Dear Linden Lab

Dear Linden Lab: New default starter avatars incoming? Here’s my wishlist…

Yesterday, while browsing my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from the official Second Life account, calling for ‘clothing creators, riggers and avatar makers’ to contact them.

My immediate thought was “Ooh, new starter avatars incoming?” and my second (and subsequent) thought(s) turned to what I would love to see in the next set of Second Life starter avatars.

Because this dude?

Yeah, this dude needs to GO.

I don’t know who thought he would make a good male default avatar, but given that currently there is no way to choose an avatar at the point of signup (or at least there wasn’t the last time I looked), I have to wonder how many men thought ‘Oh hell no’ when they first rezzed inworld as Disco Dude. If I’d arrived in SL for the first time and seen myself wearing that, I would very likely have logged out, never to return.

I’m not saying that Disco Dude is a bad avatar, because he’s not. He’s well made (shoes poking through his pants notwithstanding, as well as the odd AO with a raised hand), as are all the other current starter avatar options. But he was honestly a bloody terrible choice for the male default starter, and would have been far better as an optional choice in the Choose Avatar floater. By contrast, this is what the ladies get when they first rez:

That’s a hell of a lot better. Still a bit overloaded with accessories (a newbie might wonder how the hell they remove that hat, draped jacket, tablet, and bag, or they might accidentally detach them and wonder how they get them back) but it doesn’t shout ‘NOOB!’ quite as loudly as Disco Dude does.

That said, as someone who has dug deep into the inventory library while putting together budget looks (there are some really great pieces in there, if you know what to look for) I decided to put together a wishlist for what I’d like to see in the new starter avatars.

The crux of this wishlist is that I’d love to see newbies given the kind of customisation options that are available once they step into the wider world of ‘doing up your avi’. Avatar customisation these days is mostly done piecemeal, picking a skin from here, a top from there, jeans from that store, boots from a gift pack at that event, etc etc. Yes, having the sign-up avatar be fully complete is crucial, but giving new users the chance to pick and choose and mix and match – just as they will if they decide to stay and start looking for new things to customise their avatar with – would be a great learning experience and introduction to how avatars work in SL once you get beyond the starting stage.

But I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Let’s break this down into a list, and then work our way through each point:

  1. All outfit pieces to be separate – no more all in one shirt-n-pants or pants-n-boots
  2. All outfit pieces to be fitmesh/rigged, and work on any of the starter avatars, with cross-gender/agender options
  3. All accessories to be optional add-ons
  4. A ‘closet’ of mix and match additional clothing (e.g. different pant lengths), skins, shapes, hair, eyes
  5. Colour/texture HUDs for things like clothing and hair
  6. One male, one female, and one non-binary starting default with a good basic look, customisable at point of signup
  7. The ability to wear pieces of avatars/clothing/hair, etc. directly from the Inventory Library
  8. A decent basic AO with a walk, sit, ground sit, and two or three stands

And now, in more detail. Many of these points tie in with each other (and sure, some of them are probably pipe dreams) but if you don’t ask…

All outfit pieces to be separate – no more all in one shirt-n-pants or pants-n-boots

This would offer newbies the chance to customise their starter avatar without any additional expense. They would quickly be able to change their shirt from Avatar A for the t-shirt from Avatar C, their sneakers from Avatar A for the boots from Avatar B, and their hair for that style from Avatar D. And immediately they don’t look like Avatar A anymore. Most people likely want their avatar to look good, and they don’t want to look like a noob who’s wearing the same outfit as everyone else.

Hell, if you’re looking to revamp the onboarding process, why not make a return to the original style of onboarding that I remember from 2007, where part of the tutorial showed you how to customise your avatar? (I recall that big old ‘castle walkthrough’ very clearly. It was a fantastic introduction to SL. And I still have that chainmail vest shirt layer somewhere!) Yes, obviously it was a lot simpler back then, but a basic tutorial for how to access inventory and – let’s say – find and wear a hat or a bag would be a solid introduction.

All outfit pieces to be fitmesh/rigged, and work on any of the starter avatars, with cross-gender/agender options

Having worked my way through all of the current starter avatars, one thing that truly bugged me was that not all of the pieces worked on the avatars they didn’t come from. The neckline of a t-shirt from Avatar A cut into the shoulder on Avatar B. Hair from Avatar F was too big on Avatar G and too small on Avatar H. And so on. An experienced resident would know they can tweak their shape to fix some of those issues, but that’s getting into intermediate customisation territory right there.

