I’ve spent the last year playing and writing about Roblox. This is not what I thought I would spend my time doing in 2022, but here we are. Roblox pays my bills. It’s the world’s largest video game, and someone’s gotta write about it. I have spent my time in simulators, tycoons, anime games, racing games, clicking games, games you collect pets in, and exploring various corporations’ never-ending, desperate attempts to turn today’s kids into tomorrow’s customers. From building a slime tower in Slime Tycoon to practicing my aim in Bad Business, Roblox has dominated my year. That makes me feel strange, because there are a lot of problems with the platform.
Roblox is enormous. It is by far the largest video game in terms of player numbers, outpacing even Fortnite, Call of Duty, and League of Legends. According to Statista, Roblox had the daily active player number at close to 60 million for the majority of Q3 2022. A little further digging reveals that players from over 180 nations have logged into Roblox, close to 70 percent of players are under the age of 16, and that there are over 50 million games on the platform as of 2022. If Roblox is evidently so massive, why is it that when I speak to people about it, no one really knows what I’m talking about?
It’s that 70 percent that’s mostly responsible for this reaction. Most adults don’t know about kid stuff, and Roblox is a platform for kids. The only reason I’d be aware of Roblox outside of work is because my little brother plays it morning, afternoon, and night. Think of it like a massive theme park full of “experiences” (which is what Roblox rebranded games as “to better represent the metaverse”) that is almost entirely built, staffed, and enjoyed by kids. The theme park and all its rides are totally free. Teenagers develop the games, other kids play them, and then they ask their parents if they can buy things in the games for Robux, and these Robux keeps the entire thing ticking over.
Robux is the internal currency of Roblox. This is how you buy boosts, upgrades, and cosmetics in the various games. Games like Adopt Me!, Blox Fruits, and Pet Simulator X, have turned their developers into millionaires. All of that Robux can be turned into real cash through an exchange system, a system operated by the Roblox Corporation itself, which is where it takes its (extremely nefarious) 70 percent of the cut. For every Roblox developer millionaire, the company is getting much richer than the people who made the games. Go figure. PeopleMakeGames covered this entire exploitation debacle in a brilliantly researched video that I recommend you watch.
Aside from the scummy business practices, what is it exactly that the Roblox Corporation does? If the games are developed and played by kids, what’s its role in the whole thing? Well, they provide the engine to develop the games, handle licensing for when games overstep into real-life IPs like Pokemon and Naruto, and pay for the servers—of which they require thousands and thousands. A few prominent members of the Roblox community have recently called out the Roblox Corp for not doing enough to support its member base, but why would it? Roblox is a self-perpetuating system, and there’s nothing else like it out there.
Roblox is a metaverse, but not in the big Zuck way. This metaverse is hugely successful. You can basically play (or ‘experience’) anything under the sun. This is both incredible and horrifying. On the one hand you have Kim Kardashian’s sex tape being advertised to children, including her own son, and on the other, you have a burgeoning collective of future developers and entrepreneurs with the perfect platform to hone their craft. You have bright and brilliant global communities, and you have toxic communities and developers with a handily provided megaphone. You have terrible exploitation by the Corporation and people within the system (other kids, usually), and you have an undeniably successful platform for young people to learn about coding, game development, team building, and, most importantly, the internet itself.
That’s probably too much power for one platform to have. It’s likely where a majority of the global youth learn about the internet—over half the children in the US have a Roblox account. This is not often addressed by the media or Roblox Corp itself, which tends to distance itself as much as possible from the communities it has helped foster. But there is one thing to keep in mind: Roblox is the great leveler—if you’ve got a computer, mobile phone, or console built sometime after 2010, the chances are it can run Roblox. Hundreds of thousands of children from Asia, Europe, and Africa, play alongside hundreds of thousands of children from the US, without the usual disparity in access to media. It is a global phenomenon. I both hate it and love it.
Not every Roblox game is awful, either. This year, DOORS ruled the roost as the very best experience on the platform. Polished with the finish of a proper triple-A title, this horror game and puzzler based on the Backrooms was one of the massive breakout hits. We also reported on a Roblox FPS game with incredible graphics. Other, more classic games, like Adopt Me! (Roblox’ most popular game of all time) and Blox Fruits (a Roblox fighting game inspired by One Piece and Devil Fruits), have continued to draw in hundreds of millions of players. Even the simple Tower Defense games and Tycoon games, though often copy-and-paste jobs with shared assets and predatory microtransactions, usually have some kind of artistic merit. If your game doesn’t do enough to stand out on Roblox, it just won’t.
My attitude to Roblox has changed over the year. The platform clearly has some huge problems, whether that be exploitation or problems around security for kids, but the communities I’ve seen and the games I’ve played have changed my mind—if only a little bit. I still believe that Erik Cassel and David Baszucki, the founders of the Roblox Corporation, are both some kind of evil genius, but now I realise that the beating heart of the platform is really far beyond their reach. This isn’t just about kids trying to become millionaires while filling the pockets of a faceless boardroom, although that remains a massive issue. Roblox represents the future of the internet, online economies, and global communities. It is important to think about it, and to be aware of it, because Roblox is not going anywhere. Most reports suggest it is, in fact, only getting bigger. After my year with Roblox, it’s easy to see why, even if I think there is still a lot of work to be done to make the platform a safer, more fair place.
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