Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, has announced that its virtual reality avatars will finally have legs, after a year of promising to make them more realistic and lifelike. However, the new feature comes with many restrictions and caveats, and is only available in a limited part of Meta’s metaverse project, Horizon Worlds.
Meta’s VR Avatars: A Long and Bumpy Journey
Meta’s VR avatars are the digital representations of users in its online virtual reality platform, Horizon Worlds. The company launched the project in 2022, aiming to create a social and immersive metaverse where people can interact, create, and explore. However, the initial release of Horizon Worlds was met with criticism and ridicule, as the avatars looked ugly, low-fidelity, and legless. Many users compared them to floating potatoes or blobs.
In August 2022, Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a selfie from inside Horizon Worlds, which sparked a wave of mockery and memes on social media. The photo showed him wearing a VR headset and holding a virtual controller, while his avatar had no legs and a bland expression. Zuckerberg later explained that the avatars were going to get a major graphical update soon, and that he was excited to share more details.
In October 2022, Zuckerberg unveiled the improved avatars at Meta’s annual Connect developer event. He also previewed that they would have working legs, which he said was a significant step in making the metaverse more realistic and immersive. He promised that the legs would be available sometime in 2023, and that they would enable users to walk, run, jump, and crouch in VR.
However, it turned out that the video featuring the legs was fake and used motion-captured animations. The actual implementation of the legs was much more challenging than expected, as Meta’s VR headsets only track upper-body movements like hands and facial gestures. To recreate the lower-body movements in VR, Meta had to use complex algorithms and sensors that could infer the position and orientation of the legs based on the head and torso.
Meta’s VR Avatars: The Long-Awaited Legs Are Here (Sort Of)
After almost a year of waiting, Meta has finally added legs to its VR avatars. However, the feature is far from perfect and has many limitations. According to UploadVR, which reported on the update on August 28, 2023, the legs are only available to players who have access to version 57 of the Horizon public test channel. They can only be seen in Horizon Home, which is the default environment where users spawn when they enter Horizon Worlds. They are not visible in user-created games or worlds yet, but Meta said that they would be added over the next few weeks.
The legs also have several restrictions on how they work and what they can do. First of all, they only show up in third-person views, such as when other users look at you or when you look at yourself in a mirror. If you look down at your own body in first-person view, you will still see nothing below your waist. Meta said that this was because they believed that first-person legs were not necessary for immersion and could cause discomfort or confusion.
Secondly, the legs cannot crouch or jump. You can still perform these actions physically while wearing a VR headset, but your avatar’s legs will not reflect them. Instead, they will remain in a standing position or move slightly up or down depending on your head height. Meta said that this was because crouching and jumping were hard to represent accurately without additional sensors or controllers.
Thirdly, the legs are not customizable or expressive. They have a generic shape and color that match your avatar’s skin tone. They do not have any clothing or accessories that you can change or personalize. They also do not have any animations or gestures that you can control or trigger. They simply follow your head movement and try to stay aligned with your torso.
Meta’s VR Avatars: A Step Forward or a Disappointment?
Meta’s VR avatars have finally got legs, but they are far from being realistic or lifelike. They are more like placeholders or props than actual body parts. They have many limitations and restrictions that make them less immersive and interactive than expected. They also lag behind other VR platforms that have already implemented more advanced and customizable avatar systems.
Some users may appreciate Meta’s effort to improve its VR avatars and make them more complete and consistent. Others may find Meta’s update too little too late and too disappointing to care. Either way, Meta still has a long way to go before it can achieve its vision of creating a compelling and engaging metaverse where users can feel like they are truly present and connected with others.