$5 trillion. That’s the value global management and consulting firm McKinsey placed on the metaverse. The company believes it will permeate all aspects of business life and has the potential to change everything from employee engagement to customer experience.
$42 billion. That’s the total value of non-fungible tokens traded in 2022, even with a widespread crypto bear market that started in April. The number is up from $25 billion in 2021 and even higher than the years before, when NFTs weren’t on many people’s radars.
Then there’s you, our dear reader. How will all this technology and change impact your life?
Maybe a little, maybe a lot. But there’s not much doubt that the way you’ll interact with it lies at the intersection between the metaverse and NFTs, in a realm called the avatar. Avatars, digital representations of our identity in virtual worlds, can be simple or complex, but they almost certainly will be important.
Companies are counting on us to buy designer clothes for them. To transport them between worlds. To create a lasting digital identity through them that leads to reputation, clout, even a social hierarchy of sorts.
The intersection between NFTs and the metaverse through avatars is what this article is all about. Here, we’ll cut through the jargon to bring you the meat: which NFT teams are busy turning their still images into 3D movable models and what programs you can learn to create your own. You’ll learn:
- What NFTs and the metaverse are
- What it means to turn a still image into a 3D model
- And the difference between 2D art and voxel art, the kind used in popular metaverses
Ready? Let’s get started.
What are NFTs?
With all the hype surrounding this nascent technology and the dollar amounts NFTs sell for, few publications actually cover what NFTs are. Which may have left you with many questions. That’s what this section is here for.
NFTs are short for non-fungible tokens and refer to one-of-a-kind digital assets stored on distributed ledgers called blockchains. They are non-fungible, meaning unique. You can’t exchange one NFT for another without gaining or losing something in value.
Developers and teams create NFTs using a smart contract. These contracts are essentially code that follow a specific set of instructions, creating a certain number of NFTs on the blockchain. The process by which an NFT is created is called “minting.”
The second part the NFT acronym (“token”) is not well-known. Essentially, in cryptocurrency circles, there are at least two types of assets stored on the blockchain: coins and tokens. Coins are the blockchain’s native asset. “Ether” for the Ethereum blockchain and “bitcoin” for the Bitcoin blockchain. Rather than a “coin,” NFTs are considered tokens. They are riders on a blockchain, not the blockchain’s native asset.
Generally, NFTs come with either an attached or linked file. Attached means the file is stored on-chain, an energy intensive process. Most NFTs files are actually linked, meaning that the image you see on NFT marketplaces resides on a depository online.
When people speak of NFTs, usually it’s the image or “file” that they refer to. It might be a picture of a Bored Ape, a Cool Cat, a weapon in a blockchain game, or a piece of metaverse land. This file comes with certain descriptors or characteristics. For instance, the Bored Ape might have gold teeth or laser eyes. The parcel of metaverse land might have a lake or reference specific coordinates.
When all the characteristics of all the NFTS in a collection are put together, they are referred to as the collection’s metadata. The metadata is part of what makes the non-fungible token unique. No two NFTs in a collection should have the same metadata. The other part that makes the NFT non-fungible is the NFT’s unique identifier, though that has come under recent debate (after all, dollar bills, widely considered fungible, have unique serial numbers).
There are many use cases for NFTs, but the one we’ll focus on in this article is digital identity. Many NFT collectors have taken to using images of their NFTs as avatars on social media, showing which collections they align with, what their net worth is (stored in a JPEG), and that they are enthusiastic about Web3. It is the importance of digital identity that leads many to believe that the metaverse will be a trillion-dollar industry, as many of the things we buy today to showcase our IRL identities will have demand in the metaverse as well.
What is the metaverse?
The metaverse. It has been a hot button word since Mark Zuckerberg changed Facebook’s name to Meta in the fall of 2021. But what is it and how does it apply to you? Let’s get started.
Drawing from various science fiction books and our current attempts to create one, the metaverse is a virtual world or a series of worlds that utilize virtual and augmented reality. They are, in effect, self-sustaining. When you log off from a metaverse, the virtual world keeps going without you. This makes them very different from a simulation that you might pause, return, and everything is the same as when you left.
Metaverses have various characteristics. They have all the trappings of our IRL world, including built-out economies. People can partake in activities they like, such as shopping, socializing, attending classes, visiting interesting places. But, because they are not IRL, they are also not constrained by our IRL laws. For instance, in many metaverses, you can teleport.
