2020 Reflections & Looking Ahead to 2021
by David Baszucki | Builderman
Product & Tech Community Creators Digital Well-Being Events
In an incredibly challenging year, Roblox became a crucial place for people to come together. More and more we see the Roblox platform as a utility, and in 2020, we worked hard to bring millions of people worldwide together to play, learn, and work.
The advancements we’ve made last year, and those we’re working on for the future, span the technology landscape and present challenges in innovation, scale, performance, and functionality. The “every day” touchpoints that moved onto Roblox, including birthday parties, get-togethers, graduation ceremonies, and even company meetings, were brought to life by a myriad of engineering and technical innovations on our platform. Roblox scaled to meet the enthusiastic demand from around the globe, highlighting the innovation inherent to our vision. The immersive experiences our developers create are what millions of people see and recognize as Roblox, but behind the scenes, our creativity thrives as we solve some of the hardest problems in technology to power the Metaverse.
Expanding Our Global Reach
Roblox is now available in over 180 countries and 11 different languages, and our community is growing at its fastest rates in regions outside of North America. In the first three quarters of 2020, 31.1 million average DAUs enjoyed experiences on Roblox across mobile, desktop, and console platforms. In that same period, users spent 22.2 billion hours of engagement on the platform and explored an average of over 20 different experiences each month.
To support this expansion, we’ve worked hard to advance our machine translation technology so that every Roblox experience can be broadly enjoyed in all of our supported languages. And we’ve invested in our built-in regional compliance system so Roblox experiences can automatically comply with local laws and regulations.
Building a World-Class Product & Engineering Organization
We hired nearly 400 new employees in 2020, growing our organization to 979 people—79% of whom are in product and engineering roles. We’ve also doubled down on leveraging the precious resource of our engineering teams by optimizing workflow processes. Today, more than 50% of all engineers at Roblox use our new highly scalable micro-services architecture, BEDEV2, which successfully performed a 1.5M QPS load test. We’ve seen much faster code-to-production cycles to BEDEV2 and continue to focus on that transition. Our data engineering team also reduced our general data latency to one hour or less, thereby greatly improving the team’s ability to make quick data-informed decisions.
On the game engine side, we’ve built a production-like infrastructure that allows engineers to run a Roblox server in an environment that is identical to real production while simultaneously being isolated from other developers and our live production environment. Additionally, we devoted a lot of resources to getting build times down as low as possible, and we were able to reduce the queue times for our slowest builds from 40 minutes to 30 seconds.
We also added two amazing teams through the acquisitions of Loom.ai and Imbellus. Loom.ai will help us advance the avatar facial animations on Roblox in lifelike ways, and Imbellus will help us improve our talent assessment systems as we continue to accelerate our hiring.
Ensuring Our Reliability Worldwide
More and more of our users rely on Roblox for social connection, and like any other utility (be it power, water, or telephone), we focus heavily on reliability. Our database platform team achieved five-nines availability and our infrastructure-managed systems ended the year at four-nines availability for serving production end-users.
In 2020, we launched our first set of multi-region aware core datacenter infrastructure applications to eliminate single points of failure for serving Roblox users. Multiple megawatts of capacity were deployed globally supporting bare metal growth in the tens of thousands along with multiple terabits of network capacity to meet more than 2x growth in demand. We also evolved from leveraging a general global pool of compute resources to regional pools focused on capacity to serve users within the Americas, Asia, and Europe, thus improving regional performance. Our performance metric improved by two points, moving up and to the right with the slowest 10th percentile of clients improving from 56 to 58 fps. Some of our edge data centers are even capable of supporting more than a million concurrent users at once.
Improving Our Core Engine
Our vision has always been to simulate the physical world, both visually as well as physically. With initiatives like Future Is Bright and Physically Based Rendering, we’re giving developers and creators the tools they need to deliver bigger and more immersive experiences. Players are coming to expect a consistently increasing level of quality and reactivity from Roblox experiences.
Last year, we launched Skinned Meshes, which enables lifelike soft surface character elements and supports general soft surfaces like flags, curtains, and water (especially when combined with Physically Based Rendering). Skinned meshes are a critical step on the path to our upcoming Layered Clothing system, on top of general improvements to surface appearances and mesh parts.
