Roblox Adds Avatar Calling on Phones, More Generative AI, and Is Coming to PlayStation
The Roblox team discusses how the additions point to where Roblox is starting to flex across platforms, into VR, and eventually maybe AR too.
Scott SteinEditor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
ExpertiseVR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tabletsCredentials
Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
There hasn't been a lot of talk about the metaverse lately, even though VR and AR devices are on the rise and generative AI tools are now everywhere. With generative AI, virtual worlds like Roblox could end up transforming. The way AI affects how players and creators design games, objects and worlds could impact what future metaverse spaces feel like. Roblox is adding more generative AI, including a new AI Assistant for creating and coding, expanding on efforts started earlier this year. The news was announced at Roblox's most recent developer conference, which is currently taking place in San Francisco.
Roblox has already made its way onto Quest VR headsets, launching in beta this year and now moving to a final version on Meta's app store this month. Roblox just said at its developer conference that the app is arriving on the PlayStation in October, a move that further pushes the platform's multiverse of little gaming worlds beyond phones, tablets and PCs.
But one of the most interesting new features also adds avatar chat. Roblox Connect, coming by the end of this year, will use cameras to track facial movements and map them onto avatars in Roblox, enabling avatar chat that's similar to how Microsoft added avatars into Teams.
Sure, Roblox is largely for kids. But it looks increasingly like it's aiming for more.
Generative AI accelerating world creation
Sony once had its own world-creating platform with Media Molecules' versatile (and VR-ready) Dreams, which discontinued its online support at the beginning of September. Could Roblox be ready to step in as the next big world-creating, cross-platform service that's also VR friendly? And if so, what would that look like?
Roblox started adding generative AI to its creator tools earlier this year, but forthcoming updates are a lot more ambitious. A new AI assistant using generative AI will analyze code and guide the creation of games and experiences. The platform is also opening up the creation and selling of objects, including ones made with generative AI, to Premium Roblox subscribers with verified IDs. That could mean an explosion of new sellable things. These objects may slowly start being able to appear across different experiences in Roblox, with the goal of being universal items in the spirit of what Meta has long promised with its metaverse plans on Horizon Worlds.
"With generative AI, we think we can make it way easier to create these complicated objects," Nick Tornow, VP of engineering for Roblox's Creator Group, said in a conversation with CNET. "It could be a boat. You might craft a fabric pattern. You might pick that fabric pattern that you designed, and make a coat that you really like, and then you can even go further and make a whole standalone shop in which you showcase your wares, and perhaps even monetize them with our broader community. Now people would buy those pieces of clothing and they could take them with them, just like the real world."
The spirit of this sounds familiar: similar to either Meta's metaverse visions, or even to long-standing original metaverse platforms like Second Life. But Roblox's team promises that these items, as they start appearing in other experiences around the platform, could still link back to an original creator.
"If you build the best hat-making experience on Roblox, anytime someone inspected the hat that I bought from you, or made in your experience, they could see that, 'Oh, I should go to Scott's hat store experience in order to go build something similar,'" said Tian Lim, Roblox Creator Group's VP of product and a former VP of Google Play. "So, all of a sudden we've created the ability for all the creators and experiences to have calling cards all over them, that you could use to create this web of supply chain and demand."
Roblox's multistage plan is to have these cross-platform sellable items be applied to avatars, then to objects that could move across experiences, and then even to larger creations and worlds. Generative AI for Roblox could be the accelerator here that Meta's Horizon Worlds efforts have so far lacked.
Generative AI will be available on multiple levels to create things or to help assist with coding – and Roblox is already open to other forms of generative AI in experiences – but Roblox is putting the responsibility of creative originality on the creator. "We think of generative AI as a tool. Just like you might have a paintbrush, you have a generative AI," Tornow said. "We think you'll be able to make a lot of amazing things with it. And you'll love it. But you still have to be a responsible creator."
It'll also likely accelerate the process of creating new experiences in Roblox. "There's actually going to be a really fascinating interplay between our creator community today, generating more and more assets, more and more ideas that can help you compose these things more quickly," added Lim.
Is Roblox going to turn into a VR and AR destination?
Between Roblox Connect's cross-platform avatar chat calling and all that generative AI, it's a lot to take in, especially for me (a dad who watches his kid play Roblox all the time, but never dives in much himself). Then again, I've lived in a number of virtual worlds that have slowly vanished, including Microsoft's shuttered AltSpace VR and PlayStation's Dreams. And I see my kid playing Roblox all the time while also talking with his friends on FaceTime (Roblox Connect will be limited to ages 13 and up, but much like Meta's VR age limits, I'm curious how many kids will end up chatting on parent accounts).
VR right now is just another platform in an expansive toolbox. "Roblox is already one of the largest domestic platforms to be available on a remarkable number of devices. And our goal in general is just to be everywhere for operators and our users," said Lim, pointing to the platform's unique edge with younger players, too. But AR, though it isn't on the roadmap yet, could be next.
"We're taking such a radically different approach to the whole problem," said Lim. "Roblox isn't a game or an app. It is, and it aspires to be, an operating system for metaverse applications."
Roblox is starting to look like the type of massive metaverse platform that could be a place where, maybe, more virtual theater is staged, or meetings, or who knows what else. Being increasingly cross-platform, and full of expanding creative tools, and being VR-capable — all that sounds promising.
"One of the really cool things about Roblox, as relates to VR and AR, is that it is avatar centric," said Tornow. "Fundamentally, the experience is about you. With VR, and AR, that's essentially what's happening in a more connected way. So I think the platform is quite amenable to it."
As for AR and mixed reality, well, not quite yet. Though Apple's Vision Pro and Meta's Quest 3 are going to lead the way with a new wave of mixed reality–enabled VR headsets, Roblox isn't making any announcements on that front right now. But it looks like Roblox is going to lean on its creative community to suss that out when the time comes.
"I don't think we've figured out exactly how things are working in the AR world in particular. I don't know if anyone has," said Tornow. "Heaven knows what our creators will build with those tools as AR devices are coming on."
"The creativity of this community is just astounding. We only need to expose a few things to make AR and placement of objects in physical environments a little easier for them. And they'll be able to quickly experiment and figure out the fun and useful use cases," Lim added.
It could very well be that these avatar-based communication tools and generative AI-fueled creative additions are what'll be the backbone for that next wave of Roblox AR that'll inevitably come.