In this article, we will share our insights about avatar services which become popular again recently. As the IT world has become as a new dimensional social place, the presence and importance of avatar representing me in the virtual world is increasing day by day. Similar to reality, users invest time and money in decorating avatar to gain self-gratification or to appeal to others, move their avatar around the virtual space to meet and communicate with other users. The avatars which were partially used from a specific games or portal site profiles, has recently began to come closer to our lives according to the development of smartphones.
“avatar”一词起源于印度教，代表陆地形态的“神”的下降（印度教的“神”普遍被认为没有形体，能够以任何形式来显现自己）。在大众媒体中，“avatar”一词最早出现在1992年Neal Stephenson所写的科学小说《Snow Crash》中，意为在虚拟世界中虚构另一个我，又叫“虚拟实境”。在IT领域，“avatar”是对计算机用户自身形式的描述。第一个线上游戏的Avatar是1985年由LucasArts发布的online RPG“Habitat”，这是第一个用户可以控制自己的avatar并与其它用户产生交互的案例。（维基百科，NamuWiki）
The word ‘avatar’ originates in Hinduism, where it stands for the ‘descent’ of a God in a earthly form. In mass media, the term ‘avatar’ was first used in 1992 in the science novel Snow Crash written by Neal Stephenson. It meant a one’s fictional other self in the virtual world, named ‘Metaverse’. In IT field, avatar means the visualized form of computer users themselves. The first avatar in online game was LucasArts’ online RPG Habitat in 1985. This was the first case which many users could control their avatar and interact with other users. (Wikipedia, NamuWiki)
Now, after changing the meaning from origin, the shape of the person that represents oneself in a game or a portal site is collectively referred to as avatar. Avatars have been mainly used for chatting and online games, but now its usage is expanded to cyber shopping mall, virtual education, virtual office(conference). An avatar connects the real world with a virtual space, and has characteristics that exist between anonymity and autonym. In the past, users were fascinated by the anonymity of cyberspace, but now they also have the desire to express themselves, and the avatars that satisfy both sides are attracting the attention. (NAVER Encyclopedia)
The avatar service coincides with the advance of technologies such as the appearance of GUI, the development of display technology and the development of communication technology. In the early days of IT industry, avatars were expressed in the form of rough pixels in a small resolution screen. However, since the performance of the computer and the quality of the communication line have been gradually improved, it is possible to express avatars using high quality graphic materials. In 2007, a high-performance mobile PC, smartphone, was introduced and we can meet high-quality avatars that were available only on the desktop in the hand nowadays. In addition, with the development of smartphone cameras and processors and the appearance of AR and VR technologies, it has reached a level where 3D avatars can be synthesized with real images in real time.
Since it was launched in September 2018, ZEPETO was ranked # 1 in the free app category in app stores of 35 countries. In just three months after its release, MAU has increased five-fold and total downloads have exceeded 12 million. (As of December 20, 2018)
虽然与角色相关的业务在稳定发展，但2018年对角色服务而言是引人瞩目的一年。得益于智能手机与AR技术的发展，苹果和三星公布了结合人脸识别与AR功能的3D emoji，代表韩国角色服务发展的ZEPETO在亚洲广受欢迎，它们独特的特征和风格预示着角色行业竞争的激烈。随着各公司的发展能力在某种程度上趋于平稳， 吸引人的风格， 有趣的功能和用户便利性等差异将会成就或损坏他们的长期成功。
Although avatar related services have been steadily developed, 2018 was a particularly remarkable year for avatar services. Thanks to the development of smartphone devices and AR technology, Apple and SAMSUNG announced 3D emoji combined with face recognition and AR technology. And ZEPETO, an avatar service developed in Korea, attracted tremendous popularity in Asia. With their distinctive features and style, they herald a fierce competition in the avatar market. As the development capabilities of each company are leveled up to some extent, differentiated points such as attractive style, interesting functions, and user convenience will make or break their long-term success.
The table below shows the status of major avatar services now in service.
The following is a positioning map that arranges avatars according to their visual characteristics.
In this section, we are going to explore what trends are reflected in the current service avatar services and how they are appealing to users through their strengths.