There is an on-going fight between crypto natives and Web2 companies over the concepts of closed versus open metaverses. Closed metaverses tend to be “walled gardens” that have currency you can’t export, items that don’t work in other metaverses, and an avatar that only works in that metaverse. More on this in a second.
In open metaverses, interoperability is the standard. You can transact using cryptocurrencies, which you can exchange for fiat currency in the real world. You can move between different metaverses, take items with you, essentially transporting your belongings and digital identity between the different worlds.
To function in a metaverse, you need an avatar. An avatar is a visual representation of yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be human. You could be a creature, dynamic object, or other image. But you will likely want it to represent you and your personality in some way.
This is where the concepts of NFTs and the metaverse intersect. The concept of digital identity is not necessarily new but the use of NFTs that create digital scarcity (which come with clout and increased social identity) is, in fact, relatively new. The metaverse will likely pump this need on steroids. On some level, we want to express who we are to others, if for no other reason than to find others who are similar to us. Therefore, people in metaverses will want some way to communicate this to others.
Top Five Projects Turning NFTs into Metaverse Avatars
Now, what follows is the beginning of the beginning. Even among established NFT collections, creating 3D models needed for metaverses is a relatively new art. Most NFT teams don’t even bother. So, it’s cutting edge in a sense.
Let’s start with the five collections currently thinking about or planning to turn their NFTs into 3D models for use in the metaverse.
Bored Ape Yacht Club
When the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT collection initially launched in May of 2021, it quickly became the upstart community that wanted to dethrone CryptoPunks. Fast forward over a year later and it is the definitive NFT collection that emerged during that bull run. Everyone from Jimmy Fallon, Neymar, Madonna, Eminem, and Snoop Dogg have joined the Yacht Club, and Yuga Labs, the creators of the collection, have filled the pockets of holders with other NFTs and cryptocurrency through airdrops.
On September 21, 2021, Yuga Labs dropped Roadmap 2.0 for the collection, which featured exciting possible developments for the community. One of those, often buried under the more “exciting” information was simply labeled “BAYC/MAYC 3D Models.”
It was the first hint that Yuga Labs wanted to take BAYC and its sister collection, the Mutant Ape Yacht Club, into the metaverse. 3D models are often a way to take these 2D static NFT images and make them more dynamic, capable for holders to use in the metaverse.
There’s no telling when Yuga Labs will roll out the models, as it is constantly busy with its Otherside metaverse and other projects, but it could lead to some serious clout for collectors who will likely pilot the models in The Sandbox and other metaverses.
Before Yuga Labs acquired the collection in April of 2022, Meebits was originally part of the Larva Labs pair of dynamic collections that included CryptoPunks. These models, already created in Voxel-3D design, came complete with a file that could be used to import them into various 3D metaverses.
Larva Labs, through Meebits, popularized the 3D-Voxel style in NFT collections. And it’s certainly true that the Meebits collection came with instant utility. Unlike the NFTs in other collections, holders could immediately use them in popular metaverses as avatars, giving themselves an added bit of coolness and prestige.
While the Meebits collection has fallen on hard times, the innovation from Larva Labs shouldn’t be forgotten. As more collection teams turn their attention to creating 3D models for metaverse usage, the process has revealed itself to be cumbersome and perhaps the least “sexy” thing to do.
It may be possible that Yuga Labs, after acquiring the collection, might want to do something with it, which will lead to more trading volume, excitement, and energy surrounding the collection.
World of Women
World of Women, a 10,000-NFT collection co-created by Yam Karkai, has been at the forefront of innovation during the NFT and crypto bear market. It has created an engaging storyline for its holders and recently airdropped “capacitors” to holders of the World of Women and World of Women Galaxy collections that they can redeem for virtual dwellings.
In terms of creating metaverse ready avatars, it is also ahead of most collections. Months ago, it partnered with The Sandbox to create a WoW fund and a museum that seeks to on-board more women into Web3. The Sandbox’s part of the deal? They agreed to “voxelize” all 10,000 of the original World of Women NFTs to give holders 3D metaverse-ready models.
The news was big at the time because few teams were working to turn their NFTs into metaverse avatars. It is still big for the same reason and even more because The Sandbox is a top-2 metaverse, competing with Decentraland for partnerships every month. So far, The Sandbox has partnered with Lionsgate, Snoop Dogg, and many more household names.
