Roblox is a multi-player gaming platform that’s been around since the early 2000s, but most of the world discovered it earlier this year after a global pandemic and national lockdowns forced us all indoors, spurring us to find new forms of connection. A quick Google search will explain how this particular gaming verse works – gamer-created content on servers able to host large swaths of players from around the world that appeals to users looking for more inventive, niche-style play, a majority of whom are under the age of 18. That Google search will also reveal that adults – parents, older siblings, millennials looking for entry-level gaming avenues – are just cluing into how popular this massive online world is with the next generation.
From NY Times articles on how it’s become the online sandbox for “tweens” to op-eds on how its use as a kind of digital babysitter for parents who prefer to spend their time doomsday scrolling on Twitter, the general consensus is this: Roblox, with its 150 million global users spending billions of hours gaming, is the internet’s equivalent of a schoolyard playground where only the cool kids can congregate.
Of course, that’s not the whole story of Roblox. It’s not even why the platform, which started as a way for physics students to model in-class experiments, is, for some, a prototype for what the future of gaming could look like. Instead, Roblox’s appeal and its influence in the Metaverse – a new kind of “human co-experience” its pushing that combines gaming, social media, and entertainment – is how committed it seems to ushering in a new kind of gamer, one that takes control over the content they interact with, in a refreshingly empowering way.
Forget “choose your own adventure,” Roblox is allowing passionate gamers to make their own adventure. That’s the real appeal of the platform.
At least it is for young developers like Mimi_Dev, whose debut game “Dance Your Blox Off” currently has over 90 million plays.
“I’ve been creative since I was young, so making games was just another form of art for me,” Dev tells UPROXX.
She had been drawn to juggernaut style competitive gaming when she first logged onto Roblox in 2013 looking for a digital space to house her 3D projects. She was a gamer, sure, but she didn’t play any titles on the platform until years later. What interested her about Roblox was how easy it would be to take this idea she’d been mulling – a virtual dance studio – and transform it into a socially-interactive experience, complete with props, purchasable costumes, and team-up capabilities.
And she’s not alone. While Roblox launched with a handful of games for users to play, the company has since shifted its user experience goals. They see themselves as a facilitator rather than a generator of content.
“People really enjoy building their own worlds and inviting their friends to play in them,” Tami Bhaumik, VP of Marketing and Digital Civility at Roblox, says. “[That] user-generated content (UGC) [is] our secret sauce.”
She’s talking about games like “Jailbreak,” an amusing role-playing game where inmates must escape prison life and outrun the cops that has had over 3 billion plays since it was released. Or “MeepCity,” another brightly colored role-playing arena where users are invited to hang out, customize animal-like creatures called Meeps, build homes, sell goods, and complete tasks for money or Robux, that they can then spend buying merch.
“There are thousands of different sub-communities on Roblox: war, anime, fashion, trading, FPS, etc. It’s easy to find a community that you fit in with,” explains Laine London, a 23-year-old male creator from Canada who was first introduced to the Roblox platform by his younger cousin. London’s “Book Of Monsters” has over 30 million plays, but unlike Dev, he didn’t arrive on the platform with the intention of crafting his own gaming experience.
“[A] big part of my motivation was the games I played regularly had some bugs,” London adds, “weren’t being updated much, and I had a lot of ideas of my own I wanted to add, so I wanted to recreate them.”
Roblox simply provided the tools for him to do that.
“I didn’t know how to code,” London says. “I don’t think I would have gotten far without all the backend Roblox provides like the servers and the physics engine.”
He’s talking about the Roblox Studio, which offers tutorials and step-by-step processes for everything from understanding Lua, the programming language used to build games on the platform, to GUI animations, sound effects, cross-platform development, and more. The Developer Hub is designed to make creation – whether you’re an experienced coder or a first-time player – easy, accessible, and universal. It’s that lack of gatekeeping, that invitation to engage with content, that’s turning Roblox into something more than just a space for multi-player fun – it’s becoming an incubator for emerging talent and an example of what opening up the world of game creation can mean for the next generation of play.
According to Roblox, nearly 30 percent of users reported that they started learning to code and build their own games during the pandemic. “We saw students recreating physical environments that they miss like their university campus, virtual graduations and birthday parties in the past few months,” Bhaumik says, explaining that the introduction of private servers that allow users to invite specific players and friends into these worlds made them all the more popular.
It’s also started to affect the kinds of players the platform is welcoming.
“We are actually seeing that 17+ is our fastest growing audience at the moment,” Bhaumik explains, citing the company’s push to enhance avatars and features to attract players looking for visually sophisticated content and the platform’s translator tools that allow for multi-language gameplay as big drivers of new traffic. “We envision Roblox [as] this universal connector that can bring people of all generations together through play. The ability to meet, play, learn, watch, work with anyone, anywhere, anytime—independent of what language they speak or what country they are in—is extremely powerful.”
That global audience of gamers of all ages craving variety in content is what drew Toya, an Israeli game development studio that’s focused on female-oriented games and transforming the gaming experience for girls around the world, to the platform. Toya’s launched several successful titles on Roblox, crediting the studio’s ability to provide organic exposure and test and optimize games in real-time as some of its most attractive features.
“Once you become part of the creators, you are also part of the community,” Toya CEO Anat Shperling says. “The creators are the community, and the community members are also the creators. That is the beauty of the platform. We feel like [Roblox] has real potential to enable experimentation with new approaches to game design and user experience.”
There’s still more work to do on the platform. Dev thinks graphics and visuals could be better and London would like to see Roblox expand its audience to reach young adults his own age. But the DNA of Roblox, this idea that if you dream it, you can create it, play it, and get others to play it too, feels like a strong foundation for the future of gaming – one that sees players, not just major publishers setting trends and directing gaming’s new course.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to serve and empower a brilliant community, [to] reimagine what gameplay can look like,” Shperling says. And that’s the real gamechanger.