Because avatars have to maintain the visual completeness while realistically capturing the face of the user due to the nature of the service, designing an attractive avatar that satisfies these conditions at the same time is a difficult task. When the distortion, the styling, and the reality are blended in harmonious proportions on the style of the avatar, that service can attract many users. Most recently, most of the services are watching on 3D avatars, which are excellent in three-dimensional and realistic feeling, capable of producing individual styles.
We would like to briefly compare the visual differences that the some representative avatars have.
ZEPETO zepeto pursues an ideal and balanced appearance. They reduced the thinning and volume of the eyelashes according to the characteristics of the face of Asian people, and set the slope of the eyes to a gentle degree to give a warm impression. Also, the size of the head and the hands were greatly exaggerated so that the facial expressions and the hand movements can be seen well at various views.
Apple focuses on simplicity, clarity and rich emotions. Memoji is designed to simplify the shape of the face and maximize the use of the face recognition technology by moving all the parts dynamically. A simplified and rounded face gives a cartoon-like and cute impression.
SAMSUNG AR Emoji
SAMSUNG focuses on creating an avatar that looks almost the same with the user to promote their high-technology. All the elements such as a face, skins texture, a hair are designed to enhance its reality.
One of the QQ services, CM Show(厘米秀) has designed 3D avatar style in existing 2D avatars. Also, a new service using 3D avatars will be released soon. CM Show’s 3D avatars are designed to give a cute, unique and lovely feeling to match the taste of 10-20s who are the target users of the CM Show service. Unlike other avatars, it has a manga-style appeal. 3D version avatars will be applied on July, 2019.
The bodies of avatars also vary in shape and proportion. So, it is difficult to classify avatars’ body proportions according to exact criteria. But in general, avatars used in media with high resolution display devices have more higher body proportions. Avatars used in high-performance game machines and HD animation (such as Xbox) have relatively high body proportions. On the other hand, avatars used in mobile devices and small game machines usually have low body proportions.
大多角色服务都提供各种平台来让用户创建属于自己的角色。用户可以在调色板中通过选择头发和眉毛来创建多个面部组合，然后选择最为合适的（通常和自己相似）的那一个。像这个现有的2D 角色,它就是通过选择已经在库里准备好的图像然后将其组合而成。然而，如果是3D 角色，随着3D技术的进步，用户可以直接调整脸部的详细尺寸和位置，这使得每个用户都能拥有与其他人区分开来的属于自己的角色，给予了用户极大的沉浸感和更高的满意度。
Most avatar services have provided various palette for users to create their own avatars. Users can create a number of face combinations by selecting hair and eyebrows from a palette, and then selecting the most appropriate (usually self-similar) result. Like this, the existing 2D avatar was made by selecting images prepared in the library and combining them. However, in case of 3D avatar, with the advance of 3D technology, the user can adjust the detailed size and position of the face parts directly. This made it possible for each user to have his or her own avatar differentiated from others. This provides users with greater immersion and higher satisfaction.
Customization is one of the most important parts of the game industry in recent years. It has evolved from the way that the user has selected one of several pre-made faces, and now the user can ‘design’ the whole body by adjusting the each part one by one. This Customization allows users to create more diverse and personalized faces and many users were enthusiastic about this feature.. Users spend a considerable amount of time Customization as well as actual gameplay, even there’re some communities for users share and trade their Customization files. Now, Customization has become another new game in the game. Users want a system that allows them to modify their own faces freely, not limited options that developers have provided. On this account, most avatar service providers are trying to understand and apply a trend and user’s needs like these.
是否有可能通过只按一次快门来创建角色？一些服务通过人脸识别系统提供自动化角色生成功能。SAMSUNG 的AR emoji, SNOW的ZEPETO，快手的kmoji用他们的技术识别用户的图片并自动创建3D角色。当然，创建之后，用户可以做进一步的修改。除了新颖的概念之外，这种服务还通过结合面部形状和特征等多种方式来给用户提供便利。“面部识别”的新技术特别有助于向大众推出这些角色服务。
Is it possible to create an avatar by pressing shutter only once? Some services provide the automatic avatar generating function through facial recognition system. SAMSUNG AR emoji, SNOW’s ZEPETO, and kwai’s kmoji recognize the users’ pictures with their own technology and automatically create 3D avatars. Of course, after the creation, the user can make further modifications. In addition to the fresh concept, this kind of service also provides convenience to users by combining many things such as face shape and features. The new technology ‘Face Recognition’ has contributed in particular to introducing these avatar services to the public.
