Last week, Mark Zuckerberg was… downright mocked for the poor graphics in his preview of a new Horizon Worlds expansion, Meta’s metaverse effort. To be quick response promising better avatars before the actual launch says how much appearance matters in these situations. Now, at perfect timing, a startup from Talinn, Estonia called Ready Player Me — which built a popular platform for creating dynamic, animated avatars for use in virtual worlds built and operated by others — announces $56 million in funding to grow its business.
The company is processing approximately 5 million avatars from some 3,000 partners today, and funding will be used in three basic areas: to continue to hire (the company has offices in NYC); to extend the platform with more developer tools, including monetization tools, and to build more services for creators using Ready Player Me (it provides both an SDK and an API); and to redouble the idea that creating single avatars and identities that are interoperable and can be used in multiple virtual environments will improve the overall user experience and thus help grow the number of users.
“Our larger vision is to connect the metaverse through avatars,” said Timmu Toke, co-founder and CEO, Finished Player Me, in an interview. “There may be a metaverse [experiences] owned by big companies, who will make all the rules, but there’s a vision of an open where people can travel, built by millions of developers, where nobody controls the whole thing. Like surfing the internet. We’re trying to push the world to that metaverse.”
The Series B is led by Andreessen Horowitz, the legendary VC who has recently doubled down on all things web3, including metaverse technology; and it’s accompanied by a longer list of equally great names. David Baszucki, co-founder of Roblox; Justin Kan, co-founder of Twitch; Sebastian Knutsson & Riccardo Zacconi, co-founders of King Games; sports and entertainment company Endeavour; Kevin Hart and Hartbeat Ventures; the TikTok-y D’Amelio family; Punk6529; snow; Collab currency; Plural; Konvoy Enterprises; Robin Chan, co-founder of Fractal; and others join in too.
Ready Player Me isn’t releasing a rating – Toke said “it’s good” – but the round is quickly coming on the heels of the company’s final round, a Series A of $13 million earlier this January in a round led by Taavet + Sten (a VC led by Taavet Hinrikus former of Wise/TransferWise and Sten Tamkivi, formerly of Teleport and once an EIR on a16z; it is also in this Series B).
Between then and now, Ready Player Me is growing fast. The more than 3,000 partners it works with is more than triple the number in January (when the number was around 900).
That number says something about the fragmentation in space right now — as well as how tall the public is at this point — two reasons why it makes sense for companies to build services that work across all these different walled gardens.
Whether that concept will hold up over time — say, as we start to see some consolidation and audience concentration, or if bigger players (like Meta) want to take the creation and control of avatars into their own hands — remains to be seen. viewed . That’s definitely a potential port factor for startups like this one. Or, possibly, an opportunity: It makes a company like Ready Player Me a takeover target for those hoping to be the only more powerful platform spanning the entire metaverse; but it also gives the startup a potential strategic boost to grow and become that platform itself.
In support of the latter route, Ready Player Me says the technology was eight years in the making: the company originated from Wolf3Dwho partnered with companies like Tencent, Verizon, HTC, and Wargaming to build custom avatar systems.
That work led the company to compile its own database of more than 20,000 facial scans, created using the company’s own 3D scanners. That database was, in turn, used to build a deep learning-based platform, which can produce real-time animated avatars similar to the Animojis you get on Apple’s iOS, except that with Ready Player Me, the animated avatars are created to ” accurately predict and render realistic faces from a single 2D photo”, which 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 unveiled. Toke told me it’s a great lead generator so he kept it up but that enterprise/B2B business has been rolled up for the time being.)
Today, Ready Player Me’s partners span both web3 and web2 environments, including VRChat, Spatial, Somnium Space and RTFKT, the company said. The startup said it is working with makers and fashion brands — clients include Adidas, New Balance, Dior, Pull&Bear and Warner Brothers — to help them build cross-game avatar “assets” across the metaverse. The partners are the ones who build platforms, or games and other experiences within those other platforms; and so part of whatever Ready Player Me offers is an opportunity for its network of partners to integrate their avatars into those other experiences.
“Our main target today is the medium-sized gaming company rather than the large companies. We’re also talking to Meta and others,” Toke said, “but we think the bigger one will grow quickly and so it makes sense to work with them first.” He noted that many of his partners “are still experiencing the building up, so much of the network is still not activated and there will be a lot more growth to come.”
The idea of building a platform to create avatars that work in multiple environments is central to how many web3 proponents think the whole effort will make the whole effort more viable in the long run. Some of the big issues in metaverse business models so far have been accessibility and user experience – basically you have to buy ownership of a device and it’s all a bit clunky to use, really geared more towards early adopters willing to take on that baggage than the mass market — so creating at least one piece of technology to make it easier to transfer one’s identity from one virtual world to another — complete with a single user ID — removes one of the hurdles.
“Finished Player Me is loved by developers and players as the largest platform for avatar-systems-as-a-service, and is well on its way to building the interoperable identity protocol for the open Metaverse,” said Jonathan Lai, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, in a statement. “We are deeply impressed by the mix of developer empathy, technical chops and entrepreneurial pragmatism, and couldn’t be more excited to partner with them on this journey.”