Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Custom Avatar Fashion and GirlSense

Avatar Fashion meets User Generated Content

One of the industry’s big stories for this week was the acquisition of Starnet Interactive by InterActiveCorp, the sprawling empire of diverse web assets including Zwinky, Webfetti and Smiley Central. Starnets main claim to fame is as the developer of successful teen avatar fashion website, GirlSense.

Whilst not as widely known an Internet brand as say Habbo Hotel, Cyworld or the big-hitter in the tween and young teen fashion space - Stardoll, GirlSense has had quite a deal of success. How and why? A lot has to do with their easy to use yet surprisingly deep 2D avatar fashion system, which has helped propel them to close to 15 million registered members.

GirlSense’s Fashion Design studio is a 2D system that provides positioning and layering of different flat fashion items onto the static avatar. Like Stardoll and also Fashion 2.0 mix and match sites such as Polyvore, the success of this approach is in its simplicty.

Unlike SecondLife’s heavyweight separate client download, GirlSense is a simple flash based tool as part of their website. Users drag and drop items such as jeans, skirts, dresses, handbags onto the canvas and position them over the avatar to give the illusion that the avatar is “wearing the item”. In the static pose of the avatar, this works well and lets members have some flexibility to position the item exactly in the right place to suit their style. Want the low rider look? Position the jeans lower down, or wear the baseball cap higher on the head to amp up the hip hop look. Although because the orientation of items is fixed, you can only adjust a little before things start looking off.

The Fashion Design Studio also provides more options, letting users custom “tailor” many aspects of the fashion items. For example, a jacket’s sleeve and collar length could be tweaked, and its color tone, texture changed. Decorations could be added to the items for that more personal touch.

With these tools, endless variations are enabled which contributes to the diversity of “looks” in the user community. Whilst good in this respect, the flipside is that the drawback to this simple 2D approach where items are “faked” to be worn, is that avatars can’t ever be animated and must remain static on the page in the same pose.

What’s the implication? This means the avatar can’t dance around in a game or catwalk competition, or move around in animated emoticons during a chat like is done using the popular 3D chat program IMVU. This is one drawback, and explains why these 2D fashion dolls sites haven’t evolved into deeper virtual worlds, and why both types of approaches exist and are successful.

Regardless, GirlSense is a great example of a growing popularity of the “user generated content” approach to avatar fashion on the net – where users can spend hours styling their avatar fashion to get that pixel-perfect look.

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