Brainstorming a Framework for Avatar-Centered Design
The Need for Avatar-Centered Design
Human-Centered Design (HCD) focuses on understanding human behaviors and emotions to inform the design process. As the metaverse/web3 populates, we need to extend a similar level of understanding to the avatars–“PFPs”–we create in the virtual world. Let’s call this Avatar Centered Design (ACD), and it’s a response to the expanding life and context of avatars, aka Avatar Agency.
Trends Creating This Need
Avatar-Centered Design is important for the metaverse and web3 for several reasons:
Historically an “avatar” was associated only with in-game characters–at least in the “mainstream”–but we’re now seeing them applied across work platforms, social networks, online games, video chat, and even built into our devices
Trends are showing people find increased significance in identifying through their digital avatar. A Roblox report on digital fashion states, “2 in 5 Gen-Z-ers find self-expression in the digital world is MORE important than in the physical world.” [roblox link]
NFTs multiply the already strong pull of self-identification with financial incentives. “PFPs” are regularly selling for $10k,$20k,$30k, or more, creating extreme loyalty to the community and significant potential financial rewards from participating.
Interoperability means avatars purchased through open marketplaces replace the access point to games–or ecosystems, communities, experiences, etc. Rather than purchasing a game/experience and obtaining an avatar inside of it, you purchase the avatar to gain access.
The lore of an avatar will live in both physical and digital spaces across time and platforms. Your avatar enables access to IRL events, online games, social networks, and more. This will become increasingly fractured and difficult to visualize unless through the common thread of the avatar. Again, placing it at the center of multiple things.
Avatars are becoming their own sovereign beings. In addition to increasing importance for ourselves, we’re seeing licensing deals for Bored Apes and Virtual influencers gaining large followings, regardless of who “owns” them. [https://www.instagram.com/imma.gram]
DeSoc will increase the importance of tying an identity to an avatar as it will carry its own social network across platforms. Ie. Think of brands buying an avatar because of its built-in network of millions of followers. This gets infinitely more complex when postulating on reputation systems in the future.
A framework for Avatar-Centered Design
If we’re going to formulate a framework for Avatar-Centered Design, let’s first look at a typical Human-Centered Design process:
Specify the context of use: understand human behavior, environment, problems
Specify requirements: what is needed, how does it function
Create design solutions: what is it, what does it look and feel like
Evaluate designs: test, iterate
This process is similar to avatars. In fact, we can think of using HCD for avatars as an extension or “Layer 2 process” because we need to first apply the process for the human(s) using the avatar and then apply what we learned to the avatar. In other words;
L1 (HCD) define the needs of the audience for this avatar
L2 (ACD) define the needs of the avatar built for the audience
While many ACD concepts are similar to HCD (the avatar has environments, emotes, behaviors, problems, etc., just as a human does), perhaps the core of Avatar-Centered Design is the important dynamic of uncovering where the human (operator, audience, owner) ends and the avatar begins. We need to consider what agency the avatar has with and without its human.
Core ACD Questions
There are a few key questions that get at the core of the ACD process:
How Interoperable is the avatar?
Ex. Where will this avatar live, and how does it function in that space? What metaverse(s), platforms, and networks will it work with?
What utility is baked into its contract, and what is independent?
Ex. Do sales of the avatar trigger royalties on the marketplace or its own smart contract?
Where does the value come from?
Ex. Is the avatar valuable because of the human’s personality or contribution to a community? We would consider this value non-transferable, hard to price, or inseparable from the owner. Or is the value simply because it’s acquired a lot of cool gear? In this case, it’s tied to the owner’s actions, but it is transferable and easier to quantify a price.
What happens at the Point of Transfer?
This question encapsulates all the other questions.
Ex. What goes with the avatar, and what stays with the owner when the Avatar is sold or transferred? If you complete a quest, does the achievement (badge, NFT, rank) stay with the avatar or transfer to the new owner?
Your Avatar is the focal point of all activity occurring in the metaverse/web3. As you engage in activities such as gaming, collecting items, and participating in contests and events, the lore associated with your Avatar builds up its standing and worth. However, this Avatar may not stay in your possession forever. When it’s sold or transferred, certain elements associated with it should transfer as well. This way, your Avatar has an independent existence (avatar agency) that is not linked to a single person or metaverse. Building a process for Avatar Centered Design will ensure we create smart decisions that encourage a robust, interoperable ecosystem.
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