ZEPETO put a lot of effort into the photo shoot part compared to other services. It provides many systematically classfied poses and situations templates. Users can import their friend’s avatar to take a picture together, or they can import more friends to shoot a group photo. It also provides the ability to combine photos with solid color or realistic photo backgrounds.
The light, color, composition, and pose of the 3D avatar images are well adjusted so that they can blend naturally with various real photo backgrounds. With these features and detailed settings, users can bring ZEPETO’s avatars to their real world and create a realistic image, and this experience gives users a fresh feeling and interest.
这些拍摄功能可以让用户轻松进行各种二次创作，因为它可以很容易 1）通过alpha蒙版来合成背景；2）通过使用已提供的多种面部表情和手势来表达各种情绪；3）通过自定义功能生成各种角色。通过以复杂的方式使用这些功能， 用户可以创建分享包含他们故事的照片和视频（有多种渠道可以分享）。ZEPETO drama是一种在少女中流行的新类型，通过ZEPETO应用，用户可以参与创建和共享的过程并乐在其中。
These functions make it easy for users to create various secondary creations. Because it is easy to 1) synthesize the background through the alpha matte, 2) express various emotions by using many facial expressions and gestures already provided, 3) generate various characters through customization function. By using these functions in a complex way, users can create and share photographs and videos of their own stories. (There are many channels that share only such creations.) ZEPETO drama is a new genre that has been popular among teenage girls. Through ZEPETO application, users participate in both creation and sharing processes and actively enjoy this culture.
Based on these functions, ZEPETO has progressed many collaborations with various brands. Through collaboration, users can take pictures using specially prepared backgrounds, gestures, and items. And users actively share those pictures through social media. Collaboration with BTS in the early days of operation helped ZEPETO gain popularity. (It recorded a million shares on social media in a short period.)
ZEPETO focuses on how 3D characters are synthesized on the real world, there are also services that provide AR cameras using avatars. AR camera function has been used in various camera applications before avatar service. However, when this function was combined with the avatar service, it brought more powerful synergy. In the pa17st, animals, masks, and other characters have been synthesized on their faces, but these services can now be used to put avatars resembling the user directly on their faces. This gives users a stronger sense of differentiation and immersion.
不止静止图像，AR相机还能识别用户的实时面部表情，也可以在视频上录制。随着技术的进步，现在可以呈现更详细和更真实的动作，比如当用户说话时，可以跟踪嘴巴和舌头的形状。如果是目前正在开发中的facebook AR 角色，它能够在虚拟空间里通过聚集同伴的角色来进行实时沟通与交流。除此之外，使用AR镜头还可以获得更丰富的体验，就好像直接在太空中一样。有了这种技术，角色服务在电信、游戏等各种领域几乎有着无限的潜力。
The AR camera recognizes not only the still image but also the user’s facial expression in real time, and can record on the video. As the technology advances, it is now possible to express even more detailed and realistic movements, such as being able to track the shape of the mouth and tongue while the user is speaking. In case of facebook VR avatar, which is currently under development, is able to communicate and interact in real time by gathering colleagues’ avatars in a virtual space. In addition to this, Using VR lens allows for a more extended experience as if it were directly in the space. With this technology, avatar service has almost unlimited potential to be used in various fields such as telecommunication, game field.
The most important element in avatar service is ‘My Room’. My Room plays an important role in giving the avatar a sense of reality as a space where the avatar exists at the user interface point. However, it does not just function as a background image, but also complement the avatar’s visual style. In many of the services, the interior design function is added to allow the user to purchase items and decorate the space directly, which is also a major profit model of the service. Users can design their own space to match their avatar style, visit other people’s spaces, exchange messages, and evaluate each other’s space.
ZEPETO的“我的房间”功能占据界面相当大一部分。它有一个很大的视觉区域， 因此根据角色风格和外观来布置物品，可以更强烈地表达用户的个性（像用于视觉补充的个人页面一样）。ZEPETO还有一个名为ZEPETO WORLD的附加交流空间，除了评论之外，没有其他特别的可选功能。不过，它起到了访问其他用户代表页面的作用。
ZEPETO’s ‘my room’ function takes up a significant portion of the interface. It has a visually large area, so it can express the personality of the user more strongly by arranging additional items in accordance with the fashion and appearance of the avatar. (like a profile page for visual supplementation) But ZEPETO has an additional communication space called ZEPETO WORLD, so it does not provide any special playable functions other than comment functions. However, it functions as a representative page for accessing other users.
