Just as Meta was fervently advocating for the metaverse driven by headsets, other technology companies’ top-level personnel started chiming in to highlight that the metaverse could already be experienced through immensely popular mobile applications such as Fortnite and Roblox. These applications have garnered a significant following, particularly among children and teenagers. After all, why would one require an elaborate full-face computer when they can effortlessly engage in hours-long conversations with friends using the screens they already possess?
Roblox is on the verge of enhancing its metaverse influence by introducing a captivating video-chat feature for gamers. In an exclusive discussion with WIRED before the upcoming developer’s conference, Roblox CEO David Baszucki revealed the platform’s ambitious plan to roll out this mesmerizing addition in November.
Roblox Connect, an innovative functionality, seamlessly operates on any Roblox-compatible device equipped with a camera. Unlike typical video presentations, this feature utilizes 3D-animated avatars, not photorealistic video, to immerse individuals into virtual realms while concealing their real-life surroundings.
Roblox is set to revolutionize avatar personalization with the cutting-edge application of face-tracking technology. By leveraging this advanced technology, the app will have the ability to mirror the facial expressions and movements of users onto their Roblox avatars. Equipped with the capacity to capture up to 40 key points on a user’s face, Roblox will utilize this data to seamlessly translate their emotions into the expressions conveyed by their avatars. Notably, Roblox ensures users that this entire process takes place locally on their devices, guaranteeing that no personal data is transmitted to any external servers.
It is mandatory to initiate video conversations solely on a one-on-one basis with individuals aged 13 and above. To engage in video chats on Roblox, users must have previously added each other to their contact list.
Baszucki expressed that Roblox evokes the notion of a Venn diagram, with its various components representing the intricate ways in which individuals forge connections, communicate, and exchange narratives. Amidst the global pandemic, the widespread adoption of video platforms has become routine, and it is evident that this technological progression will persist and continually improve.
The indications of this shift are becoming noticeable within Roblox as it progresses from utilizing audio to incorporating video and eventually crafting a complete three-dimensional experience.
Baszucki envisions a future for Roblox where photorealistic video chat becomes the norm, specifically catering to the needs of business users. As he speculates on the potential, he suggests that, in a professional setting, individuals might opt for photorealistic avatars on the platform.
These avatars would allow virtual business calls to resemble traditional office spaces, complete with a realistic atmosphere. Nevertheless, as different users join the virtual meeting, there might also be a mix of avatar styles. Younger participants, for instance, might prefer more cartoon-like appearances, adding a dynamic touch to the overall virtual experience.
Game developers will now have access to Roblox Connect, granting them the opportunity to incorporate video chat and utilise the pre-existing machine-learning capabilities of Roblox’s audio-calling feature.
In the realm of technology, no tech event can pass this year without a mention of the advancements in generative AI. As a revolutionary addition to Roblox, developers will soon have the opportunity to engage with a virtual assistant for coding assistance and prompt creation of various virtual scenes. For instance, they can seek guidance by saying, I need help with coding by swiftly generating picturesque environments such as a Construct a forest with diverse trees and a flickering campfire.
Roblox is targeting Meta’s metaverse vision with its highly engaging video-chat feature. However, despite this competitive stance, the two companies are also working in collaboration. Roblox has announced that a complete version of its app will be accessible to all Meta Quest headset users starting this month, surpassing its previous beta availability. Furthermore, Roblox plans to make its platform accessible on the Sony PlayStation in the near future, potentially reaching an even wider audience.
Roblox’s approach revolves not only around expanding but also maturing, constituting a pivotal facet of its growth strategy.
Roblox disclosed in its latest financial report that its application attracted a staggering count of over 65 million active users on a daily basis. Moreover, users spent a jaw-dropping 14 billion hours engrossed in the platform, showcasing a significant rise of 24 percent compared to the previous year. Since its inception in 2006 until the present, Roblox has predominantly captured the attention and admiration of the younger demographic, resonating particularly well with kids.
Imagine the scenario where a mother from Chicago had to immerse herself in a real-life video game to capture her daughter’s attention and remind her to retrieve the frozen lasagna. This incident gained significant attention and surely caused jubilation in Roblox’s marketing department.
In the previous year, approximately 38 percent of the individuals who used Roblox on a daily basis were 17 years old or older. However, during the second quarter of this year, the age group of 17 to 24-year-olds emerged as the demographic experiencing the most rapid growth on Roblox. Recognizing this change, Roblox has actively embraced the fact that its primary user base is maturing. As a result, two months ago, they introduced a separate section of games catered specifically to users aged 17 and above.
In an exclusive interview with The Verge, Manuel Bronstein, the Chief Product Officer, revealed that a fresh category is about to emerge, enabling a greater range of graphic content and mature subjects. This entails the portrayal of intense violence and the inclusion of alcohol references. To gain entry to these games, individuals must complete the process of submitting a selfie along with a photograph of an official identification document.
