Last week it was Mark Zuckerberg rudely mocked about the poor graphics in his preview of a new Horizon Worlds expansion, the Meta universe. His Quick response promising better avatars for the actual launch speaks to how much looks matter in these situations. Now, at the perfect time, a startup from Tallinn, Estonia came calling Ready Player Me — which built a popular platform for creating dynamic, animated avatars to be used in virtual worlds built and managed by others — is announcing $56 million in funding to grow its business.
The company today processes about 5 million avatars from about 3,000 partners, and the funding will be used in three main areas: continued hiring (the company has offices in New York); to expand the platform with more developer tools, including monetization, and to build more services for creators using Ready Player Me (offers both SDK and API); and to double down on the idea that creating single avatars and identities that are interoperable and can be used across multiple virtual environments will improve the overall user experience and thus help increase user numbers.
“Our bigger vision is to connect the metaverse through avatars,” said Timu Toke, co-founder and CEO, Ready Player Me, in an interview. “There could be a metauniverse [experiences] owned by big companies who will set all the rules, but has a vision of being open, where people can travel, built by millions of developers, where no one controls everything. Like the internet. We’re trying to push the world into this metaverse.”
Series B is led by Andreessen Horowitz, the legendary VC who recently doubled down on all things web3, including metaverse technology; and it is joined by a longer list of equally great names. David Bazuki, co-founder of Roblox; Justin Kahn, co-founder of Twitch; Sebastian Knutsson and Riccardo Zaconi, co-founders of King Games; sports and entertainment company Endeavor; Kevin Hart and Hartbeat Ventures; the TikTok-y D’Amelio family; Punk6529; Snowfro; Cooperation currency; plural; Convoy Ventures; Robin Chan, co-founder of Fractal; and others also participate.
Ready Player Me did not disclose a valuation — Toke said it was “good” — but the round comes hot on the heels of the company’s most recent Series A round of 13 million dollars earlier this year in January in a round led by Taavet + Sten (VC led by Taavet Hinrikus ex-Wise/TransferWise and Sten Tamkivi ex-Teleport and once EIR at a16z; also in this Series B).
Between then and now, Ready Player Me grew like a weed. The 3,000-plus partners it works with are more than triple the number in January (when the number was around 900).
That number says something about the fragmentation in the space right now—and something about how long the audience queue is right now—two reasons why companies building services that operate in all these different walled gardens makes some sense.
Whether this concept holds up over time — for example, if we start to see some consolidation and concentration of audiences, or if bigger players (like Meta) want to take avatar creation and control into their own hands — remains to be seen. This is definitely a potential gating factor for startups like this. Or, potentially, an opportunity: it makes a company like Ready Player Me an acquisition target for those hoping to be the one more powerful platform that spans the metaverse; but it also gives the startup some potential strategic momentum to grow and become that platform itself.
In support of the latter, Ready Player Me says its technology has been eight years in the making: the company was hatched from Wolf3Dwhich works with companies like Tencent, Verizon, HTC and Wargaming to create custom avatar systems for them.
This work led to the aggregation of a proprietary database of more than 20,000 facial scans created using the company’s proprietary 3D scanners. This database was in turn used to build a deep learning-based platform that can produce animated avatars in real-time, not unlike the Animojis you get on Apple’s iOS, except that with Ready Player Me animated avatars are created to “accurately predict and render realistic faces from a single 2D photo” that can be used on desktop, web and mobile. It can also work with 3D images.
(Wolf3D still has a site, as you can see from the link above, although the site hasn’t been updated since 2021, when Ready Player Me was introduced. Toke told me it’s a great lead generator, so I supports, but that enterprise/B2B business is wrapped up for now.
Today, Ready Player Me partners span both web3 and web2 environments and include VRChat, Spatial, Somnium Space, RTFKT, the company said. The startup said it’s working with creatives and fashion brands — clients include Adidas, New Balance, Dior, Pull&Bear and Warner Brothers — to help them build avatar “assets” for cross-gaming in the metaverse. Partners are those who build platforms or games and other experiences on those other platforms; and so part of what Ready Player Me also offers is a chance for its network of partners to integrate their avatars into these other experiences.
“Our main target today is the average game company, not the big companies. We’re also talking to Meta and others,” Toke said, “but we think the bigger ones will grow fast, so it makes sense to work with them first.” He noted that many of his partners are “still building experience, so much of the network is not yet activated and there is still a lot of growth to come.”
The idea of building a platform for creating avatars that work in multiple environments is central to how many web3 proponents believe the whole effort will become more viable in the long run. Some of the big issues in the metaverse business models so far have been affordability and user experience – you actually have to buy ownership of the device and it’s all a bit clunky to use, really aimed more at early adopters willing to take it on that baggage than the mainstream market – so creating at least one piece of technology to facilitate the transfer of identity from one virtual world to another – along with a user ID – removes one of the hurdles.
“Ready Player Me is loved by developers and players alike as the largest platform for avatar systems as a service and is on the way to building an 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 combination of developer empathy, technical skill, and entrepreneurial pragmatism, and we couldn’t be more excited to partner with them on this journey.”