The addition of a virtual reality (VR) compatible upgrade for ROBLOX came as somewhat of a surprise when it launched earlier this year. ROBLOX as a company hadn’t previously shown any inclination to join the ranks of VR supporters so early on – though the aggressive cross-platform strategy for ROBLOX may have been a clue – and yet the response has been largely positive. David Baszucki, ROBLOX’s CEO, recently took the time to address some questions from VRFocus about the implementation of VR in ROBLOX and what the future holds.
ROBLOX is less of a videogame itself and closer to a videogame creation suite. It’s essentially a social network where people can build, collaborate and distribute videogame content from a set of tools available from within the same platform. Some members like to create, some offer support and all like to experience what one another make. However, given that ROBLOX’s average audience age is on the younger side, this does throw up some serious concerns about comfort in VR: if AAA development studios are nervous about it, how could pre-teens possible have the answers? Baszucki tackles this and more in the full question and answer session below.
VRFocus: What made you decide that launching a VR compatible version of ROBLOX should occur so early in the life of modern VR?
David Baszucki (DB): We are creating the ultimate Imagination Platform where you and your friends can create adventures, play games, role play, and learn together. Being inherently social and multiplayer, it was only natural to launch ROBLOX on a platform that would support our mission of co-experience in a deeper, more authentic way.
We’re ahead of the curve in that all of our games and experiences can already be played immediately in VR. We have done a lot of work in advance to ensure that all of our content is 3D avatar-based and runs right out of the box on all devices we ship on.
Furthermore, you will find that more and more businesses will tap into the social co-experience genre as the hardware for virtual reality matures. ROBLOX is spearheading this movement by launching the largest social VR experience in the world, where millions of people can play and hang out in immersive 3D environments across different platforms simultaneously. Today, more than 15 million users are playing across an infinite variety of imaginative experiences on ROBLOX, whether it’s traveling to outer space, soaring through the skies as a bird, or seeing what it’s like to manage your own pizza restaurant.
VRFocus: What is it that you believe VR can add to the ROBLOX experience?
DB: As one of the most immersive media platforms available today, VR has given our entire community an opportunity to immerse themselves further in the ROBLOX experience. It feels real, more interactive, more engaging, and more social. It’s like you’re jumping into a ROBLOX amusement park, where everything around you – the trees, the buildings, the people – feel life-size and tangible.
If I play Bird Simulator in VR, for example, I can actually see and feel as if the trees are going past my head. The level of immersion is really powerful. We’re excited about our future on VR, especially as the hardware matures and more immersive, high fidelity ROBLOX experiences emerge from our community.
VRFocus: The VR addition to ROBLOX appears to be offered as a feature for existing players opposed to being positioned to attract newcomers to the platform. Was this your intention, or do you plan on promoting the VR aspect of ROBLOX further?
DB: Our high-level design philosophy and approach to VR has always been the same. If we could create an immersive, physically simulated 3D environment along with best-in-class avatar controls, it should be possible to make 3D virtual experiences available everywhere. We believe that VR will not only attract our existing user-base, but also invite new users to try immersive ROBLOX experiences.
There will be situations where you’re in your living room and you want to play a game with your friends on a console. Or you’re in a bus driving you to school and you want to play a game with your friends on a smartphone. Similarly, there will be people who want to experience what it’s like to be walking among the dinosaurs or what it’s like to go down the runway as a fashion model in VR. No matter which platform you prefer, we’re making it possible to co-experience user-generated content with your friends anywhere, anytime.
VRFocus: Do you intend on offering in-VR creations tools to allow the community to create unique ROBLOX VR experiences while in VR?
DB: We will continue providing an intuitive place for budding developers to learn, create, and make money for their VR creations. It’s part of our DNA to offer ROBLOX users the best content available for whichever device they decide to play on. We have done a lot of work to ensure that as soon as you publish your creation to the cloud, it is immediately available on any platform(s) you choose. By default, we allow developers to publish their games on VR, but ultimately, they can make their game playable across any device, including PC, Mobile, Tablet, and Xbox One as well. This is consistent with our vision that our experiences should be playable cross-platform.
We also have a developer relations team that works with top ROBLOX developers to help them fine-tune their creations across all platforms, including VR. Each month, over 500,000 builders are learning how to develop games and experiences. Just as they were interested in developing on console, iOS, and Android, we see the same interest for VR.
VRFocus: Will you support other HMDs in addition to the Oculus Rift?
DB: Given our success on Oculus Rift so far, we do have plans to expand to additional VR platforms and later incorporate hand controllers to further enhance immersion. We have not announced anything yet, but we absolutely have our eyes on adding more VR headsets to our portfolio.
ROBLOX is unique in that all VR experiences will bring together players across all devices, including phones, tablets, and PCs. The next logical step would be to support more VR headsets and augment our cross-platform capabilities.
VRFocus: Enabling ROBLOX for VR on Oculus Rift is a simple procedure. Do you intend on making other formats as quick and easy to experience or are there greater hurdles?
DB: Enabling ROBLOX on Oculus Rift has gone more quickly than I could have ever imagined. It was less of a technical challenge and more of a user interface challenge – making sure that all of our experiences are optimized for the platform with best-in-class character and camera controls and reduced accelerations with respect to comfort. We expect to have a similar approach on other formats.
Again, our philosophy is that all of our developers can build something once in ROBLOX Studio and push it to the cloud so that it is playable on any device. Most of our time has been spent on refining our character and camera controls so that all of our experiences feel natural in VR. We will continue to optimize these systems to enhance the feeling of immersion, the smoothness of the experience, and comfort so VR remains a viable platform for all of users.
VRFocus: There has been a lot of discussion over the past three years about comfort in VR and the issues necessary to tackle simulation sickness. ROBLOX, at the launch of its VR edition, had no such control in place. Do you intend on developing any kind of structure to ensure only comfortable creations are playable in VR?
DB: At its core, ROBLOX is a social platform. Most of our top played games tend to be social experiences, where users are hanging out in a virtual club, exploring, or building. There’s very little acceleration that occurs in these experiences when compared to traditional action games that involve running, jumping, and falling. As a result, most ROBLOX games already lend themselves well to VR.
Comfort is very important to us. We believe that optimizing comfort will be crucial to keep people playing VR in the years to come. Our engineering team continuously refines our character and camera controls to ensure that they are best-in-class for that particular platform, whether it’s PC, mobile, Xbox One or VR. We also offer settings that allow users to play games in either 1st or 3rd person to allow more control over their comfort level. In addition, developers have the opportunity to create new control schemes, such as snap-to-look or teleporting, to reduce user acceleration and increase comfort. We’re doing a lot of things on the back-end to ensure that ROBLOX in VR is as comfortable as it can be for everyone.
VRFocus: What is the long-term future for ROBLOX ‘s VR compatibility?
DB: You’re going to see ROBLOX become more and more immersive as environments continue to look increasingly real over time. It will be easier to find your friends and have a robust social experience in VR. In terms of content creation, we will continue to offer accessible, easy-to-use tools to create amazing VR experiences. Our developers will have the power to make their VR games more transformative and immersive than ever before.
Everything that we do today and in the future will adhere to our vision of driving social immersion and co-experience, powered by user-generated content. We want to satisfy a core human need that not only incorporates communication and storytelling, but doing things together. Allowing friends to co-experience what it’s like to walk on the surface of the moon or imagine what it’s like to work as a miner in a quarry is our ultimate vision. Simply put, we’re creating the future of play