“Our platform is aging up now,” said Roblox chief product officer Manuel Bronstein. “More than 50% of our users are 13 plus, and our fastest growing demographic is 17 to 24. So it makes sense for people to have control over what experiences they’re going to access.”
Roblox’s platform comprises user-generated games, many created by children and teens, some of whom have made millions of dollars for themselves. It declined to reveal exact numbers on how many users were under 13. It stated that 54% of its users were younger than 13. Roblox reports that approximately 90% of the top 1,000 games with the highest earnings are made by developers who are over 18 years old. It boasts over 12,000,000 game developers.
The company says that content for all ages could contain moderate violence or light unrealistic blood. While content for 13-plus could include mild violence and realistic blood, the content for those aged 13 and over could be more violent. Roblox says it doesn’t allow romantic or sexual content on its platform.
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The company, which is based in San Mateo, California, went public on March 20, 2021 at $64.50 per shares. At the time, Roblox CEO Dave Baszucki told The Washington Post he envisioned Roblox helping build and grow the metaverse, or a next version of the internet that’s shared and active, a confluence of music, games, films and more. The net loss for the June quarter was $176 million, compared with a $140m loss during the same period last year.
Roblox has tried to include features popularized by other tech companies but the platform is more vulnerable due to its younger users. Roblox plans to add a facial animation feature, making avatars change expression based on facial recognition — a feature popularized by Apple’s Memojis. It said that people will soon have the ability to chat with each others using the feature, which is currently in testing. The company also plans to release it fully by next year. Since November last year, the gaming platform has been releasing a spatial voice feature. It works in a similar fashion to that offered by Meta via their Oculus headset.
Roblox is looking to expand but it still faces a significant threat to its business. Roblox titles, unlike many others, are often targeted at children younger than 13 years old. Roblox titles can also be multiplayer, which allows users to interact with strangers on the internet. This opens Roblox up to many responsibilities. Parents can set strong parental controls or educate their children on how to use the platform.
“Much of Roblox’s user base is simply too young to understand the nuance of features like these when it comes to data and safety, and I don’t think we should ignore that many children use platforms like Roblox unsupervised, either,” said Alisha Karabinus, a games researcher at Grand Valley State University in Michigan who has children ages nine and 14. “So many children are given the same warning when it comes to navigating online worlds: don’t share personal or private information with strangers. Don’t share photos. But: what’s more personal or private than your face?”
Roblox requires users verify that they are at least 13 years old to use its voice chat feature. This can be done by verifying their number or submitting a government identification. Roblox relies on users reporting bad actors to provide real-time moderation by employees or artificial intelligence. This has been a challenge for voice communications in-game. Bronstein also notes that users can mute anyone or any person.
“In the future, we may have technology that could eventually do some level of real-time filtering, but that’s not in place anywhere in the world right now,” Bronstein said. “So what you can do is do a lot of good real-time moderation and give users control.”
Roblox voice chat verifies ID to protect children, but slurs are allowed.
Voice recordings may be used in the future to support users’ reports of bad behavior. Bronstein indicated that Roblox was sensitive to data privacy.
“First of all, we let people know that when they’re using voice, their voice could be recorded for moderation and abuse reports and then those files after a certain period of time just disappear,” Bronstein said. “We don’t have any plans to store users’ voice for a long period of time.”
Roblox also tested a new version for text chat that gave users older than 13 more freedom. The chat filter would keep those under 13 from seeing acronyms like “LMAO,” but allow those over 13 to see the words and acronyms.
Roblox will introduce immersive ads next year. This is a way for Roblox to tap into new revenue streams in addition to existing subscriptions. Warner Bros. and Vans, a shoe company, have tried ads on the platform.
“This is going to be our take on what advertising in the metaverse looks like,” Bronstein said. “This is a big area that we’re excited about from an innovation standpoint because I don’t think this has been figured out. We’re thinking about interactive formats, where if there’s a billboard, promoting a beautiful item, like say, a pair of shoes, you can tap on the billboard and immediately you are in the dressing room where you can try on those shoes and complete the transaction.”
All ads will be restricted to people aged 13 years or older. Gaming experts warn against tailoring ads for children because of possible harmful effects.
“Even an aging user base is still a young one, and Roblox’s profits are reaped from children. That merits more attention — or should,” Karabinus said, citing studies showing a link between junk food advertising to children and childhood obesity.
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Roblox creators can earn a profit selling items and occasionally limited-edition virtual goods that drive up demand. When asked if this meant Roblox was considering getting into non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are also digital and collectible, Bronstein said the company didn’t need to get on the blockchain.
“We are not looking into NFTs right now,” he said. “I read about this space and I like it. I like technology and I like to understand what’s going on. We believe that the blockchain can provide a lot more value and utility than we need to. If you purchase an item, we will give you an avatar and a place to use it. You will have 50 million other people to see it.”
The company expanded to Brazil, Russia, Portugal, China and Germany in order to grow its profits. LuoBuLeSi was the Chinese version of its platform. The company launched it in July 2021. However, six months later it shut it down, stating that it was working to relaunch it. Last year, the company listed the venture as a potential risk factor because it could be affected by U.S. China politics.
“Currently, we have paused services and are focused on making the necessary investments, including investments in our data architecture, in order to realize our long-term vision for LuoBuLeSi,” said Desiree Fish, Roblox global communications vice president.
“We’re hoping over time, more and more of our leading developers are coming from China. … There’s also a lot of really amazing content from our global developer base that we believe will do very well in China,” Baszucki told The Washington Post in March 2021.
Vice broke the story on Roblox’s internal documents last July. It revealed how Roblox intended to adhere to Chinese censorship rules for China launch success. Vice noted that Roblox players were identified by their nationalities, making it easier for child predators to be found.
Roblox said in a statement: “Roblox has been actively investigating a phishing incident, which involved a Roblox employee being targeted by cyber criminals through social engineering tactics and using highly personalized scare tactics. These stolen documents were illegally obtained as part of an extortion scheme that we refused to cooperate with.”