Roblox is launching avatar-based voice calls with facial motion tracking – Roblox announced its near-future aspirations to go beyond its identity as a game platform for kids at its annual developer’s conference.
The company is already moving into new demographics — Roblox announced that it would encourage mature content for 17+ users earlier this year — and a new animated video calling product due later this year looks to be part of that ambition.
Part Zoom and part Memoji, users can ring up another friend who uses Roblox and start a virtual hangout with the new tool, named Roblox Connect. The voice-based calls connect two avatars in a virtual area (for example, a dock or a campsite), using Roblox’s existing investments in facial motion tracking for a more present, immersive experience.
“In the near future, a person’s avatar will mirror their exact facial expressions, right down to the same blink rate,” said Roblox’s CTO and CPO in an announcement. Roblox Connect will be launched later this year, and the company will make it available to developers, allowing for additional ideas from its creator community.
The product combines Roblox’s current avatars, voice chat, and camera-based facial animations into something unique to the platform’s typical game-like realms.
In the future, the business hopes to achieve “more realistic” movement for its avatars, which could include motion mapping for hand motions and upper body movement. Those additions are likely to be widely available on basic consumer devices capable of running Roblox right now.
“Behind the scenes, we’re essentially packaging a Hollywood-style motion capture studio into something that runs on a mobile phone or laptop—without the need for equipment or motion-tracking dots,” the announcement reads. “The device’s camera is all that’s needed to capture motion and translate it in real-time.”
The firm is wagering that more people will desire virtual avatars to communicate their feelings in the future, but for the time being, the technology is usually unpleasant or unnerving enough that it’s more of a tech party trick than a go-to medium for extended voice chat (see also: Apple’s Memoji). However, Roblox’s community is incredibly devoted to the platform and may welcome new ways to engage with one another – even if they haven’t taken off elsewhere.
Aside from Roblox Connect, the company made a slew of other announcements at its developer conference, including the news that Roblox would finally be accessible on PS4 and PS5 next month. Roblox, like competitor Epic, maker of Fortnite, takes an aggressively cross-platform approach to make the app available and easy to use, and Sony’s gaming system has been the obvious missing piece of that plan for quite some time.