With our acquisition of Loom.ai, we’ve accelerated our development of next-generation avatars, blending together art and engineering to create more immersive and emotive experiences. To increase avatar performance, we launched a new Humanoid Parallelism system to allow many more characters on the screen at the same time. This came alongside improvements to the Avatar Editor with the goal of simplifying workflow, improving ease of editing, and bringing Avatar Marketplace support to new platforms like Xbox. Our first iteration of the Dev Avatar Editor API technology has also been released, allowing certain experiences to write avatar modifications and data back to the platform. We showcased that ability during the Lil Nas X concert, where our community members were able to bring assets from the concert back to the overall Roblox platform.
Supporting Our Developer Community
We are constantly in awe of the creativity and ambition of our developer community. To date, over 25 experiences on Roblox have surpassed a billion visits. 2020 also saw our greatest commitment to user-generated content yet, with community-created items dominating the Avatar Marketplace.
We’ve added new and improved features for developers, both on their collaborative processes and the immersive depth of their experiences. We launched multiple script editor enhancements, such as syntax and semantic highlighting, improved the interaction times of our Lua debugger and Studio’s dedicated UI inspector, and enabled full and accurate emulation of the Universal App in Studio.
We also launched our engagement-based payouts program in 2020. Now developers are rewarded based on the number of hours spent in their experiences. This allows them to earn money and invest more time in their creations by focusing on ideas that users enjoy. With programs like this, our developers earned over $200 million in the first three quarters of 2020, up from over $70 million in the same period.
Making Roblox More Personalized
Our goal is to deliver a unique, individualized experience to our millions of users worldwide. As our platform continues to grow, personalization allows us to shine a more relevant spotlight on the vast and diverse creations from our global community and promote the discoverability of high-quality content.
New personalization systems, such as our “Recommended Items for You” landing page in the Avatar Marketplace, now ensure that players can easily discover items that are tailored to their interests. We have extended this approach to our Games page as well. We’ve revamped game search and implemented new measures to eliminate botting from the Popular sorts, and we’ve enabled a personalized set of recommended experiences based on a user’s play history.
Music and Entertainment Takes on a New Form
More brands and music artists are recognizing there’s untapped potential in the Metaverse. Last year, DC and Warner Bros. demonstrated how brands can connect with fans in a more immersive and engaging way by launching Wonder Woman: The Themyscira Experience on Roblox—a branded world featuring Wonder Woman-themed avatar items and mini-games. Meanwhile, events like One World: Together At Home, Ava Max’s “Heaven & Hell” album launch party, the Ready Player Two book tour, and the Lil Nas X Concert Experience provided unique gathering spaces for social entertainment.
And we’re just scratching the surface. We see a future where tens of thousands of people can gather in a single instance to join a virtual business conference, attend a movie premiere, or watch their favorite artists perform live. We are working to make this vision a reality, innovating toward new technologies such as spatial audio and high-fidelity avatars with lifelike facial expressions.
Fostering Safety and Civility
Our top priority continues to be fostering a safe, civil, and diverse community—one that is inclusive and fosters positive relationships between people around the world. It’s not enough for us to follow best practices in digital safety and civility; we must lead the way for the industry. In 2020, we continued working closely with parents, educators, community members, and the industry at large to promote positive, healthy online experiences on Roblox.
Using the Metaverse itself to teach digital citizenship is one step in our commitment to helping new generations learn the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly online world. It’s also an example of how the Metaverse can change the world for the better by enriching and fostering positive shared human experiences.
Onwards and Upwards
Thank you to our incredible Roblox teams and the amazing Roblox creator community for their resilience and creativity during these challenging times.
Looking ahead to 2021 and beyond, we see a future where Roblox brings more and more people together from around the world to play, learn, work, and co-experience. The work of our creators will transcend languages and devices to unify billions of people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds, both safely and civilly. We see a future that will be inclusive, connected, and social, powered by new and engaging virtual experiences. We are excited for what lies ahead!
On behalf of everyone at Roblox, thank you for your continued passion, creativity, and support, and have a wonderful 2021.
David Baszucki, a.k.a. Builderman
Founder and CEO, Roblox