Roblox buys digital avatar startup Loom.ai

Roblox announced today that it’s buying a digital avatar startup called Loom.ai. Purchasing a company that has focused singularly on creating more realistic human avatars is an interesting play for a gaming platform that has made such an impact by building experiences that tend to cast realism to the wayside.

We covered the company’s $1.35 million seed round back in 2016. The company brought in additional seed funding since then, scoring $5.9 million in total capital raised. The startup’s investors include Y Combinator, Samsung Ventures, Anorak Capital and Zach Coelius.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

The startup was one in a long list of avatar companies to launch during the mid 2010’s that capitalized on computer vision advancements and aimed to build out a cross-game/cross-platform network of users that relied on their tech to create in-app avatars. This field of companies aimed to capitalize on opportunities in 3D that expanded beyond what companies like Snapchat had identified following its Bitmoji acquisition.

Image via Loom.ai

Over the years, Loom.ai shifted its effort from photorealism to creating more Memoji-like representations that allowed users to upload a 2D photo and automatically create a realistic 3D avatar. In recent years, Loom.ai focused heavily on enterprise opportunities. The company’s products also included a suite of integrations to build out personalized avatar stickers that could be used on messaging platforms like Slack or WhatsApp as well as live avatars that could be used during video calls.

Though Roblox has some of the more simplistic avatars on the market, this acquisition may suggest that the company is open to building out a system that places more of a premium on realism and more life-like facial animations. In a press release announcing the deal, Roblox shared that this acquisition “will accelerate the development of next-generation avatars.”

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Snapchat looks to maintain its own friendships — with devs

Over the past few years, Snapchat has been building up an increasingly complex weave of partnerships.

They have their advertising partners that power the vast majority of their monetization efforts. They have app developers on Snap Kit that they are also selling new features like CameraKit and Minis too. They’re bringing game developers on board for their Snap Games initiative, including another partnership with Zynga, which they announced today. They’re also continuing to chase mobile-first original content programming for Snapchat Discover. Sometimes these distinctions can create grey areas. For instance, in a conversation with TechCrunch, Ben Schwerin, Snap’s VP of Partnerships, insists Snapchat isn’t competitive with Quibi, which is an advertising partner.

“Comparing Quibi and Snapchat — and I know it’s easy to do — is like comparing cable TV and Snapchat,” he says.

Snapchat is perhaps better positioned than any other app in the United States to replicate what Tencent’s WeChat has pulled off in China, turning a friend-to-friend messaging app into a national platform. Snap is still a long way from pulling that off, but on Thursday at their annual Snap Partner Summit, they shared some of the required building blocks for making that happen, namely richer third-party experiences via upgrades to their developer kit and a new initiative called Snap Minis.

Snap says they now have 800 developers that have integrated with Snap Kit and that a combined 150 million users access these integrations on a monthly basis.

In the U.S., developers have had a largely frayed relationship with social media companies. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have significantly locked down many of the developer capabilities they launched with, often turning off features that were key to developer experiences overnight. Snapchat’s dedicated developer platform Snap Kit is only two years old at this point, but witnessing the pitfalls faced by Facebook in regard to privacy has allowed Snap to build out a platform that brings developers into the fold with certain features but keeps the real treasure — Snapchat’s social graph — buried inside its walled garden.

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