我的房间是LINE PLAY的主要功能之一，它在游戏中是角色的真实生存空间，与各种用户购买和布置的物品相互作用。用户可以在其中通过任务获得商品作为奖励，同时它也是知名品牌和名人合作活动的地方。用于获取可移动的室内装饰品的Gacha系统是LINE PLAY最重要的盈利模式。
My Room is one of the main functions of LINE PLAY. It is the actual living space of the avatar in the game, and it is possible to interact with various objects purchased and arranged. In this space, the user can get the goods as rewards through the quests. It is also a space where collaboration with famous brands and celebrities is held. The Gacha system for getting adroable interior items is one the most important profit model of LINE PLAY.
There are various accessories for decorating the room. Special package sets are continually added for special events (like Christmas, Valentine’s Day, etc.) and collaborations(with fashion companies, celebrities, etc.). In order to keep users interested, it needs to constantly update items in this part, following trends and user’s preferences.
After created an own avatar, you can create a set of emoticons stickers that you can use in social media. At the click of a button, more than 10 stickers are automatically created according to the template. If there is no sticker you want, you can create your own unique stickers by combining various visual elements in the provided library. These stickers can be used freely on various platforms including messaging apps. A set of stickers made using avatars resembling users has a different charm than other common character stickers.
对于已创建出来的表情贴纸，多数服务只提供导出为图像文件的功能。然而，某些服务，特别是SAMSUNG AR emoji 和 Apple Memoji , 可以通过在通信APP的操作系统中直接添加角色和表情贴纸来作为emoji键盘使用，因为它已经包含在操作系统本身当中。（他们自己生产硬件）。在即时通信APP “Snapchat”的官方链接中，Bitmoji可以使用他们自己的贴纸。
Most services only provide the ability to export the stickers created as image files. However, some services, especially SAMSUNG AR emoji and Apple’s Memoji, can be used by adding the avatar and sticker directly as additional emoji keyboard in the OS message app because the service is already included in the OS itself. (because they produce the hardware themselves.) Bitmoji can use its own stickers in the instant messenger app ‘Snapchat’ with the official linkage.
What if you could live another life in virtual space? In fact, there are many game services that focus more on these ideas. In particular, these types of games are developed and serviced mainly in the US and Europe. In the game, the user has his/her avatar and house (or must buy the land). Based on these, it is possible to have a kind of social life with a lot of other users. From social activities such as parties, swimming and meetings to various socio-economic activities such as labor and trade. It is more multidimensional than simple avatar game, but all of these activities are centered on avatar which represents the user.
在ZEPETO和LINE PLAY的情况下，基于空间聊天系统，用户可以进行简单的交际而不是使用角色进行特定的活动（它提供一些简单的姿势和动作来丰富聊天活动）。ZEPETO WORLD仍处于初期阶段，但服务提供者表示他们会持续扩展该领域，比如在未来增加可以几个人一起玩的游戏（事实上这部分每隔一段时间就会更新）
In the case of ZEPETO and LINE PLAY, you can do simple communication based on the chat system in the space rather than playing specific activities using an avatar. (It provides a few simple gestures and actions to enrich chat.) ZEPETO WORLD is still in its early stages. However, service provider announced that they will expand the area continuously such as by adding games that can be played by several people in the future. (Actually this part is being updated at frequent intervals).
角色是限于特定网站或游戏的服务。然而随着智能手机的发展，3D形象的流行，以及两大手机操作系统的安装，角色服务似乎几乎已经完成了大众流行和普及化的准备， 现在更多的关注点集中在你可以用你的角色去做什么 ，而不仅仅是什么是角色。让我们期待代替“我”在潜在无限的IT 虚拟现实中做更多的事情的“角色” 有更多无穷尽的革新与变化。
An avatar was a service that its use was limited to a specific site or a specific game. However, through the development of smart phones, popularity of 3D characters, and the installation in two biggest mobile OS, avatar services seem to almost completed preparations for popularization. Now, more attention will be focused on what you can do with your avatar, not just about what an avatar is. Let’s look forward to the endless transformation of avatars that can do many things instead of me in the potentially unlimited IT virtual reality.