Fitmesh/rigged clothing and hair that works on all of the avatars would be key here. This ties in with my fourth point (coming up!) of a ‘closet’ of additional items, but I would love to see – for example – a t-shirt that has options that will fit all of the bodies. Obviously, one single t-shirt object won’t be able to morph from a flat male chest into a t-shirt with a bosom, but give that t-shirt as a separate option. Just as you buy a t-shirt from a resident creator, and it contains a mixture of different body rigging, why not offer that same t-shirt with both a flat chest and a bosom option? (And make the bosom option conform to shape slider changes, so it can go from petite to busty.)

Likewise, hair. Long hair could be worn on male-bodied avatars; it just needs a differently-rigged option that doesn’t have a ‘boob bump’ at the front and moulds better down the spine, so it doesn’t dig into the shoulders.

All accessories to be optional add-ons

Hats. Earrings. Sunglasses. Bags. Belts. Pets. Guitars. Books. Whatever you have as potential accessories, please offer them as add-ons, rather than attached by default. The current ‘Rocker Guy’ avatar is great (I particularly love the ‘Molellica’ t-shirt) but that guitar accessory is just awkward if you’re walking and not standing still.

A ‘closet’ of mix and match additional clothing (e.g. different pant lengths), skins, shapes, hair, eyes

This is a huge one, and it would be easy to do. In fact, it’s been done already. Several iterations back, there were – and still are, if you dig through the Inventory Library folders – additional options for hairstyles and accessories such as glasses.

The clothing options here are system layer only

But I’d like to go deeper than that. Much, much deeper. This is the kind of thing I would love to see this ‘inventory closet’ contain:

  • several starting shapes, inclusive of multiple ethnicities
  • several starting skins, in different tones – again inclusive of multiple ethnicities
  • several sets of eyes, of different colours and types
  • high quality alpha texture hairstyles with built-in hairbases for longer styles (and add-on tattoo layer hairbases for shorter cuts and fades) with HUDs for choosing the colour and options rigged for male/female/nonbinary avatar shapes
  • a selection of clothing items – t-shirts, shirts, pants, jeans, blouses, tops, jackets etc with HUDs for choosing colour and/or texture and different options for long-sleeve/tucked in, etc, and with options that go across genders
  • tattoo layers for things like basic makeup (separated into eyeshadow, eyeliner/guyliner, lipstick, blush), as well as facial hair etc. Bonus points if they include a tintable option and work on all genders of avatar

I’m sure there could be many more things, but those are some solid starter options to allow newbies to customise their avatars away from ‘bung one outfit on and look like everyone else wearing that outfit’.

Colour/texture HUDs for things like clothing and hair

This was included in the previous ‘closet’ suggestion, but out in the big wide world of avatar customisation, HUDs are the norm for changing the look of a piece of clothing or accessory. Rather than offering eight different t-shirts, each a different colour or pattern, why not offer one t-shirt (again, with the gender options!) and a HUD to customise it?

One male, one female, and one non-binary starting default (part 1) with a good basic look, customisable at point of signup (part 2)

Part 1: It’s 2022. People are more than male or female. As to what non-binary residents may want for a starting avatar, I – as someone who is not non-binary – will not presume. But reach out to the community and please ask. Reading this article would be a good basic starting point: How Non-Binary Folks Navigate Creating Avatars In Video Games

As an aside from this (and again, I won’t presume, as I’m not part of those communities and have no idea what options they might want) but a couple of good basic furry avatars and tinies probably wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Part 2: This is the more pipe-dream option, but nothing ventured nothing gained, and all that. All of the stuff I’ve been yapping on about so far? The stuff about the closet of shapes, skins, eyes, hair, and clothing options? Give that to people at the point of sign up. Oh, I know, I know. Yes, it would involve a rewrite of a lot of architecture and code, which is probably not doable, but how cool would it be for someone to be able to customise aspects of themselves before they even get inworld? Let them choose the shape, skin, eyes, hair, and clothing, but then perhaps give them the additional stuff in a folder at login, where the tutorial (currently that ‘book HUD’) walks them through how to access inventory, find the folder, and add the extra bits they ‘ordered’ before they actually logged in.

