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Ready Player Me, a cross-game metaverse avatar platform that allows users to explore virtual worlds with one consistent identity, has closed a $56 million funding round led by Andreessen Horowitz (a16z).

The New York company has seen success with its cross-platform metaverse approach, where it is advocating the use of interoperable avatars. To date, Ready Player Me has partnerships with more than 3,000 game and app companies using its avatars.

Notable investors include David Baszucki, cofounder of Roblox; Justin Kan, cofounder of Twitch; Sebastian Knutsson and Riccardo Zacconi, King cofounders; sports and entertainment company Endeavor; Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat VenturesD; Amelio family; Punk6529; Snowfro; Collab Currency; Plural; Konvoy Ventures and more.

The 3,000 apps across both Web2 and Web3 already integrate Ready Player Me, including VRChat, Spatial, Somnium Space, RTFKT and many more. The company also already works with individual creators and fashion brands such as Adidas, New Balance, Dior, Pull&Bear, and Warner Brothers (Dune movie outfits) to enable cross-game avatar assets across the metaverse.

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Ready Player Me founders. Timmu Toke is on the left.

Timmu Tõke, CEO of Ready Player Me, said in an interview with GamesBeat that interoperability will unlock the true metaverse experience between games, worlds, and applications where users can have a consistent identity across all experiences.

“We’re doing cross-game answers for the metaverse, as we saw that people spend a lot of time in virtual worlds,” said Tõke. “The metaverse is not one app, or one game or one platform. It’s a network of thousands of different virtual worlds. So it makes sense for users to have an avatar to traverse across many different virtual worlds.”

Tõke added, “And from a developer’s point of view, when you’re building a new game or a new world, you need to build that out or system or character creator. And building one takes six months to a few years. And it’s a major pain for developers. And we take that pain away. We give them an avatar system. They integrate it in a few days or a week.”

By focusing on the tools for the developer side of the network, the company has made it easier for developers to build games, and that in turn makes it easier for players to craft their avatars, Tõke said. The company has 50 people and it is hiring.

Ready Player Me provides developers an avatar system, allowing the teams to focus on creating worlds and experiences. The platform also provides distribution through its network, and opens new revenue opportunities through interoperable avatar asset sales and a cross-game economy.

“What will unlock the true metaverse experience is interoperability between games, worlds and applications and a consistent identity for users across all experiences,” said Tõke.

Tõke said it essential for virtual world users to create an avatar they love and buy avatar skins and accessories that work across the metaverse and are not stuck in one game.

He said the funding will allow Ready Player Me to continue scaling the avatar system to make it more flexible for developers, create new tools to help developers monetize with avatar assets, and build tools for individual creators to take part of the cross-game avatar marketplace.

Ready Player Me is driven by the belief that an open metaverse with millions of interlinked experiences, rather than a few large walled gardens, will drive better user experience, creator experience and economics. An interoperable user ID and avatar sits at the center of  the open metaverse to be a cohesive experience. And an open marketplace of avatar assets will increase the size of the market and allow developers in the metaverse to increase their revenues.

“Ready Player Me is loved by both developers and players as the largest platform for avatar-systems-as-a-service, and is well on their way to building the interoperable identity protocol for the open Metaverse,” said Jonathan Lai, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement. “We’ve been deeply impressed by the team’s blend of developer empathy, technical chops, and entrepreneurial pragmatism, and couldn’t be more excited to partner with them on this journey.”

The learning curve

Ready Player Me has 3,000 avatar partners.

The Ready Player Me avatar system is the cumulative product of over eight years of research and development. Early on, the company built custom avatar systems and technology for enterprise customers like Tencent, Verizon, HTC, Wargaming, and more.

Over the years, Ready Player Me aggregated a proprietary database of more than 20,000 face scans captured with the company’s own hardware-based 3D scanners. These scans enabled Ready Player Me to build a deep-learning solution that can predict and render realistic faces from a single 2D photo. This system runs across desktop, web, and mobile, and is available to developers through a software development kit (SDK) and application programming interface (API).

Tõke said that he does not believe the centralized metaverse, run by one or a handful of companies, would be good for developers and users. If it does happen, the centralized companies will make the rules. At the same time, he wants to succeed in the market with his avatars. So he has to make sure that his avatar system is open as well.

“Creating the game services and protocols and standards is what we are focused on,” Tõke said. “We’ve been building this out for almost nine years now, from building hardware scanners to customization or doing systems for big companies like Tencent. The first tipping point for us was building an open tech stack that anyone could use and was standardized. as soon as we launched, we had good feedback from developers and started growing organically.”

Last year, 24 companies were using it, and then it spiraled. The openness has been a tailwind for the company, Tõke said.

The company started building hardware for face scanners, using 100 cameras. Then it created a photo booth where it captured thousands of people in airports and museums. with that database, it build a deep-learning solution that could take a single selfie and convert it into different avatar styles. Then around 2016 and 2017, the company dropped the hardware and focused on a full software solution.

Ready Player Me supports the Metaverse Forum.

Then it started creating solutions for different companies, from Wargaming to Huawei. That custom work paid bills, but it was not scalable and so the company focused on a more universal approach and things started taking off during the pandemic. The early adopters were companies creating virtual meeting spaces or worlds for metaverse applications.

The Metaverse Forum

Ready Player Me got started nearly nine years ago.

The goal is to make the avatars work like other shared file formats so it can be used in Unity mobile games or Unreal desktop games.

“The industry needs to see the economic value of interoperability,” Tõke said. “Being able to sell their accessories and avatars that travel across worlds — it has to be obvious this is a better business and the industry needs to agree on standards. I don’t see that push by the industry today.”

Tõke said that building interoperability across platforms is challenging today, given how many systems exist. Part of the challenge is making the avatars more and more realistic over time. Tõke said his company has joined the Metaverse Forum, which is creating standards. Other companies like Nvidia are also making avatars for its Omniverse platform.

By contrast, rival Genies raised a lot of money and had success based on its focus on creating avatars for celebrities, who needed to continue doing meet-and-greet events with fans during the pandemic. That business grew, but game companies did not adopt it.

“You have to build the network out for diversity as a developer tools company,” said Tõke. “That’s where we spend most of our time.”

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