what internal avatar data to translate and export using the Translation Framework for other tools and applications to straightforwardly import. An exporter does not need to populate all data fields defined by the Framework – just data that may be meaningfully converted, and which the application chooses to export.
“With the Avatar and Character Translation Framework, users can embellish their avatars to the limit of what’s possible in their home metaverse while being able to visit foreign metaverses in their simplified form without any manual editing,” says Working Group Co-Chair, Hideaki Eguchi from the VRM Consortium.
Similarly, engines may import just the Framework data fields that are relevant to their needs, populating other internal data structures as they wish, or converting any data fields to meet any platform-specific technical or aesthetic requirements.
Developing the Translation Framework is intended to be an effective vehicle to build consensus on common data representations and guidelines for avatar and character data interoperability that tools and engines may leverage if and when it provides them benefit, fueling incremental expansion of the scope of the Translation Framework over time.
Finally, as part of its charter the Working Group will generate SDO specification requirements, Avatar test assets to facilitate early-stage experiments to demonstrate character portability using the Translation Framework, and an Avatar validation tool to encourage longer-term real-world multi-platform avatar interoperability.
“As entertainment and music experiences transition to metaverse platforms, interoperable characters and avatars will play a crucial role for musicians and their audiences. The future may see musicians with multiple avatars, or alter-egos that need to traverse virtual worlds, and audiences with single or multiple identities experiencing music through their avatars. The Avatar and Character Translation Framework is fundamental to the realization of this vision, as well as the broader role of avatars and characters in the metaverse. This is ground-breaking work and an honor to contribute to,” Priscilla Angelique, Working Group Co-chair, Creative Technology Consultant and Metaverse Researcher.
The Mission of the Metaverse Standards Forum
The Metaverse Standards Forum provides a venue for cooperation between standards organizations and companies to foster the development of interoperability standards for an open and inclusive Metaverse, and to accelerate their development and deployment through pragmatic, action-based projects. The Forum is open to all organizations.
Work on the Avatar and Character Translation Framework is already underway. For those interested in shaping the future of avatar interoperability in the metaverse, we invite you to contribute to this groundbreaking initiative.
Join our mission by visiting Metaverse Standards Forum website.