ROBLOX Lets The Games Begin in VR: Launches On Oculus Rift

Predicting the potential market for virtual reality is the classic chicken-and-egg question: People will only buy the new crop of VR headsets—on sale for the first time this year—if there are plenty of things to watch or do on them. But content developers can only profit if people buy the headsets.

San Mateo, CA-based game creation platform ROBLOX, one of the content companies that have been preparing to catalyze the VR market, today announced that its 15 million 3-D digital games and adventures are now playable in virtual reality mode to anyone with an Oculus Rift. That high-end VR headset was recently launched for commercial sale by Oculus, a unit of social media giant Facebook.

ROBLOX, in addition to adding a cartload of content to the Oculus menu, is also bringing a ready-made sharing community to the Facebook universe.

CEO David Baszucki says 20 million visitors log in every month to play battle games or role-play with others around the globe, using laptops, mobile phones, PC’s, or the Xbox One console. They can already find fellow players on Facebook, and log into ROBLOX from their Facebook accounts.

“ROBLOX will be the largest VR social destination anywhere in the world,” Baszucki says.

All the games on ROBLOX are user-generated; the company says it has 300,000 developers. Kids can create a simple game starting with ready-made characters and backdrops. More sophisticated developers can tinker with code to create elaborate visual displays and game rules. They can also make money on the ROBLOX site by selling game accessories such as clothing, tools, and weapons for avatars, through a feature called Developer Exchange. As of March, game creators had earned a total of $4.7 million.

Users will be able to do the same things in virtual reality.

Developers of existing ROBLOX games don’t need to re-program their 3-D worlds to work in virtual reality, Baszucki says. ROBLOX programmers have mapped the game rules and visuals to VR controllers and displays, he says. And game creators in 3-D won’t find it harder to construct a new game from scratch in VR, Baszucki says.

“An eight-year-old, for a school project, could open ROBLOX studio, find a Roman Coliseum, paste it in, people it with zombies wearing togas, push it to the ROBLOX cloud, and immediately show it to their family and friends,” Baszucki says.

For those playing their favorite 3-D games in VR, the difference will be like “jumping into real-life proportions,” Baszucki says. “The level of immersion goes much higher. People of the same size appear to be next to you.”

Users will have the choice of inhabiting their avatars and seeing through their eyes (called a first person experience), or viewing the action as an invisible observer behind their avatars (third person mode). “It’s like watching your avatar from four or five feet at a party,” Baszucki says.

ROBLOX may amplify the world’s available VR content in two ways. First, through the VR games and experiences themselves, and second, through the films that can be made within those virtual worlds.

ROBLOX already has screen capture features that allow users to film 2-D sequences of the action as they play games in 3-D. Thousands of those videos are available on YouTube. At some point, ROBLOX will have stereoscopic 360 degree VR capture, Baszucki says. The resulting VR films, as well as commercial VR feature films and other content, will eventually be hosted on their own online channels, Baszucki says. For example, Amazon or Netflix might offer high-quality VR films for sale or rental, he says.

“The ultimate repository of VR film has yet to be determined.” Baszucki says.

ROBLOX plans to extend its offerings to other headsets that have been coming to market, including Google Cardboard, Samsung’s Gear VR, and Sony Morpheus.

“We’re quite confident that ROBLOX will drive VR sales,” Baszucki says.

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com. Follow @Tansey_Xconomy

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