The incident involving lasagna-mom served as a clear reminder for Roblox that effective communication would play a crucial role in attracting users to their platform, extending beyond just gaming. Whether they are 10, 17, or 25 years old, if users decide to leave Roblox, it is highly probable that they will opt for another application that offers the opportunity to connect with friends through the use of a camera, such as TikTok, Snap, or FaceTime.
Roblox Connect aims to encourage users to simply socialize and spend time on the Roblox platform, even without actively playing games. The intention behind this is to increase the duration of user engagement, which ultimately creates more promising advertising possibilities and boosts the sales of virtual items through Roblox’s digital currency called Robux.
Roblox witnessed a significant surge in its bookings, amounting to a hefty sum of approximately $781 million during the previous quarter. This marks a remarkable 20% increase compared to the previous year. However, there has been a steady decline in the average bookings per daily active user. As a result, Roblox is actively seeking ways to extract more value from each individual player, aiming to maximize its potential.
Baszucki explains that it has been publicly stated that older players have a tendency to generate more revenue. However, their approach has been cautious, emphasizing user satisfaction, growth, and time spent engaged in the platform. Simultaneously, they have developed a virtual economy, marking an observation that as they expand and enhance these aspects, bookings also increase.
Roblox has faced severe backlash for its inadequate content moderation in the recent past. The introduction of real-time video chats could expose the platform to new varieties of harmful content and abusive behavior. A prime example can be found in Meta’s metaverse, where one user shared an incident of being assaulted by a virtual stranger in Horizon Worlds. Instead of taking responsibility, Meta’s response was to suggest that the user should have established a safe zone, shifting the blame entirely onto the user.
Roblox, however, cannot enforce the expectation that a cluster of adolescents aged 13 solve the complexities of metaverse social interactions independently.
Vice News recently exposed leaked documents from August 2022, shedding light on Roblox’s ongoing struggle to effectively moderate various issues occurring within their platform. These issues range from managing explicit avatar clothing choices to addressing incidents of bullying, sexting, and the alarming presence of child predators targeting minors for grooming.
Earlier this week, while engaged in a short gaming session on Roblox, WIRED witnessed a gamer persistently hurling insults at another gamer through the text chat on the screen, repeatedly referring to them as ugly and demanding that yet another gamer vacate the premises.
The difficulty with content moderation on Roblox mirrors the broader issue faced by the internet. Just like many other influential platforms, Roblox aims to tackle this problem by combining human moderators with advanced technological solutions. Although Roblox’s representative chose not to disclose the exact number of content moderators currently working for the company, they have previously revealed that they employ a substantial team of 1,600 moderators.
WIRED conducted interviews where company executives emphasized Roblox’s machine-learning technology for audio calling as a benchmark of its technical moderation.
According to Dan Sturman, the CTO of Roblox, a new policy has been implemented where users will face consequences if they refuse to respond to repeated audio calls from fellow users. To combat this issue, Roblox provides the option to mute or block other users. Furthermore, Sturman mentions that the company is currently introducing voice-moderation tools capable of instantly identifying and flagging instances of abuse, harassment, and bullying in either real-time or nearly real-time.
Users who breach policies will receive instant feedback without any human involvement.
Juliet Chaitin-Lefcourt, the head of product communications at Roblox, reveals that the launch of Roblox Connect is still pending. As the team is diligently working on perfecting the technology and ensuring robust safety measures, users eagerly await its release.
The sheer conviction we hold, along with the tests we have conducted, indicate to us that a mere reminder about one’s improper behavior can serve as a significant driving force for improved conduct, affirms Sturman. This perspective certainly presents one potential approach towards content moderation—a vision of the online realm that may parallel the seamless and ideal representation portrayed by 3D avatars.
Discovering the essence of Roblox Connect and its imminent debut?
Scheduled for release in November, Roblox Connect is an interactive video-chat function that offers an enriched communication experience on the Roblox platform, where users can effortlessly engage with one another using their personalized 3D avatars.
What strategies does Roblox intend to implement to improve user communication through Roblox Connect?
Roblox Connect is determined to enrich communication among users by offering a captivating and immersive video-chat feature embedded in the vast virtual world of Roblox.
What specific technical information can you provide regarding the implementation of avatars and facial tracking technology in Roblox Connect?
Using advanced 3D avatars and cutting-edge facial tracking tech, Roblox Connect imitates every precise facial expression and gesture. It collects information from 40 specific spots on the user’s face, enabling their Roblox avatar to authentically portray emotions. All this processing takes place on the user’s device, guaranteeing that no personal data is ever sent to the cloud.