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Roblox doesn’t want to create the metaverse, the universe of virtual worlds that are all interconnected, like in novels such as Snow Crash and Ready Player One. Instead, it wants its users to create the metaverse. And today it showed developers more tools that are like stepping stones to do that.
Speaking at the Roblox Developers Conference 2021, the company’s executives talked about their vision for continuing to entertain and grow beyond its 43 million daily active users in 180 countries.
Roblox chief technology officer Dan Sturman said in a blog post that the Roblox community of developers was able to meet with product leads for the first time during the pandemic in both online and in-person events. CEO Dave Baszucki and vice president of developer relations Matt Curtis gave talks to the developers about the latest platform updates.
Roblox said it will offer the ability to sell “limited-edition” user-generated content items, which allows creators to earn money off of the initial sale of an item and subsequent resale of the item to others. I asked if this meant that Roblox was moving into nonfungible tokens (NFTs). But the company said, “It’s exactly as limited edition shoes are in the physical world — you either sell a limited number of items or for a limited time only, and the items could increase in value with time due to rarity. With Limiteds, we’ve made it so the original creator could earn Robux for both that initial sale and the resale.”
With these limited items, the creator name will be listed, so it’s easy verify the source, and account names are unique, so purchasers will know they are buying from a verified source. Additionally, developers will be able to watermark their assets.
And it’s clear that Roblox isn’t always going to be known for its Lego-like blocky graphics.
In 2020, Roblox made material enhancements in bringing the virtual world to life with rendering fidelity improvements. The company released Future is Bright, Dynamic Skies, and PBR Textures — critical steps forward in the vision to create immersive rendering and simulation technology. This allows developers to use greater fidelity as they customize the look and feel of their experiences.
The company also pointed to advancements in simulation features like aerodynamics and real-time in-experience CSG, enabling photorealistic visuals that can be modified to bring a vision to reality. These improvements will enable developers build helicopters, airplanes, or fast-moving cars using real shapes, including curves, and having our physics engine do the rest.
Roblox wants its avatars to be a digital version of you, however you move, talk, and dress. The latest updates include the upcoming Layered Clothing Studio beta launch and Dynamic Heads beta, which is the first step in enabling users to express the breadth and depth of their emotions and identities.
Layered Clothing allows a combinatorial explosion of possibilities in customizing an avatar, as any body can be outfitted with arbitrary layered clothing items. Meanwhile, Dynamic Heads will bring facial expressions and emotes to life. These releases represent important stepping stones in a long line of innovations to improve the expressiveness and combinatorics in the metaverse.
Building a robust economy
In addition to creating tools and systems that maximize developer productivity, Roblox is creating more opportunities to build a virtual economy.
The platform has 1.3 million developers and creators earning Robux, and this year, they are on track to earn $500 million from their creations. Last year, Roblox introduced engagement-based payouts (called premium payouts) as a way to reward developers for creating engaging experiences (in addition to earning Robux through in-experience purchases).
Today, 50% of the top 10,000 developers make more from these engagement-based payouts than in-experience purchases. Roblox is also giving developers more ways to earn on the Roblox platform through improvements in sponsored content and the ability for some developers to create and sell their own avatar items.
Roblox Open Cloud
The future for developers on Roblox is the freedom to do everything on the Roblox Open Cloud. Studio has been a well-used tool for our developers. But as the community gets broader and more diverse, Roblox felt it needed them to have more ability to drive the ecosystem of tools at their disposal.
So, Roblox created the open cloud program with the idea that third-party components could simply plug in directly to Roblox’s backend services without having to go through Studio. This will create an ecosystem where developers can build and discover custom toolchains that maximize their productivity.
Opening up these interfaces will allow a new class of creators to emerge — building new development tools to enable workflows (and potentially offering them to other developers via a marketplace). The Roblox Open Cloud enables developers to take their businesses to a new level, which means support for large teams; support for specific domains, such as artists or coders; and integrations with other tools that add richness to the environment.
It also provides users with a secure and flexible platform, allowing them to access their Roblox resources seamlessly.
Storage is an essential part of the scalability of the platform. To give developers more flexibility as data gets increasingly complex, the data store now supports 16 times larger values since last RDC, and the new high throughput, low latency Memory Store data service gives developers the ability to quickly access non-persistent data shared across all servers in an experience.
The latter is a way for developers to store and update rankings on a global leaderboard or optimally matchmake users in their experiences based on skill level. Roblox has one of the largest storage grids in the world with intentional infrastructure that drives optimal performance, Sturman said.
Shared fabric: Communication and civility
Roblox has added a whole new dimension to interaction on Roblox through its Spatial Voice beta launch. Now users can communicate not only through emotes, but also through facial expressions captured on webcams. This supports the scalability of meaningful experiences and interactions in the metaverse.
Finally, safety and civility are foundational to the company’s vision of creating an inclusive community where everyone feels welcome, Sturman said.
“We are improving our moderation support,” he said. “We’ve reduced bot exposure by over 75% this year and are building tools to allow developers to manage their own communities.”
Forthcoming experience guidelines and the recently launched age verification service helps enable dynamic levels of safe and civil interactions across a wide range of experiences. Roblox hopes users and creators will spend less time waiting for moderation and dealing with bad actors and more time turning their imaginations into reality.
“Looking towards the future, we envision that the metaverse will continue to transform how you connect, create, and express yourself through shared experiences,” Sturman said. “You can learn about ancient Rome by walking through its streets with your classmates, rock out at concerts with friends who live thousands of miles away, and host a virtual team building activity with your colleagues across the globe. Just about anything you can do in real life you can experience on Roblox. We’ll save you a front row seat.”
Baszucki showed off the latest version of his own Builderman avatar. He controlled the avatar with his body, moving his head back and forth and speaking with his voice.
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