As I mentioned in a previous blogpost, Roblox has received a lot of attention when its market valuation hit US$41.9 billion when the company went public in March 2021. I’ve only written about Roblox a couple of times in the past on my blog (here and here), but I thought it was time to take a closer look at the popular platform, and some of the moves that the company is making to branch out from simply being a place to play games created by other users, into a more open-ended metaverse platform.
But first, some statistics: the core demographic of Roblox is children and teenagers, ages 9 to 15; adults over the age of 25 make up only 14% of users. In order to keep Roblox a family-friendly place, the company has deployed a team of 400 human moderators (assisted by AI algorithms), and has instituted policies such as a ban on romance and politics:
The company’s community standards were revised this week and detail many policies that weren’t in the version that was updated in July.
• An old ban on using Roblox for dating has been expanded to “prohibit content that seeks or portrays romantic relationships,” including weddings, honeymoons and romantic animations of kissing or hand-holding.
• A new section bars “discussion or depiction” of political parties, sitting elected officials, “previously-elected officials in their official capacity” and slogans tied to any current political races.
• The new policies also explicitly ban recruitment into and fundraising for terrorist or extremist groups.
The platform saw a surge in use due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, when millions of children were in lockdown, and currently has over 202 million monthly active users (i.e., those who sign on at least once in the past 30 days). VentureBeat reported:
The platform has 1.3 million developers and creators earning Robux [Roblox’s in-world currency], and this year, they are on track to earn $500 million from their creations.
Most metaverse platforms for kill for that level of popularity, but Roblox is far from an overnight success. Launched in September 2006, it has had a 15-year head start on competitors, building slowly but surely to become a dominant player in the marketplace.
At this year’s Roblox Developers Conference (RDC), the company did a show-and-tell of what new features they were working on. An October 19th, 2021 article in Vogue Business, titled Shaping online avatars: Why our digital identities differ, included the following picture from Roblox, showing a key future feature: dressable avatars!
At last week’s Roblox Developer Conference, the company announced an upcoming “Layered Clothing Studio” beta launch that allows a “combinatorial explosion of possibilities in customising your avatar”, according to a spokesperson, as any body can be outfitted with layered clothing items and will adjust to the avatar’s shape. This release “represents an important stepping stone in a long line of innovations to improve the expressiveness and combinatorics in the metaverse,” the spokesperson said.
This Layered Clothing Studio feature will be launching in beta sometime soon, and it would appear that, as in Sansar, Sinespace, and Second Life, there will be a new, emerging market for avatar fashion designers!
Another upcoming feature is Dynamic Heads, as mentioned in this Oct. 14th, 2021 tweet; this is a feature in private beta test, for avatar heads that support facial animations (more information here):
If you want to jump in and get started with these new avatar features, here’s a video by KreekCraft explaining how to test it out:
In addition, Roblox is hard at work on other features, including:
- Spatial voice chat (still in beta);
- The launch of the Roblox Open Cloud initiative, including improvements in storage; and
- Recent and future improvements in rendering fidelity; see the following RDC promotional video from the RDC 2021 page:
Finally, Roblox has launched a new feature called Party Place, where users can create a private server to host their own parties and events with friends. Last year, The Verge reported:
Party Place is currently in beta testing and free to access; it was previously used by the developers to host their own in-game events, including the One World: Together At Home Virtual Concert in April.
As far as I can tell, the Party Place is still in beta as of this writing (November, 2021).
Step by step, Roblox appears to be adding new features that are expanding the platform to be more than just a collection of user-generated games, into a more fully-featured metaverse product where you can customize and animate your avatar in new ways, and socialize with your friends! I will be keeping an eye on Roblox and writing more about the platform in future, so I have created a new blogpost category, Roblox, and adding this and all my previous blogposts about Roblox under that new tag.