Genies is expanding its focus from celebrities to everyday consumers with its 3D avatars for social apps from the likes of Giphy and Gucci.
Genies already makes cartoon-like 2D avatars for celebrities that allow them to make online social media appearances or appear in commercials without actually being present. This has allowed celebrities to continue making money during the pandemic even when they can’t go to physical locations.
CEO Akash Nigam said in an interview with VentureBeat that the company is taking the next step with its 3D Avatar software development kit, which companies like Giphy and Gucci can integrate into their apps so consumers can create Genie avatars that look like them.
“We’ve worked the last 16 months and really tried to reinvent what the avatars look like and what they mean for the user,” Nigam said. “When it’s 3D, it has a more dynamic ability. You can also play around more with digital goods. And with our SDK, we can now bring our 3D avatars to third-party platforms for the first time ever.”
Over time, Genies will expand its SDK partnerships, creating a digital identity ecosystem where consumers can transport their avatar from platform to platform. It’s kind of a mini version of the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One.
These inaugural SDK partnerships follow the company’s success in the celebrity market over the past year. Genies’ Avatar Agency currently works with thousands of celebrities, including Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber, Cardi B, and Rihanna, as well as athletes from its partnerships with the NFLPA, MLBPI, and NBPA.
Above: Genies will let you decorate your avatars with digital merchandise.
With the new 3D avatar, the Avatar Agency will begin producing and distributing digital goods for all of its celebrity clients. Giphy, Gucci, and future SDK partners will offer new marketplaces where celebrities can sell exclusive digital goods to fans, followers, and consumers who want to adorn their own avatars with digital items.
Gucci users will be able to attire their avatars in the brand’s latest apparel designs, helping the company make money from the sale of digital goods. Giphy users will be able to access their avatars as GIFs — the graphics interchange format (GIF) that lets people send silly animated messages with internet memes — through Giphy’s own site, mobile app, and extensions.
“It’s for you to be able to create whatever you want to create, whatever comes to your imagination,” Nigam said. “It’s almost creating a masterpiece of your personality. It’s like a sculpture of your personality versus a sculpture of you as an actual physical person.”
In keeping with that idea, the avatar is deliberately not photorealistic. The characters look more like something out of a Disney or Pixar animation.
“The point is not to have an avatar that is representative of who you are,” Nigam said. “It’s not who you are in the real world. It’s the aspirational version of yourself. They want to create something that feels like what they authentically believe they are on the inside. It reveals a lot about their personality and feelings.”
Nigam, Jake Adams, and Evan Rosenbaum cofounded the company in 2017, and Genies released its first avatars a couple of years ago. In 2019, Genies managed to sign up celebrities by offering to save them time and help them earn more money. Usage exploded this year as celebrities and everyone else had to go into lockdown.
Celebrity merchandise sales
Above: Gucci will sell goods for Genies avatars.
“We’re bringing avatar creation to consumers for the very first time,” Nigam said. “We’re now creating an avenue channel for the celebrity clientele, to be able to sell digital goods and merchandise directly to their fans and followers on these platforms.”
The 2D avatars mostly had big heads with tiny bodies. But the 3D avatars have a more realistic look, and you can see they are wearing things like necklaces, watches, or belts.
A celebrity like Justin Beiber could release an album via Instagram, where his avatar could sing a song in a video. Fans could watch that video and buy the digital goods Bieber’s avatar was wearing in the video, opening a new channel for merchandise purchases associated with the song.
“We know that Fortnite is making billions of dollars a year selling avatar skins,” Nigam said.
He hopes the 3D avatars will help his company increase its hold on celebrities and extend its reach to influencers and creators of all kinds.
“This draws a bridge between those communities,” he said. “I may create an avatar, and I could buy Justin Bieber or Shawn Mendez digital goods. I can go to Giphy and log in using my avatar. It becomes a virtual portable identity across the internet. We’ve had a huge amount of demand for it because the timing couldn’t be better, given everything that’s going on in the world right now. People are looking for something that represents [them] in a digital format.”
If your avatar becomes your digital identity, it could be the thing you take across worlds as you log in to locations in the metaverse, Nigam said.
“The pandemic accelerated everything digital, specifically developers’ conversation. And we want to be the identity in the metaverse, and we want to mark the transition into the metaverse very easily as an identity concierge,” he said.
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