Roblox unveils major metaverse upgrades

Colin Campbell, Monday, September 11th, 2023 8:49 am

When Roblox CEO David Baszucki offered up his keynote to the ninth annual Roblox Developers Conference (RDC) on Friday, he offered up reams of stats showing the metaverse gaming platform’s ongoing growth; domestically, internationally, financially, and demographically.

The company is also growing its ambitions for Roblox, expanding outwards from its origins as a gaming platform for kids, to a social media platform that can bring people together for myriad purposes, including education.

“I believe we have one of the highest engagements for any social platform – 2.3 hours per day average for every DAU on our platform,” he said, referring to its 65.5 million daily users. “The amount of content is absolutely amazing. We had over 15 million experiences visited in 2022.”

He celebrated games as Roblox’s core offering, but added that broader entertainment experiences are becoming more popular. “We are going to see shows like The Hunger Games on platforms like Roblox that are interactive, that take several days, and you’ll be able to follow your favorite stars.”

He also spoke about fun school lessons involving virtual trips to exotic historical locations. “We’ve talked about visiting the pyramids in a history lesson. But I think more and more in the last year or two, we’ve started thinking about how [this visit will include] a really good AI supported ancient Egyptian [person].”

International growth

Roblox has enjoyed growth in significant international markets including Japan, which has doubled its daily users in the last year, as well as Brazil (up 38 percent), and India (up 40 percent). “We have a huge opportunity with every country around the world. It”s it’s feasible to imagine our billion daily active user goal purely through international,” he said, later adding that the company is closing in on that target.

Baszucki said that growth is being driven by Roblox’s legions of game creators, but most especially, the big ticket offerings. “The average bookings of our top 10 creators in the last six months through 2022 was $27 million. Those creators have grown 50 percent in their bookings over the last three years. Our top 100 developers are making nearly a million dollars a year and that’s grown to 2.2X.”

The company’s first big announcement was Roblox Connect, a new way for players to video-call each other via their avatars. Launching later this year, Connect will enable people to call a friend from their Roblox friends list “and be transported to a shared immersive space on Roblox …sitting together by a campfire or standing beside a waterfall.”

Writing jointly on the company’s blog, chief product officer Manuel Bronstein, and chief technology officer Dan Sturman stated: “Behind the scenes, we’re essentially packaging a Hollywood-style motion capture studio into something that runs on a mobile phone or laptop – without the need for equipment or motion-tracking dots. The device’s camera is all that’s needed to capture motion and translate it in real time.”

Avatars and Connect

Roblox already features various in-game chat applications, but videos with animated facial tracking technology, in a game-like context, is something new. The company is opening up the tech to developers who they hope will “unleash their collective genius to develop new communications experiences”.

“We’ve got 12 percent of our 13-and-up users, using voice,” said Baszucki. “We’ve got about 2 million voice players worldwide, and that’s going up by 30 percent.”

He said that adding video and animation is a natural next step. “There are so many benefits, as we know, of feeling we are in the same space. Our ability to eye track – our ability for things to sound real – we believe 3D simulation will just emerge as a natural superset of video and audio. So we are really focusing on a lot of platform level functionality that [developers] can all add to your experience.”

The company unveiled new avatar creation tools including mesh and texture APIs that help developers increase the range of an avatar’s animations and reactions, and allows people to customize avatars inside the game. A preview function has been added that enables creators to see how their avatar works with different facial expressions, emotes, accessories, and clothing.

“We plan to enable a way to easily create an avatar from an image and a text prompt, then customize it and add it to the user inventory to start using it,” stated the blog. “Today, avatar creation takes an experienced creator days, or up to a week. But in his keynote, Dave showed how easy it will be to create an avatar in just minutes with these new tools. “

Roblox is also coming to new platforms. Developers have begun working on Meta Quest Roblox games. “In the first five days, we saw more than 1 million downloads of the open beta,” stated the blog. Roblox will be available on Meta Quest later this month. The company is also launching the game on PlayStation, and is upgrading the game’s Xbox app.

Artificial Intelligence

At RDC, Roblox also announced Assistant, a conversational AI that “makes creation on Roblox more accessible and empowers advanced creators to build richer, more engaging experiences faster”.

Assistant will be available to developers later this year. “Working with Assistant will be collaborative and iterative, so creators can provide feedback and Assistant will work to provide the best solution,” stated the blog. “This new generation of AI-powered tools will amplify the ability of all creators to bring their ideas to life.”

The company has also tweaked its commercial arrangements with third party developers, adding a way for creators to offer subscriptions within their experiences and “the freedom to choose which features or offerings they make available as a subscription model” such as higher tier benefits.

Later this month, any user who is ID-verified and has Premium will be invited to create 3D items for Roblox’s Marketplace. New tools are being added to protect buyers and sellers from scammers who engage in duplicating creative works. “We care about creating a Marketplace with content people love and where creativity is protected,” stated the blog.

Sellers will be able to choose between selling items that are fixed in quantity and those that have a flexible quantity. “Grounded in real-world economics, these systems are intended to help creators sustainably earn income,” stated the company.

You can watch the RDC keynote and presentations here.

Colin Campbell
Editor-in-Chief

Colin Campbell has been reporting on the gaming industry for more than three decades, including for Polygon, IGN, The Guardian, Next Generation, and The Economist.

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