If you're looking to start a business selling VR avatars, one of the keys to success is making sure your avatars are properly optimized for each target platform or application. Trying to take a "one-size-fits-all" approach will lead to dissatisfied customers and lost sales. As an experienced VR avatar artist and entrepreneur, I wanted to share some of my top tips for customizing your avatar designs depending on the intended use case:
Social VR Worlds vs Enterprise Apps
When designing avatars for social VR platforms like VRChat, LIV, or NeosVR, you have much more flexibility for creativity and customization. Users want to express themselves and stand out, so stylized avatars are encouraged.
For example, VRChat users often have elaborate anime-inspired designs with wild hair, wings, tails and vibrant colors. LIV also caters to stylized and fictional looks with 3D model imports and a variety of styles for games like Beat Saber, Synth Riders etc. NeosVR attracts a creative crowd who values extensive customization of form and proportions.
For these social apps, enable features like expressive gestures, limb and spine bending, facial expressions, embedded props, etc. Users want their avatars to come alive and interact. Prioritize visual impact over practicality.
Now compare that to designing avatars for enterprise applications like VR training, virtual offices, or product simulations. Here the avatars need to feel subtle, professional and appropriate. Think realistic human proportions and business casual dress.
Apps like Spatial use fairly plain avatar models to maintain professionalism. Striking the right tone is more important than customization. Features like wild gestures or facial expressions can be distracting and are unnecessary in a corporate environment.
The goal for enterprise avatars is highly functional visual communication that blends into the experience, rather than standing out. So aim for simplicity, respecting cultural norms, and no excessive embellishments.
Optimizing avatars for these vastly different use cases is crucial for success. Know who your target customer is and design accordingly!
Polygon Counts and Image Resolution
Polygons are the building blocks that make up 3D computer graphics and models. An avatar is created by connecting many polygons together to form the shape of the character. The more polygons used, the smoother and more detailed the model can become. Think of it like pixels in a 2D image - more pixels allow for higher resolution and clarity. With avatars, more polygons enable greater realism and intricacy. But you also need the processing power to render all those polygons, or performance will suffer. There are always trade-offs to balance when working with poly counts.
Image resolution is also key for avatar quality. An avatar's appearance is defined by texture maps, which are images like JPEGs or PNGs wrapped onto the 3D model. A high resolution 2048x2048 texture map will look sharp and detailed on the avatar. But a low resolution 256x256 texture will look pixelated and blurry when applied to the same model. Using high resolution textures allows for realistic materials like skin and clothing. But higher resolution means larger file sizes. So like poly counts, you need to find the right balance for visual quality versus performance based on the target platform. Adjusting image resolutions is an important optimization.
When creating 3D avatars, polygon counts and image resolution have a huge impact on the overall quality and performance. But the ideal numbers can vary dramatically depending on the target platform. To save space in this blog post, we’ll go with VRChat as an example.
The VRChat Creation website provides a ranking system for avatar performance. An avatar with a polygon count of 10,000 is considered "Good" quality, while an avatar with a polygon count of 7,500 is considered "Excellent" quality.
For those playing on the SteamVR version of VRChat, you'll want to use more polygons and higher resolution image textures. This allows for greater realism, finer details, and an immersive experience. A good polygon count benchmark is 30,000-50,000 polys for the entire avatar model. A good middle ground for PCVR avatars is 40k polygons with good normals. And image textures should be between 10241024 and 2048x2048 pixels.
However, mobile VR platforms and web-based social apps have far less processing power. Using high poly counts and uncompressed textures will cause performance lag and a poor experience. For these cases, optimize for 1000-5000 polys and aim for 512x512 or 1024x1024 texture resolution. The maximum polygon count for Quest avatars before they are marked as Very Poor is 20,000 polygons, so it's recommended to aim for under 10000 triangles if you can.
Testing is crucial - analyze performance on target devices and determine the optimal balance between visual quality and smooth rendering. Reducing polygons and resolution is better than overtaxing the hardware. But not to the point where the avatar looks blurry and undetailed.
Finding this sweet spot between realism and performance for each platform should be a priority. Customers will be disappointed if the avatar you sell them works great on high-end VR but is clunky and pixelated on mobile. Optimize wisely based on the end-user experience.
The expected animation capabilities for your avatar will depend heavily on the target platform and use case. For social VR worlds, users expect a high degree of control and expression through animation. But for enterprise apps, minimal animation is preferred to avoid distractions.
For social platforms, focus on enabling features like:
- Facial expressions - allow triggering of different moods like happy, sad, angry, etc. Facial animation is key for emotional expression.
- Gestures - enable natural gesturing of arms, hands and fingers so users can communicate non-verbally with others. Support pointing, waving, thumbs up, etc.
- Eye movement - make eyes blink and have them track objects for realism. This helps avatars make eye contact.
- Lip sync - animate the mouth and lips to match the user's voice chat and mimic speech. This boosts connections between users.
- Body physics - add spine and limb bending so users can dance, sit, hug and move freely. Allow props like drinks or instruments to be animated.
The more control over their avatar's movements, the better the experience for social VR users. Supporting robust facial and body animation will increase customer satisfaction.
For enterprise applications, focus animation support only on essential communication, like:
- Blinking eyes
- Subtle hand gestures and arm movement for giving presentations
- Lip sync for virtual meetings
That's likely sufficient. Overly expressive avatars can be distracting and unprofessional in corporate VR apps. Determine what animation capabilities are truly needed based on the use case.
Some customers will want avatar assets that can be used across various different VR platforms and applications. To support this, you'll need to design avatars with interoperability in mind.
Many sellers may offer two versions of their avatars - a .VRM file for use in apps like VSeeFace and LIV, and a Unity package for uploading to VRChat.
The .VRM format is great for facial tracking programs because it includes blend shapes for advanced facial expressions. VRM avatars also often have optimized polygon counts and textures for real-time mobile use.
However, for VRChat on PC, sellers can provide a customizable Unity avatar package with options to enhance visual quality. These assets can have higher polygon counts, uncompressed textures, and custom shaders to look great in VRChat's PC environment.
The VRChat package also allows buyers to tweak the avatar to their preferences before uploading. And it includes the full Unity project set up for VRChat's SDK requirements like gesture animations, dynamic bone physics, audio triggers etc.
So consider offering a .VRM avatar optimized for mobile, and a customizable Unity avatar package for VRChat's advanced features and PC performance. This provides the ability to delight customers on both fronts!
Optimizing avatars for different platforms and use cases takes skill, but is crucially important for running a successful avatar business. As VR continues growing, there will be more and more opportunities to provide specialized avatars tailored to each application.
If you're interested in becoming an avatar seller, join the exclusive beta for LIV's new Avatar Store marketplace. This invite-only platform connects avatar artists with buyers and provides features to optimize your digital sales.
LIV takes care of distributing your avatars across social, enterprise and gaming platforms - all you have to do is upload compelling avatar designs. And you retain full creative ownership.
Also be sure to subscribe to our newsletter The Avatar Entrepreneur for regular tips on growing a profitable avatar business.
Thanks for reading! With preparation and optimization, selling VR avatars can become a rewarding entrepreneurial endeavor. We hope you'll join us on this journey.