The Roblox CTO believes metaverse experiences to be universally accessible

The Roblox CTO believes metaverse experiences to be universally accessible ...

Last year, the term "metaverse" stormed the internet as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg declared his company''s intention to go beyond its social media products and build the next big thing.

For some, the metaverse is the most powerful element in the digital world that promises an environment to work, entertain, create, and consume. Real estate prices have boomed in this digital world that has seen top brands, personalities, and even banks rush to make their presence felt. However, a few months after Facebook''s significant shift and rebranding as Meta, there is no change in this world.

Daniel Sturman, the head of Interesting Engineering''s Research Group, discusses the earliest versions of what we call the metaverse today, and the practice has gained widespread support for over a decade. Sturman holds a doctor in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a BS in computer science from Cornell University.

Sturman, who works as a CTO for Roblox, is responsible for developing the engineering team and directing the company''s technical strategy to build trust with people in the metaverse. In an interview with IE, Sturman discussed his vision of the metaverse and his expectations for it to thrive in the future.

Roblox has been around for over a decade. Did you ever think it would be more expensive than a game?

Daniel Sturman: As we''ve built out Roblox, we''ve always believed it as more than gaming. We''vethought really about this concept of 3D activities in which individuals just come together to perform almost any activity. Quite often, you''ve seen that play out today with a lot of things we''ve been doing over the past few years with concerts on our platform.

Graduation and even birthday parties have been made possible on some universities. During COVID, we designed a mock-up of our own business with separate restrooms so that teams could collaborate, coordinate and collaborate.

Things like concerts and brand experiences have started to take off on the platform. The whole concept was basically reimagining sorts of arbitrary 3D experiences and allowing individuals to have social experiences.

In this wave of the metaverse, many companies are now looking to develop these experiences for their customers. What is Roblox''s approach to this?

I believe the term Metaverse was associated with Neal Stephenson''s Snow Crash in the early 1990s, and that as a result, the notion that we''re developing something similar was obvious from the start. I believe everyone at Roblox has read it at some point, some even before announcing themselves.

We were primarily focused on recreating someone else''s vision. Rather, this new technique of interaction is more than just a 2D text feed. In this world, there are a lot of things you can do, and when you combine physics and graphics, it becomes much more immersive.

I''m not sure why people began using our metaverse, but we always knew the term was there. It''s just that it felt a little broad for what we''re talking about, and that we were focused on the particulars of what we were doing at the time.

I''m not sure if there is a right or wrong way to do it. Roblox is developing infinite choices on what your avatar looks like. So the participant can select what they want to look like in collaboration with the experienced creator.

For example, your avatar will look different during a rock concert than, say, in a wild west simulation game. So, today, we introduced a new avatar clothing management system. It''s possible with technology, where you can first have very specific bodies, and all items in our shop can be a layer on it.

This is very different from other avatar versions, where you have clothing items designed in tandem with bodies. Instead, we have allowed creators to come in and create items, none of which is provided by Roblox. We allow users and content creators to mix and match and and put constraints to get the exact experience they desire.

We believe that users must be given plenty of choices on how they want to appear in the metaverse. At Roblox, we tend to see everyone on the platform as a creator, and your first act of creation is usually your avatar. We therefore offer quite a variety of choices on what you can look like.

Are these avatars the finest representations of ourselves that we can produce? In a digital world, the legs of the digital forms are floating around.

Yes and maybe no, but it depends on the experiences. Let''s say you''re doing an interview. You might actually want to be in something not crazy, but say something similar to a suit, right? Then, you''ll have other situations in which something similar to a suit would be a no-go.

I think it all depends on the environment you''re considering to create on what that looks like. Also, if your environment makes sense with legless avatars, and your technology can, even without the limitation. I''m not certain how many people you meet with, but how many people you''re working on.

If my avatar does not look like me, how do people know they are interceding with the real me? How do we authenticate individuals?

I''m not sure if your avatar will be created, but I believe there are other methods to do this, particularly if the person is a notable celebrity or in some way. I think there are ways to utilize the social features of the platform to verify identities if there is a need for that.

