Two of my favorite bloggers have touched upon one of my favorite topics: appearances in a virtual world. I blogged about this waaaaaay back in my truly early days, when I asked Is a Virtual World a Good Thing? (July 7, 2008) The true irony is that in THAT post I was whining about not wanting to fuss about details such as my hair, skin, etc. Well, well, well, how things have changed, no? By the way – this first picture…. that is me. Changed. I made that brown hair. 🙂 That’s the truth.
I was born into SL. There is so much free content here that allows you to customize your avatar. Without much effort you can change your hair, your skin, your walk, your sit, your clothes, your shape, your gender, your fur, your wings, your tentacles…. I think you understand. Even more to the point – you have some very good choices for default avatars. As I watch newbies coming through the gateway, wearing MY original avatar, I am still impressed by what a relatively good avatar that is. Yes – I STILL like the hair. But I’ve been working in Opensim a LOT lately. I have become such an appearance snob that when I had to create an avatar in OS I refused to use my name. I vowed that Ahuva Heliosense had a reputation to maintain and she would NOT be found in OS until her boots, hair and AO were there with her. 🙂 Aren’t I totally ridiculous??? But I mean it – if you see what her poor sister Summer looks like – omg – what a real dweeb. And she walks like a complete and utter newb. Barefoot. I absolutely cannot stand how Summer looks (sorry, Hon, but you really are somewhat of an embarrassment). Because I can’t stand watching Summer, I really do not enjoy my time in Opensim as much as I could. The appearance detracts from the experience and I do NOT go there as often as I should/could. Let me mention again the Stanford Study (research done in 2006 by Nick Yee. ) and its conclusions about avatar appearance on the real-life person.
I am not unique. Although the techies with whom I associate don’t seem to be as perturbed by their appearances as I, most of the world are not techies. *grin* Honest – that’s the truth. Corporations who are trying to do business in virtual worlds need to understand that appearances matter, realism matters. If the users are not enjoying the experience – it’s going to fail. The avatars need to look good, move well, and have textured, well-made content. As Honour would say – textures are the foundation for SL. If the content does not have good textures – no one is going to enjoy the view. And if the customers don’t like the view – THEY LEAVE.
There is a continuum of life-like appearance. Back in July I found Ariane Barnes and her post on the Uncanny Valley. Prad Prathivi is talking about the Uncanny Valley also. Prad mentions his own reaction to life-like avatars and how the reaction changes. Someone offered to take a RL picture of me and make my avatar look like me. THAT life-like I don’t want. But I have colleagues that DO want that. The continuum will be different for each of us. We need the ability to customize our avatars ourselves, easily, in order to make the virtual world a world that fits OUR needs.
Shenlei Flasheart is writing about Business-to-Consumer corporations (B2C) moving into virtual worlds. Fashion Research Institute has been contacted by corporations wishing to provide contact to their virtual world employees. Unfortunately, most of the people driving the projects for these corporations have no idea of what is involved to provide good, realistic content. Apparently they do not budget for that and are stunned when someone gives them a realistic estimate of the time and effort involved (read: “cost”) to produce content that will satisfy their employees. If the employees think that they look like unattractive, stiff dweebs – the employees are NOT going to participate wholly and the project will FAIL. Several friends have pointed out the case study that LL has posted on the SL blogs. This case study shows how IBM “got it” about making the employee experience a good one. Which means that it was a SUCCESSFUL experience and IBM benefited. If they can “get it” – let’s hope other companies can as well. I sure hope someone is listening out there.