Roblox, an online game platform where people can play or create games, has 52.2 million daily users. The company’s initial demographic was minors, but in recent years it has become a popular destination for teenagers and young adults, with more than half of its users now over 13 years old. The rich and varied virtual worlds created on the site have been considered a precursor to what we might see and experience in the metaverse, with opportunities to connect with other people and custom avatars that players can use across games.
The update is similar to Bitmoji on Apple’s iPhone, which uses depth sensing to measure and track head and face movements. Previous avatars in Roblox have had expressions, but Bjorn Book-Larsson, Roblox’s vice president of product and avatars, described them as “two-dimensional.”
The Roblox update would mean users could smile, wink or frown, and their avatar would mimic them in real time. Eyes could scan, heads could shake, and eyebrows and ears could move with the same results. And soon, according to Roblox, users will be able to talk directly to other avatars like in other multiplayer video games. In short, the changes could blend our real-world human experience with that of the metaverse and make avatars more like us, for better or worse.
Until early 2023, these updates will remain within a closed circle of users and creators, which Book-Larsson says aims to maintain “trust and security.” “We expect the unexpected,” he says. Part of this delay is so Roblox’s security team can make sure expressions are safely deployed within its huge population of minor users. For example, says Book-Larsson, an option for a facial expression, sticking out the tongue, was discarded because of its possible misuse as a sexual overture.