Meta has taken its (in)famous avatars out of the “metaverse” and has been dropping them into its social apps, hoping personalized cartoon versions of people will generate enough interest in the company’s flagging metaverse project. After adding them to Instagram, Facebook, and Messenger, the company has finally come for the “no gimmicks” WhatsApp.
On Wednesday, the company shared a blog post announcing Meta Avatars are coming to WhatsApp, though the company didn’t reveal when. The rollout is still relatively minimal, but the system promises avatars can be constructed from “billions of combinations” of hair styles, facial features and outfits. Just like in other apps, avatars can be used as users’ profile picture or in stickers used when messaging. The features were first noted back in June by WaBetaInfo, as noted by TechCrunch.
The company also promised that it’ll update avatars with better lighting, shading, and hair style textures “that will make avatars even better over time.” What’s strange about this rollout is users may not have that interconnectivity that Meta seems to be aiming for. The app confirmed with TechCrunch that users won’t be able to use an Instagram or Meta avatar in WhatsApp, meaning the two avatars will remain separate. Those two other apps have had its silly-looking 3D avatars since late 2019 and early 2020.
As far as what’s on offer, it seems pretty lackluster. The avatars themselves look like they’ve come out of the Xbox 360 generation when every competing company wanted to have its own version of Nintendo’s Miis. They certainly seem stylized, but in that kind of corporate “big head mode” style that’s just inoffensive enough to be incredibly boring. I’ve tried making myself in Messenger and found it even more restrictive than when I was just 11-years-old tapping away on a Nintendo Wii to make a face look like a train tunnel.
Trying to analyze Meta is sometimes like looking at a funhouse mirror. Look at it from one side, and you’ll be greeted by its vast app empire that encompasses some of the most popular social platforms the world over, including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. Take a few steps to the right and look at the company from the other direction, and you’ll see a desperate, startup-like drive to force shared digital spaces, AKA the metaverse, into common usage.
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had to justify his expansion into the metaverse with shareholders, which avatars are a major aspect of connecting users into a shared digital space, at least as far as the company has explained during its latest Meta Connect conference. The company has caught waves of flak for how even the introduction of legs for its Horizon Worlds avatars comes off as a major milestone. At the same time, during a company-wide meeting last month, Zuckerberg explained to employees that the two apps that will drive sales growth in the next few years will be WhatsApp and Messenger, reportedly calling them “the next major pillar of our business.”
And it’s getting harder for Meta to justify the push into the metaverse, especially as its own employees don’t seem too keen to use Horizon Worlds, according to internal memos seen by The Verge. This is especially concerning, as the company is working through its plans to lay off 11,000 of its roughly 87,000 employees across the globe.