Why Genies partnered with Unity to build its 3D avatar world

The world's largest avatar company is leveraging Unity Software's leading gaming engine to make 3D avatars for celebrities and the mass market alike.


January 10, 2021

Genies 3D celebrity avatars (Cardi B, Rhianna, Justin Bieber)

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Over the holiday season, there was an unmissable sight in New York’s Times Square: a giant singing and dancing 3D avatar of Justin Bieber. 

Digital Biebs was promoting a partnership with Amazon Music and the whole thing was powered by Genies, the world’s largest avatar company. 

If you spend any time on the internet in 2021 — and we are confident you will — expect to see many more Genies-powered 3D avatars. 

Genies was founded in 2017…

…by Akash Nigam, Jake Adams and Evan Rosenbaum. In its first few years of existence, the startup — which has raised ~$42m — built interactive 2D avatars and forged a network of athlete and celebrity influencers. 

By company estimates, Genies is responsible for 99% of all celebrity avatar activations. 

The startup took it to another level in October 2020 by introducing 3D avatars, including a full software development kit (SDK). 

At the time, we spoke with Genie’s CEO Nigam and he told us the long-term plan was to “allow everyone to fully express themselves in the digital world.”

What’s powering Genies’ 3D avatars? Unity Software 

As in the $40B gaming software company that is used in 60%+ of mobile games and 90%+ of VR and AR content. 

In a recent conversation, Nigam told The Hustle there are 3 reasons why Genies is leverage Unity to “bring an intense gaming solution to the social world”: 

  1. Customization: Unity’s tools and code can be easily tailored for different use cases. Genies effectively created its own “custom engine” with Unity. 
  2. Quality: Unity allows for the creation of avatars that can maintain “high fidelity” across devices and international markets. 
  3. Economics: Unlike gaming engine Epic Games — which takes a % of gaming revenue above a certain threshold — Unity uses the SaaS subscription model. Genies don’t have to pay a royalty and keeps all the upside.
Genies x Unity

How Genies is leveraging Unity

Per Nigam, to “achieve quality, quantity, and control of an entire system at scale”, Genies is using the following Unity features:

  • Custom library of assets 
  • Integration with AWS (to manage backend) 
  • Unity-as-a-Library (for AR and 3D rendering)
  • Shading tools (to ensure highest quality visuals) 
  • Automated testing tools (to make sure new features don’t conflict with old ones)  
  • Using remote addressables catalogs (to be able to scale to infinite assets, for infinite partners)

“We believe the world is a better place with more creators in it,” Unity’s Chief Product Officer Brett Bibby tells The Hustle. “What makes that possible is how extensible Unity is as seen in the Genies 3D avatars.”

For Unity — which lacks the cultural cache of Epic Games (the maker of Fortnite) — a partnership with Genies is a particularly beneficial way to create buzz.

Genies x Unity

The 3D avatar revolution is just beginning 

For celebrities like Bieber — and more recently, Rhiana and Cardi B — 3D avatars make a world of sense. 

Per The Ringer, the pitch that Genies offers to the world’s most famous names is easy: “Avatars can show up, ready for the job, when their human counterparts can’t.”

While this is true, Nigam intends for Genies’ 3D avatars to be a mass market product. With the custom engine that the startup is creating with Unity, expect to see avatars of all types out in the wild. 

https://twitter.com/soyposmoderno/status/1342643018235441155?s=20

In a sign of how big the space will get, Roblox — the sandbox gaming platform that’s popular for under-13s and is prepping for a ~$30B direct listing — recently acquired Loom.ai, the maker of realistic 3D avatars. 

If 2020 was laying the groundwork, then 2021 will be the coming out party. 

“We’ve been working on 3D avatar tech for a long time,” says Nigam. “This year, you’ll be seeing a new Genies avatar sighting every week.”

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