If you''re the actual Taylor Swift on the platform, there might be a blue checkmark or something like that. Or even if I''m the real Dan Sturman, not anyone special, you know, there''ll be social facilities in which I can prove my identity.

Having said that, we must be extremely cautious about people''s privacy and the security of their data. I think that''s something that is just developing, but that needs to be addressed with caution.

Do you think social media companies like Twitter will have a role to play if you mention the Blue Tick?

I''m not sure you would have access to Twitter on metaverse platforms. Roblox has been their first user ID ever for many of our users. So let''s focus on future ways of forming your identity or having connections between those things.

ROBLOX is a very social platform, rather than a place to come and experience or to play an event or game. It''s a place where you do that with your friends, with your colleagues. And that''s kind of inherent to our platform.

So we often think about Roblox as having two main components: the content component, and the other is the social component. I''m not sure if it''s a traditional social media culture. I mean, because instead of talking to any of our avid users, we make a very substantial effort to make you there. So I''m not saying that it''s much less a social platform. Instead, I mean, you can always tell them, "My friends and I went and did this cool thing on Roblox together."

Will metaverse platforms have their own internal social media?

You''re going to be interested in groups, and you''re going to have content you share with each other in real-time on the platform. So you''re often doing things together; you go to a concert, you''re dancing together. You may be doing something together. You''re also doing things together. You''re also interested in creating activities that aren''t necessarily required of sharing social media.

Will we end up seeing silos of these digital worlds when so many businesses develop metaverses, and then have to wonder how to integrate them?

We''re always striving to be concerned about integrations and interactions. Right now, the biggest obstacle on our platform is a better connection to things like YouTube videos. In many cases, our community utilizes this technology to teach and explain and interact.

What are Roblox''s most potent problems?

One might argue that the other is just continuing to broaden the kinds of experiences that are available on the platform. We''ve had a long, rich history of games. We''ve been doing a lot with music in early April.

McLaren''s new Formula One race car was developed on Roblox, which was included with popular games on the platform, as well as a brand-brand presence. Chipotle was recently on the platform with a burrito-branded experience. I think those brands will be really big on the platform.

We''re beginning to do some really interesting things with education, but we''re not calling out the participants right now. Two avenues are the learning of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) that most people love, but also the realization of a computer that builds something on a computer with Roblox. I think this is a little bit farther out, but it''s something we''re beginning to experiment with.

This vast range of experiences, I think, is one of the major challenges. Those will all drive very different technical requirements. For example, if you''re going to do work, you really need to the highest level of character to perform well.

The next significant one, I think, is the breadth of creation. We believe that any person who has chosen to come to the platform with a great idea. And as soon as possible, create a 3D experience. So today, that involves using our primarily Roblox Studio and sometimes external ones, to assist innovators in making, design, and code up certain parts of these experiences. There''s a lot of really interesting AI-driven deep learning workaround creation on a gambit of platforms. We believe that it might

How do you make it really simple to create a world based on some text you''ve written up, or that describes the world? How do we make it simpler for a game to bring characters and obstacles out on the platform, without having to be as deep in the technology? I believe that making everyone a creator, having experience which are themselves creation experiences, and the breadth of creation, will be a real challenge for us.

What do you think of the role of wearables in the metaverse? How will these structures work in the future?

Roblox is basically about meeting the creators where you are and being available on any device, and it is unsurprisingly that our major device by today is mobile devices. We know our users can feel through this interface, it is really immersive, and they really feel it.

I believe wearables are an interesting technology direction; it will definitely be engaged with. We don''t believe it''s the central to the experience at all. It''s just another way to consume it. It may also depend on the individual user, whether or not the most of their experiences will be consumed via VR or via their phone.

Wouldn''t you want it to be a standard as a platform? Otherwise, will the user have to continue switching between devices to gain access to different worlds?

