21/10/2021   Louise Shorthouse
Roblox builds towards metaverse vision with identity and economy updates

During its annual developer conference, Roblox co-founder and CEO David Baszucki outlined the company’s vision for the online multiplayer game platform, highlighting a few key landmarks on the path forward.

Thriving in-game economy expands into collectibles

Developers on the Roblox platform are set to earn a combined $500m this year, with top creators making more than $50m. The company now has plans to introduce limited edition items. Roblox creators can put up items they have designed for sale for a limited time, significantly pushing up their potential value and reframing them as collectibles. In the vein of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a royalty system will come into play, allowing creators to generate revenue from subsequent sales of their items.

Although only a very small percentage of the Roblox developer community earns enough to make a living, the prospect of generating income in this way is very attractive, and aspirational for novice creators. However, the developers themselves only receive around 25% of the revenue their games and experiences generated, with Roblox taking $0.75 out of every dollar spent. This is far greater than the shares taken by other games platforms like Valve’s Steam (30%) or Epic Game Store (12%). Roblox of course offers a very different developer experience with unique creator tools, and higher costs are incurred from hosting millions of virtual worlds. It is notable, though, that Roblox is thriving on this revenue share system, whereas other platforms are now competing to offer lower rates.

Improved avatar realism aims to preserve individuality

Known for its distinctive, blocky art style, Roblox is now seeking to make its avatars look more realistic. In the beta version of Roblox Studio’s avatar editor, users can experiment with layered clothing, which will drape naturally around models regardless of their shape. A ‘Dynamic Heads’ feature was also announced, which enables facial animations for avatars. These may even make use of facial tracking, facilitating the synchronisation of avatar mouth movements and spoken words. The feature will only be available to developers at first.

Research has frequently shown that, in games where avatar customisation is necessary, identity is an important facet of the gaming experience. A character model can be a form of self-expression, and limits around the personalisation of player avatars can prevent gamers from establishing the truest representation of themselves – or whatever it is they are seeking to portray. The new levels of customisation offered in Roblox certainly outweigh those available in Fortnite, which is perhaps its greatest competitor in terms of the metaverse push. Roblox also boasts a booming economy, and allows consumers to explore millions of user-generated worlds – both critical elements of the metaverse which Fortnite has yet to achieve.

Updates support continued push to engage older users

Many of the recent announcements and updates to the platform seem designed to both engage and manage the growing number of mature users: almost half of the userbase is now over the age of 13. Improved avatar and content realism is probably more appealing to adults who will appreciate the nuances in customisability that can shape their online identities. Roblox is also introducing age verification for mature content. This is largely optional, but required for certain features, including Spacial Voice (Roblox’s new voice chat system). These new updates aim to cement an environment of trust and civility – important aspects of virtual worlds that hope to, in some ways, replicate physical societies.

Uniqueness as a key pillar of the metaverse

A fundamental component of the metaverse concept is uniqueness; the notion that an intangible object can be entirely individual and maintain its value as it traverses multiple virtual worlds. This is embodied by NFTs: their exclusivity generates monetary value. The greater the personal influence players can exert over their virtual selves, the closer we move towards the preservation of individuality in non-physical spaces, and thus more meaningful, valuable interactions there.

Roblox has, knowingly or otherwise, been building towards the metaverse concept for many years, and is now perhaps best-positioned in the games space to realise this vision. Every improvement to the platform is reaching for greater identity preservation, enhanced social experiences, deeper immersiveness, a stronger economy, and frictionless exploration. What's more, Ampere Games Consumer data indicates that Roblox gamers are more engaged than the average consumer across multiple forms of media, rendering the platform a strong foundation for experimental experiences which span the entertainment spectrum.

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