At its annual developer's conference, Roblox detailed its near-future plans to expand beyond its identity as a game platform for kids.
The company is already pushing into new demographics — Roblox announced that it would foster mature content for 17+ users earlier this year — and a new animated video calling product launching later this year looks to be part of that plan.
Part Zoom and part Memoji, users can dial up another friend who uses Roblox and start a virtual hangout in the new product called Roblox Connect. The voice-based calls bring two avatars together in a virtual space (a dock and a campsite were examples), leveraging 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," Roblox's CTO and CPO wrote in the announcement. Roblox Connect will launch later this year and the company will make the product available to developers, opening it up for more innovations from within its creator community.
The product weaves Roblox's existing avatars, voice chat and camera-based facial animations together into something that could stand apart from the platform's traditional game-like worlds.
The company is also shooting for "more realistic" movement for its avatars down the road, and those plans may include motion mapping for hand gestures and upper body movement. Presumably those additions would also be widely available on basic consumer hardware that can run Roblox 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 company is betting that more people will want virtual avatars to express their emotions down the line, but for now that technology is usually awkward or unsettling enough that it's more of a tech party trick than a go-to medium for prolonged voice chat (see also: Apple's Memoji). That said, Roblox's community is very committed to the platform and might appreciate new ways to connect with each other — even ones that haven't really taken off elsewhere.
Beyond Roblox Connect, the company had a flurry of other announcements at its developer event, including the news that Roblox would finally be available on PlayStation 4 and PS5 starting next month. Like competitor Epic, maker of Fortnite, Roblox takes an aggressively cross-platform approach to making its app available and easy to use and Sony's gaming console has been that strategy's obvious missing piece for a while now.