Most experiences and the way we manufacture Roblox are possible on any device. But even today, we have some creators who say, Hey, I''ve built this experience, just for a mobile device, or just for PC, although they might be a minor of experiences on the platform. I do expect that most experiences will be universally accessible. However, depending on the device you come in, the experience may be slightly different. It is still a 3D world, and our ability to kind of convey that into both works pretty well.

It''s just like a different projection of that planet onto the charrette. But we always believe in putting the choice in the hands of our creators. So I''m not going to rule out that a particular creator has a vision for their space and may say, Hey, I''m going to limit it in some instances, for whatever reason, I''m not aware what these reasons would be. But I''m not going to take that decision away from my creators.

How do you look at the metaverse''s hype right now? Is it something that ought''t have happened a few years ago, or is it a suggestion whose time has come?

We''ve been building this platform for a while. Overall, we have a vision for where we''re going to go, and we''ll just continue to push it up. We believe it''s exciting that there''s been a kind of recognition of what a lot of our users have been doing for a long time. This makes sense because COVID really highlighted that people were looking for new ways to express themselves and interact.

It''s clear that this is where most of this is. It''s possible to call it hype, but I''d say the world had a problem, and there''s a way to deal with that problem in some ways thanks to these 3D experiences. Although I''m not sure if there was a lot more attention, it makes a lot of sense given what the whole world was just experiencing.

Roblox will offer users and metaverse enthusiasts what they will expect in the future years?

We have more cool things to do than ever have people to do them, so we kind of keep focussed on it and keep getting the next great thing out there. Like the brand partnerships I was talking about, the layered clothing launch gives our avatars and designers a lot of freedom.

Depending on whether or not, we may extend the capability for users to utilize their voice, and their face and mouth will move with it. So when you are talking to someone, you will get a lot more of the human expression.

We are also collaborating on ensuring that real-time voice communication is safe. If we wanted to simply use voice services, we might probably be able to them very quickly. However, we should ensure that voice isn''t just a compromise for our civility rules and our actions, however, we must ensure that our conversations are reciprocated.

Another thing I could say in regards to creators is that you''ll see a lot more inexperienced creations instead of having a coder and using our Roblox Studio as the only way to create. This year, you''ll see some of these possibilities, which will enable those who want not only to play, but to build something, and there''ll be a few interesting ways to go do that.

Are you seeing metaverse progress from here? Is there a metaverse player that you look out for?

I think it''s going to be increased interactivity. That''s why I''ve said that voice is so important to us. Because I think people will want to come in and not just text each other but talk to each other, have compassion. So today, at Roblox, you can do experiences that include a few hundred individuals in a given space at a time. It will certainly reach 1000, then 10s of 1000s.

Imagine attending a rock concert with 50,000 people and your closest friends, as well as experiencing all of that energy in a virtual world. These are some of the crazy things we''ll be doing.

Things that you don''t see as a user, like an automatic experience translation, are something we''ve been working on, and we''ll continue to work on so that anyone who experiences English in the United States can begin it in Hindi in India, for example, without that burden being on the creator to get a translation team for their work.

We are really focused on ourselves as a company. I think it also depends on how do you classify the metaverse to determine who one should look out for? Our goal is that we know our users desire more information from us. We want to simplify creation. We spend pretty much every day just focused on where we want to take the platform, not on what others are doing.

I think the most important players in the metaverse will be the creators, not just on our platform, but on anyone else. Companies like ours will simply provide the platform, the fundamental technology, the magic really happens where when our creators participate, and they build these things we never imagined that they would build. At Roblox, that''s not the case.

What Gucci had done with their brand and virtual equipment, blew us all away, as no one of us had ever seen anything like that. Now, that''s a big corporate player, and it did not require Roblox to sit down and say, Hey Gucci, this is what you should go build. That was their own imagination coming to life. They could do that because they understand their business and their brand far better than Roblox will ever do.

I''d anticipate that across a broad spectrum of successful platforms; it''s not going to be the companies per se that do the next big thing in the metaverse; it''s going to be a conceptist who has no fear of previous conception.

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