David Baszucki, the founder and CEO of the family-friendly gaming platform Roblox, recently spoke with Digital Trends about his company’s roadmap into VR. Roblox has been busy since the beginning of the year, adding support for Xbox Live to its client on the Xbox One console in January followed by the launch of a special Windows 10 client in June. However, the biggest Roblox news this year so far is undoubtedly the platform’s support for the Oculus Rift headset.
Introduced in April, support for the Oculus Rift seemingly opened the doors for an all new experience. Like Minecraft VR, making use of the up-close-and-personal viewpoint allows Roblox creators to generate content that previously couldn’t be realized by simply using a flat monitor.
Despite the Rift’s current cost, Roblox isn’t going to hesitate on its VR rollout. We asked David Baszucki about the company’s roadmap regarding virtual reality, and the response it has seen thus far in regards to Oculus Rift usage, and generated content for VR on a whole.
Digital Trends: Roblox launched on the Oculus Rift back in April. How are things progressing?
David Baszucki: The feedback from the community has been incredible. We recently had several of our developers try out various Roblox experiences in VR for the first time during our Roblox Developers Conference in August, and the universal comment is that the immersion and the social connection are radically heightened. For example, if users play Bird Simulator, they will actually feel as if the trees and other creatures are flying past them in real life.
In addition, we’re already seeing positive improvements in terms of comfort and control for our users since the launch of Roblox on VR. We have experimented with a variety of ideas to improve the comfort of the default camera and game/mouse controllers, and have shipped improvements to both. We have redesigned most of the in-game GUI to be native VR, so it is floating and fixed in 3D space at a comfortable distance. We have also revamped how notifications work, eliminating slide-in alerts and introducing a centralized notifications review panel.
How does the VR aspect work in regards to free access to Roblox versus the Builder’s Club?
All of our platforms, including VR, are available for every user to use as they wish. By default, we allow all developers, whether they’re part of our Builders Club or not, to publish their experiences to the cloud so that it is playable across any device, including PC, Mobile, Tablet, Xbox One, and VR.
What’s your view of virtual reality gaming and its relation to user generated content?
Our vision at Roblox is to fulfill a core human need that not only involves communication and storytelling, but most importantly, doing things together. That’s why the vast majority of our most popular games tend to be social experiences, where users are hanging out in a virtual club, exploring, or building with their friends.
User Generated Content (UGC) platforms, like Roblox, are carving a new niche in virtual reality gaming called “social co-experience.” As virtual reality matures, the social co-experience genre will become the dominant category on VR, ultimately surpassing video games.
The video hosted on your Roblox blog shows an individual using the Oculus Rift and a controller. Can players utilize a mouse and keyboard?
Although keyboard and mouse controls can be used in conjunction with the Oculus Rift, gamepads provide a much more natural sense of control. You are not constrained in one direction, and you are given more freedom to turn and move your body.
Once hand controllers become more prevalent, they will become the preferred input method for immersive VR experiences. We are currently working to incorporate hand controllers to provide a much more authentic, life-like experience.
When we talk about Roblox and VR, we can’t ignore the fact that Roblox is aimed at users between 8 and 18. Do you think gamers in that age group will get on board with VR?
We are creating the future of play. Our vision is to empower the imagination of kids and teens so that they are encouraged to create and think outside of the box without boundaries or limits. The emergence of VR allows us to take our vision to the next level. We are creating an opportunity for up-and-coming game developers to create an experience and immediately have it work on computers, mobile devices, Xbox One, and now VR.
Over time, more and more people will want to use VR as a social platform to chat and co-experience with their friends. While it’s still in a relatively immature state, more and more people over time will want to use VR as a social platform to chat and co-experience with their friends. We are excited to grow and support this industry as it continues to evolve, especially as the hardware matures and more immersive, high fidelity Roblox experiences emerge from our community.
Given the benefits of VR, do you expect Roblox to become a platform for a larger, more adult audience?
Roblox is a platform for all ages. What’s really exciting is hearing from the parents about how enthusiastic they get about the imaginative and open world that’s available for their children to create and explore. Kids who dream about becoming an artist or game developer are motivated to go to college and continue pursuing those careers because of the remarkable experiences they have building on Roblox.
There have also been many stories about how young and older developers alike are paying for their college tuition using the funds they’ve earned from their experiences as part of our Developer Exchange Program.
For the average 20-year-old, building a game from scratch, publishing it on multiple platforms, and monetizing it is a complex process. Roblox already does all of that for the next generation of game developers.
What’s the roadmap look like for the rest of 2016? What about 2017?
With Roblox’s success on Oculus Rift, our plan is to ultimately expand to additional VR platforms and incorporate hand controllers in order to increase a user’s ability to immerse themselves in their environment.
Our efforts are currently focused on two areas: clients optimized for premium, PC- and console-coupled VR hardware and mobile VR experiences. While the mobile efforts are currently constrained somewhat by the technical specifications of available hardware, our long-term goal is to make Roblox the world’s premier platform for both publishing and consuming VR game experiences.
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. As the market for VR headsets matures and as we expand to new platforms, you’re going to see Roblox become more immersive as environments look increasingly real over time.
Can you talk about Roblox and PlayStation VR?
We are not yet ready to announce any plans, but it’s a safe assumption that that’s where we should be heading next. Since we shipped on Xbox One in February, we have been the top most downloaded game on the Xbox Store. It’s a real logical conclusion that we will get the same effect on PlayStation 4, and we will also be in an environment to take advantage of PlayStation VR at the same time.