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How to Get the Most Out of Your Avatar Creator

Filament Games | Educational Game Developer

I’m not someone who is typically lured by an in-app purchase, especially if it’s to buy currency in a game that I can grind over time to accumulate. However, recently I was inspired to surprise my two teen daughters each with a $9.99 purchase of a chest full of coins for Pokémon Go – a popular mobile game we all like to play together. (Truth be told, they were slowing me down so I wanted to juice up their accounts a bit so we could keep rolling.) They asked if they could spend the coins however they wanted and I said “sure” thinking for sure they would invest in the items we needed to advance. My older daughter did. She planned her purchases carefully to buy some revives she needed and to equip herself with some raid passes so we could do more raids together. The other daughter? She spent half of her coin chest on a pair of cut-off overall jean shorts for her avatar. 

An example of a player's avatar in

Please note – Pokémon Go is NOT ABOUT FASHION. What you wear has absolutely no impact on how you play the game. But for her, this is how she decided she would get the most value out of her coins. And I respect someone who knows what is going to make them happy. 

Avatars are a great way to personalize the experience for your players and make the experience feel more relevant to them. When we are designing a game for learning, we think about avatars as a way to introduce choice about a player’s identity, a strategy we often use in educational game design to further extend their learning. Not every player will care about their avatar but for those who do, avatars are most often the favorite part of a player’s app or game experience (cue my daughter).  

An example of an avatar system from iCivics’ Win the White House.

An example of an avatar system from iCivics’ Win the White House.

Here are some things for you to consider regarding how to get the most value out of your avatar system:

  • Every player gets something different out of an avatar system. Some people like to design an avatar that reflects who they are today while others like to create an aspirational identity. Other players just like experimenting with different visuals and get a kick out of the creative aspects of designing an avatar. When you are creating an avatar system, you want to think about the different ways players use them to make sure you have enough options for everyone.
  • Avatar options make great in-game rewards. Avatar options can be something that you earn over time and for some players, provide the motivation to persist in the game. Bonus if your avatar items can introduce new powers or abilities so that earning that reward also adds a new dimension to their play experience.
  • Avatars should serve a purpose in the game. Is it an image with a resting animation that they visit in their account profile? Does the avatar come alive and become someone who helps navigate the game? Or does the avatar become a character they play in the game? Your approach will impact how the player relates to their avatar and should also inform how much of your budget should be allocated to this system.
  • If you choose to design an avatar system that features human beings, you have an ethical responsibility to provide options to customize an avatar along the dimensions that make us human. That includes choices that are inclusive of a player’s gender identity, race, ethnicity, size, age, and ability for example. When it comes to outfit selection, you want to have choices that feel relevant to the age group and are also inclusive of garments important to players’ cultures. An alternative to human avatars is to choose identities that are fantastical such as animals, aliens, monsters, or made up animated characters to circumvent the complexities that come with a human avatar system.
  • Some players are highly motivated by the ability to showcase their avatar creation to others. This can be in a multi-player environment but there are also opportunities to show off avatars on leaderboards or even game community discussion boards.  If you are creating a single-player experience, it may make sense to think about how much budget you want to pour into an avatar system given that there will not be the same opportunity of being seen as your avatar. 
  • Lastly, consider that there are different kinds of avatar systems depending on your needs and budget:
    • The simplest option is to provide the player with a selection of pre-configured static avatars making sure we are providing a number of different options for consideration.
    • A medium option is to create a paperdoll system of avatars where players can choose from a selection of heads/shoulders, torsos/arms/hands, bottoms/legs/feet. Players can mix and match the three different sections to come up with wacky combinations or enjoy selecting three matching sections together.
    • The most complex option is to provide complete customization which may include customization of the face shape, eye shape, nose shape, mouth shape, skin tone, hairstyles/texture/color, body type (considering weight, height, gender), outfits, jewelry, accessories, and aides (including glasses, hearing aids, wheelchairs, etc). 

If you have a game idea in mind and want to discuss if an avatar system is right for your game, drop us a line. We’d love to connect!

In the meantime, I bought my youngest her first pair of overall jean shorts that I’m saving for her birthday. Shhh, don’t tell! 🙂

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