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As a free-to-play creative platform with more than 200million users each month, Roblox hosts more than 20million “experiences” and as of 2021 is valued at $41billion on the stock market.
The new investigative video explores just how “shockingly small” that wealth is given back to the user-developers trying to monetize their games and alleges that the platform is designed to “turn its young users into workers”.
While Roblox makes the tools for making and hosting games completely free, and simplifies game development processes such as 3D modelling, games journalist Quintin Smith – known professionally as Quinns – says that the platform’s “core player base of 9-15 year olds” are “submerged in this idea that they can be an entrepreneur”.
Under the platform’s ‘Create’ tab, it sells the idea that users can “make anything”, “reach millions of players”, and “earn serious cash”, while its official tutorials and support website both “assume” they are looking for help with monetisation.
However, while Roblox highlights developer success stories, the reality is that Roblox Corporation takes a 75.5 per cent cut of revenue from any sale in comparison to Valve’s 30 per cent cut on Steam.
Smith alleges that young developers earn even less or nothing at all, while professional Roblox developers told Smith that “kids should not expect to make money on the platform”.
As there are no discoverability tools, users are only able to see a tiny selection of the millions of experiences available. One of the ways boost to discoverability is to pay to advertise on the platform using its virtual currency, Robux.
In the event a user’s experience is popular, they also only earn Robux, which can only be spent in the platform’s ecosystem. If a user does want to take convert Robux back into real money, the minimum amount is 100,000 Robux (US$1,000 / £734), while the option to withdraw Robux also requires a US$5-per-month premium subscription.
Smith goes on to compare the use of virtual currency to company scrip, a substitute for legal tender once used in mining towns or logging camps in the US that was banned in 1938.
“Until we legislate scrip again in the digital age, Roblox is going to keep paying developers with pretend money,” he says.
The video also includes an interview with 11-year-old user Amil who went to a special summer camp where he could learn to code for Roblox before making a game by himself, which flopped.
“Even though Roblox says to ‘encourage’ you to actually make games, the likelihood of you making a successful game is basically zero,” he said. “You always compete with the people who have lots of money.”
“On Roblox, many young devs crunch and burn out, they’re not privy to ongoing dev discussions about healthy working practices,” said a professional Roblox creator who chose to remain anonymous.
“My advice would be to not over-work … don’t feel pressured to work long days, especially as a young person. Lower your expectations – there are millions of experiences on Roblox and only a handful become ‘top games’, make sure to have fun if only a few people play your game.”
Smith argues that this isn’t a message that Roblox Corporation would be promoting itself because as a publicly-traded company “it has a legal obligation to maximise profits, and kids working too hard with unreasonable expectations isn’t bad for the company”.
Roblox is also having a problem with recreations of mass shooting events.