Roblox’s “layered clothing” is here, but don’t call it NFT

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Even when fashion and video games seemed, at least in the popular imagination, polar opposite pursuits, players have always loved to dress up. Now, fashion in games isn’t just about grand cosplay festivals or finding a nice mask for Link: it’s infiltrated older industries, and the best demonstration of that fact is Roblox, where, for example, a Gucci bag was sold for $4,115 or $350,000. robux, $800 more than the real thing.

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In fact, Roblox is now played by about 50 million people every day and most valuable video game company in the US, it’s one of the platforms where character customization and the self-expression it gives are fundamental to the experience. Now Roblox has created a new system that improves on this customization: “layered clothing.” It has the potential to achieve the goals of the company: to be more than a game: the place is a whisper, metaverse– for games.

Key to setting
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If you’re not familiar, Roblox is not a game, but a space where you make games: you don’t play Roblox for sure, but play games Inside Roblox. His most popular traditional avatar from 2006 to 2019 looked pretty much the same (from 6 moving parts to 15): squat and blocky, a mixture of Lego and Minecraft. During these 14 years, the clothes of these avatars were 2D textures. All you had to do, explains Bjorn Buck-Larsson, VP of Avatars at Roblox, is open up Microsoft Paint and sketch in a pink top or denim jacket, and it will fit into the avatar as if you had painted it on theirs. skin.

“The problem is that when you started to create more complex characters, which the system actually allowed, there was no way to change the clothes of these more complex characters,” says Boek-Larsson. Basically, you will have to rebuild the character. This was an important issue that needed to be addressed because Roblox emphasizes the combination: you can rip off your hand and put on the other hand, like a doll. In 2020, Roblox developed technology that resulted in smoother, more realistic characters, but the problem of not knowing the type of body your design will end up on remains the same.

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This is where layering comes in handy. In most games, designers tailor clothing to a certain range of body types: a samurai suit for, say, a tall or short avatar. And yet Roblox doesn’t know what kind of crazy character one of 9 million independent developers on the Roblox platform can think of. One T-shirt must match millions of different bodies, from dinosaurs to zombies, and must also match the programming in this game: for example, you can get shot and your body will fall to pieces. People can now create clothes for all avatars on the platform, not just a specific body type, without having to redesign the character. Book-Larsson shows a human avatar wearing “hip-hop pants and a puffer jacket”. When he goes to dress up the dinosaur, the pants stretch to fit the reptile’s figure. “And if I put on a T-shirt and then put on a jacket, they overlap and influence each other,” he says. technically there is nothing stopping you from putting a jacket on a tree or pants on a car.”

The technology needed to pull off this trick is complex: it comes literally from rocket science, inspired by how air changes the shape of a rocket as it flies. “One of our engineers was studying the topology of how rockets are affected when they take off into space, and how the rocket skin deforms, and how you control this rocket,” he says. “And then he started using some of the papers that came with it to figure out how you manage multiple layers that are effectively connected to each other.”

Under the influence of this process, the system creates something called an “abstraction layer”, basically a mathematical relationship between the inner cell of the garment and the outer border of the avatar’s body. The clothes maker dresses a neutral mannequin; the character creator defines the boundaries of his characters. “And this little extra step with this layer of abstraction is what allows us to say, ‘OK, great, so if a neutral mannequin is dressed this way, then how do we then reassign it automatically — or automatically — magically — to work on every piece of clothing on every character,” explains Boek-Larsson.

Layered clothing should be both ubiquitous and simple: any of the younger Roblox players should be able to use it, and they should be able to wear anything. Development lasted two years, and it was not easy. “We had to look at the top 10,000 games to see what they did,” says Buk-Larsson. “And then we had to figure out what made a million top games.”

Don’t call it NFT
Courtesy Roblox

It is difficult to talk about such a “skin” system without mentioning non-fungible tokens. One of the promises NFT helpers make is that players, at some obscure point in the future, can own a skin in one game and carry it over to another. Layered clothing essentially solves this problem within the Roblox ecosystem. Will it be technically possible to create NFTs through Roblox, the Book-Larsson muses, or allow third party characters or items to enter the Roblox world? Yes. But the problem is familiar on the part of game developers: what’s the point? Blockchain doesn’t add anything to what Roblox already does: it doesn’t benefit their community; if this changes, then the position of the company may change.

“NFTs created in a vacuum that aren’t associated with a good gaming experience from the start are interesting in a way, but they don’t really enhance or enhance the gaming experience,” says Boek-Larsson. “Currently they are just a subject for public boasting. Technology doesn’t necessarily solve anything on its own or enhance the gameplay experience inherently. And if we can find a way to make it possible, obviously we’ll be interested in it. But we don’t see that at the moment.”

The same goes for porting the technology (for which Roblox has six patents) to other game engines like Unity or Unreal. It’s entirely possible from a technical standpoint, but what’s the incentive if Roblox wants you to make your new Roblox game?

In one fundamental sense, layered clothing acts as refusal the very idea that players can transfer skins between games. “Solving this problem even within the same game engine turns out to be a two-year project,” says Buk-Larsson. “Tackling this across multiple game engines is stupid. It’s extremely difficult.”

In the meantime, Buck-Larsson says, fashion brands continue to partner with Roblox: they’ve created Roblox-compatible versions of their own NFTs and have been overwhelmed by how much money they’re making. Layered clothing is of course attractive to clothing brands because now they can create one design that will work in every game.

Future

Increasing the complexity of the Roblox world has one fundamental goal: to keep an aging audience: “Our growth strategy is to say that if we have you as a 14 year old, the best way to grow as a company is to just hold on to you and give you new cool activities until you are 18, 25 and 35 years old,” says Buk-Larsson. It’s simple: give the community more work and it will stay.

He says the long-term goal is to turn blocks into “reactive humanoid avatars” where the community can program all elements of the avatar, including emotions and speech. Roblox recently acquired a company called Loom.II, which parses facial expressions from video and audio and then translates them into puppetry and driving avatars. In the future, Book-Larsson says, I could interview his avatar via Zoom instead of him.

So Roblox is a metaverse? Book-Larsson says he thinks of Roblox as miniverse, an autonomous metaverse; not a game engine, but rather an experience or an operating system of sorts. If Roblox is not a game, then this growing technological sophistication should certainly increase attention to how this world is regulated. It’s harder to think about employment rules when users are little blocky people; especially with these more realistic avatars. Copyright protection seems to be one of the burning questions: if Gucci, or anyone else for that matter, continues to release bags in Roblox, how easy will it be to regulate this design? (A Roblox spokesperson says it protects the intellectual property rights of its creators and responds to any request from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by removing any infringing content.)

Other long-standing criticisms of the platform are likely to intensify as well. That, for example, the company’s income is poorly distributed among creatives on its platform, and that it’s easier for a developer to “do it” this way. than in realityor that its profit is derived from free creative work of children. Roblox counters that layered clothing represents another lucrative opportunity for creators to cash in on Robux through design and sales, citing the technology’s ease of use and market size: in the first five days of the company’s limited release of the first layer of layered clothing. (jackets), 14.4 million users purchased 74.4 million free jackets.

The momentum of self-expression in the online space is deep and real; it could be a transformationnot only to dress up, but to be someone else. This momentum is of course also beneficial, and it is likely to grow as technology improves. “As we improve the quality of the tools and experience, there is nothing stopping you from doing everything you’ve ever seen in any metaverse movie,” says Boek-Larsson. “Our goal is to provide all of these systems.”


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