The 3D models would be big for WoW holders and give women some much-needed representation in the metaverse, as early estimates suggest that this burgeoning field of tech is still very much a man’s world.
CyberKongz is one of the earliest collections to spark the 2021 NFT bull run, and the team is perhaps most well-known for airdropping the $BANANA token to genesis Kong holders, which resulted in them receiving tens of thousands of dollars at peak per day.
Today, CyberKongz has a completely fleshed out series of NFT collections. One of those is CyberKongz VX, which, unlike the other pixel-art collections, is actually a pre-made Voxel collection similar to Meebits.
There are 15,000 3D Kongz models available for purchase and the floor price today still sits at 0.82 ETH, which is respectable during the bear market. According to the OpenSea collection, the CyberKongz team is working to give the 3D models functionality in The Sandbox, so that holders can use them there.
While the models aren’t necessarily the most attractive (it turns out that making Kong voxel models may be difficult), they will have utility, which is more than can be said for the NFTs in most collections.
And given this team is known for innovation, who knows what it will think of next.
This NFT project and its attempt to create metaverse avatars is a little different than the previous four. Here, we have the cause of a member of the Nouns decentralized autonomous association (NounsDAO) creating a proposal to use funds to voxelize the 2D Nouns NFTs. According to a September 2021 vote, it passed with 12 people in favor.
The proposal shares the member’s idea to eventually turn the Nouns NFTs into metaverse avatars, which can be used in popular metaverses like The Sandbox. The project, according to the member, would be open source under GNU GPLv3 and members can download all files related to their Noun.
Given that the Nouns project is awash with funds (a single Noun generally sells for over 100 ETH), it may not be surprising that the members want to give the project more utility, even though it is already one of the most utility-heavy projects in the space.
It is also an interesting look at Web3 and how individual members can influence the direction of an organization or team, simply by coming up with a good proposal and delivering a pitch.
Top Platforms to Create a Metaverse Avatar
So, there you have it. Five NFT collections to buy from if you want an NFT turned into a metaverse avatar. They are all at different price points as well, so there is a little something for everyone. But what if you want to create your own avatar? That falls under the realm of software. Here are three ways.
Ready Player Me
Ready Player Me is one of the most popular 3D avatar creators around. And it has utility as well. The avatars you create on its website can be exported to thousands of virtual worlds, making Ready Player Me a leader in metaverse avatar interoperability.
There are a few helpful features you should be aware of:
- You can create NFTs out of your avatars and sell them on marketplaces
- You can create an avatar from a photo, which likely would take less time than creating one from scratch
Keep in mind that Ready Player Me avatars don’t have the boxy, voxel look featured in metaverses like The Sandbox. They are smooth avatars that have a realistic feel.
VoxEdit is the leading software used to create voxel avatars. It functions with The Sandbox, a top metaverse, and has a variety of features such as rigging and animation. You can also turn your voxel avatars into NFTs and sell them on marketplaces, earning yourself a little bit of extra cash as you do so.
There are many guides to VoxEdit out there. We recommend this one from Mega Voxels:
VoxEdit is also partnered with The Sandbox to deliver a “Creator’s Fund” with the goal of creating 10,000 voxel items for The Sandbox game. Through it, you can get paid to create voxel items and receive 100 percent of each sale you make to game players as well.
Bitmoji is an interesting choice for this section, as it doesn’t necessarily fit the metaverse vibe. But if you’re looking to create avatars for use in social media, including stickers with avatars that you can send via Snapchat or other platforms, Bitmoji is a good choice.
To start, you have the option of creating a cartoon version of yourself, which is compatible with a number of other apps. You can bring your avatar into games as well.
Like the other two platforms mentioned above, Bitmoji is keen on scouting for developers. So, if you think this is a good app for you to use as a creator, it may be worth checking out. Although it does not have metaverse capabilities yet, it may in the future. The Web3 space moves at lightning speed!
A Final Word on Metaverse Avatars
Avatars are crucial for virtual worlds and the demand for the creation of them is growing. There are a handful of NFT teams that are trying to bridge the gap between non-fungible token technology and the metaverse through avatars, and there likely will be more in the future. For the creator, there are many options for creating avatars, in the metaverse or otherwise.