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Announcements from Roblox and Why They Matter
New tech and features amplify the platform's growth story
Welcome to Letters - commentary, analysis and ideas from Into The Metaverse.
On Saturday Roblox concluded RDC22, its annual Roblox Developers Conference, an opportunity for top developers, creators and partners to convene for a dynamic gathering during which creativity is celebrated and new updates are shared with the community. It’s also an opportunity to learn from some of the leading developers on the platform on how they approach development and growth of experiences built for Roblox’s nearly 60 million daily active user community.
This was my first attendance in-person at RDC and it was terrific to meet in person so many talented people who are passionate about the platform, including folks from Roblox itself, developers, brand partners, and especially meeting in-person folks from my Supersocial team for the first time!
Coming back from RDC22, the main announcements that captured my attention are:
Expanding Voice Chat
Deeper Avatar Expression
Adding Experience Guidelines
Scaled Building Tools for Developers
New Revenue Streams
Let’s dig in.
(1) Expanding Voice Chat
What: Chat allows users to communicate by speaking with one another inside experiences and will allow users above age 13 (who are age verified) to have reduced chat filters so they can communicate more freely with friends. Making Chat more dynamic will allow it to function more similarly to how we connect IRL, mimicking in-person conversations and is based on avatars’ proximity to each other.
Why: As the platform matures and its user community ages up it is essential that Roblox enables users to interact in ways that are intuitive and that mimics IRL interaction. This is especially important with a community of teems and young adults, and can ultimately help bring materialize the potential of creating an avatar-based social network.
(2) Deeper Avatar Expression
What: Roblox stated that next year people will be able to use their webcam to express themselves in real-time through their avatars. Users’ camera will automatically map their facial movements as they speak, adding a new layer of immersion and connection and bringing higher-fidelity human expression to avatars. In the coming weeks, Roblox will be releasing Facial Animations in the Marketplace, allowing users to create avatars to convey a wide range of expressions that best fit their mood and better capture emotions and gestures. At RDC, Roblox showcased its Animation Capture tools for bodies and faces (now available in Studio for developers to test in beta). The tools leverage Roblox’s machine learning models and significantly cut down on the time and resources needed to create high-quality full-body and facial animations. Just by using our device’s camera, anyone can make professional-grade animations for avatars in minutes.
Why: Avatar expression and immersion is fundamental to the promise and potential of the metaverse as we aspire to manifest our personality onto these large scale 3D worlds in which we won’t only be playing and having fun but also socializing, connecting with friends and shopping items for our avatars. Expanding and deepening expressiveness of avatars is therefore essential. I wrote about it in a recent Q&A with WWD and we talked about it on a recent episode of Into The Metaverse.
(3) Adding Experience Guidelines
What: Experience Guidelines gives creators the freedom to create experiences that reach the right audience based on age appropriateness. These age recommendations are grounded in Roblox’s mission to connect a billion people with optimism and civility. According to Roblox, the age recommendations were informed by child development research and industry standards. Based on these recommendations, parents will be able to use new Parental Controls that restrict account access, ultimately deciding and managing what is appropriate for their children.
Why: Key strategic pillar of Roblox’s growth story is the aging up of its community, and being able to offer users exceptional content for the 13+ audience and enable developers and creators to reach this aged-up audience more effectively. That being said, Roblox remains to be a dominant destination for people under age 13, and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. The new Experience Guidelines will not only help parents to ensure their kids are exposed to content that fits their age but also help the developer community build content that can more effectively reach and serve these distinct user communities.
(4) Scaled Building Tools for Developers
What: Creation on Roblox often involves large teams working together on scaled experiences. To better support large scale coordination, Roblox is making a few key updates to Studio, its free development software for building and publishing 3D content on the platform. Beyond a refreshed look and feel, Roblox has also updated the interface with new features that allow creators to customize their workspace layout and collaborate with teammates with one click. Roblox also added several new features to its Cloud to allow developers to access all their Roblox resources programmatically, via an API. Opening its cloud via these APIs will enable a rich ecosystem of tools that improve and allow customization of creator workflows.
Why: The developer community on Roblox continues to grow rapidly. Offering more advanced tools and capabilities will not only help retain existing developers but also help onboard more effectively new developers who are new to the platform. I have written about the crucial role of Roblox’s developer community in a recent letter.
(5) New Revenue Streams
What: Acknowledging that advertising will naturally exist in the metaverse, Roblox plans to launch Immersive Ads in 2023. The goal is to enable 3D advertising experience that will be native to the platform. Brands and developers alike will be able to build ad experiences on the platform, including portals that can seamlessly transport users back and forth between experiences. In addition to Immersive Ads, Roblox is making updates to its Marketplace - in the upcoming months Roblox will introduce new mechanics that enable creators to build sustainable businesses, including giving creators full control over the scarcity of their items and allowing all users to resell or trade items. With these systems in place, Roblox envisions a future where all items will be in limited supply and users can find the items they love in a marketplace that’s personalized to them.
Why: The introduction of Immersive Ads will create new opportunities for developers to generate revenue and enable brands to reach their communities more effectively, and doing so in a way that is aligned with safety protocols by the platform. Especially given the significant take-rate by Roblox from in-experience monetization, as well as the fact that the platform’s user community remains to be based on mostly under 18 who doesn’t spend the same amount of money on virtual goods, enabling developers to diversify revenue will play an important role in Roblox’s goal to attract and retain quality developers and studios, and help them build a business, not just experiences.
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