The ability to wear pieces of avatars/clothing/hair, etc. directly from the Inventory Library

This bugs me no end when I’m trying to pull together a budget look and want only that pair of shoes from one of the library avatars. I can’t just go into the library and wear those shoes. No, I have to change my avatar completely into that full avatar just so the shoes (along with the rest of the stuff that I don’t want) goes into a folder in my main inventory ‘Clothing’ folder, then change back to my usual avatar and finally wear those shoes. I’ve never understood why it’s set up that way, but boy is it confusing and annoying!

And lastly…

A decent basic AO with a walk, sit, ground sit, and two or three stands

Yes, the last set of avatars did come with basic AOs, which was a vast improvement over the default hand-on-hip-and-duckwalk. But for some reason, when viewed from a distance, the walk turned into a leg-pedalling run that Fred Flintstone would have been proud of! A new basic AO with one generic walk, one generic sit (no crossed knees or manspreading!), a simple ground sit (maybe leaning back on the hands, or cross-legged) and two or three basic stands would be fantastic. Even better if it could be made a viewer option in the Avatar/Me menu (disabled by default, except maybe at the first login of a new account) rather than a scripted object to wear. Oh, and a bento hand animation to get rid of those splayed fingers? Pretty please?

So yeah. That’s a laundry list of wishes. But I’m nothing if not hopeful, and even if I only put an idea into the head of someone at the Lab who might be able to do something about it, that’s a start, right?

What would you love to see from the new starter avatars? As always, comments on this post will be open for 30 days after the date of posting (after which they will close, as spammers like to target older posts).

6 thoughts on “Dear Linden Lab: New default starter avatars incoming? Here’s my wishlist…
  1. Skell, yes to all of this. Honestly, I’d like to see some sort of starter mesh-type avatar, and perhaps even some interchangeable heads so folks would get a grip on how the “big kids” put avatars together… like I said on the forums, kind of an avatar with training wheels, that folks could just stay with or eventually graduate from.

    Avatar customization is key in a virtual world. People like to express themselves with some originality, be it to make themselves as true-to-life as possible, or as fantastical as possible… the variations are endless, and it would be helpful for the Lab to make a small number of these options available upon sign-up, without having to know the ins and outs of which head creator to choose, which body creator to choose, etc. I think we lose people when they first rez in simply because they cannot work out how to change a look they were defaulted to, which they hate on a visceral level.

    Also, in a broader sense of newbie stuff, the avatar customization tutorials have to come at the beginning, either first or right after “how to move”. The rest of the stuff can come after that, but people want to feel like themselves, whatever form that happens to take.

    1. I love the training wheels analogy! And yes, gently introducing some of the new methods of customisation – including texture and colour HUDs – that are commonplace inworld would be a good way to get new users accustomed to how things are done now.

      In my role as inworld support for a mesh head creator, I’ve had to walk people through a very basic Avatar Customisation 101, which on occasion has even necessitated teaching them how to access their inventory, locate, and unpack things. They’ve come into the group for help with one specific mesh head product, but it’s nigh on impossible to help them because they barely understand the basics. This – alongside shape customisation – was part of the onboarding experience back when I started in 2007: you purchased that chainmail shirt (yes, how to buy stuff was also in the tutorial!) for L$0, you got the free torch, then you learned how to find them in your inventory and wear them.

      Like you, I think we have lost people when they first rez in. The decision to remove even the most basic ‘choose which avatar you want (you can always change it later)’ part of the signup process, and dumping everyone inworld as either Disco Dude or Hat Lady (I think her name is Bitsy?) is a puzzling one. I can only imagine what newbies think when they land in SL for the first time and see only two types of avatar around them, duplicated several times over!

  2. One additional AO animation of typing as sometimes it’s nice to see that someone is typing.

    1. I think the standard ‘invisible keyboard’ typing animation is still enabled by default until such time as it’s disabled, but some type of indication that someone is typing is useful, especially for newer residents in local chat. It would be good, though, if it were a toggleable option in any starter AO, in case someone wanted to continue with the AO but stop the typing indicator/animation.

  3. I would like for the library inventory to be arranged differently, like having the avatars in a folder called Avatars. The way it has been just makes no sense to me.

    1. I hear you on that one. Having full avatars in a folder called Clothing > Initial Outfits is non-intuitive, especially for new users who won’t be familiar with how the inventory library works. I think Linden Lab possibly rely on new residents using the ‘choose a complete avatar’ toolbar button (which only shows a head and shoulders view of each avatar) rather than changing the library’s folder hierarchy.

Comments are closed.