A refreshing look at digital characters.

By Don Reisinger
June 14, 2017

Microsoft is expanding the diversity of its Xbox Live avatars to let users digitally represent who they really are.

In an interview with The Verge this week, Xbox lead project manager Bryan Saftler discussed the avatar overhaul and said Microsoft doesn’t “want to put [users] in a box” when they create digital representations of themselves. Instead, users can create avatars, or digital characters, with a variety of body types. Users can also put avatars in gender-neutral clothing.

Digital avatars have long been featured in video games as a way for users to create digital profiles of themselves. However, most companies, including Microsoft and gaming competitor Nintendo, have historically forced users to choose between pre-designed characters that offered few customization options.

For years, players have been forced to choose from a handful of generic avatar designs and not allowed to meaningfully change clothing or skin color. Most characters also wouldn’t represent those with disabilities. Some video game industry watchers have criticized companies for that, saying digital characters should be as diverse as those playing the games.

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According to The Verge, Microsoft’s MSFT new avatars, which were unveiled at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles, can be placed into wheelchairs or be amputees. Microsoft’s avatars will also support pregnant characters, and skin color can be modified to the tone of the player’s choosing.

Microsoft told The Verge it plans to launch the new character models, which it calls “Avatar 2.0,” on Windows 10 sometime this year. Xbox owners will get the new avatars after that.

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