A year or two ago, Roblox rarely made it out of the information space. Roblox surprised us with stories about in-game political intrigues, record growth rates, and digital product prices that are not typical for children's games. However, Roblox has been around for more than 15 years, and it has experienced such a short but bright splash of attention only recently.
For many years, the platform manages to anticipate global trends. For example, it was possible to create your worlds in it even before Minecraft came out. And many years before the announcements of Meta and investments in the Epic Games meta world, Roblox introduced a working prototype of this concept. So soon, the platform may become more relevant than ever.
Let's find out how Roblox works, what are the reasons for its rapid growth, and how its creators see the meta-universe of the future.
The first versions of Roblox were developed at the beginning of the century by computer scientist David Baszucki. He always wanted to be an entrepreneur. After graduating from university in the late 1980s, he founded Knowledge Revolution and started creating educational software for the Macintosh.
In the late '90s, David Baszucki met engineer Eric Cassel, the future co-founder of Roblox. Later MSC Software Corporation, a simulation software producer, acquired his company. By 2000, David Baszucki was already a vice president of MSC Software but soon decided to repeat his success with educational utilities. Along with Cassel, he left to start DynaBlocks, later Roblox Corporation. They were joined by other MSC employees.
In 2006, the company had a website where it published the Roblox Studio engine. With it, users could not only create small games but also try out other people's projects. Almost immediately began a slow but steady growth in popularity of the platform. Roblox began to learn how to program, and most of its audience consisted of children under 13.
A year after the platform's launch, the Builders Club premium subscription appeared, with a daily influx of Robux's donation currency and no ads on the site. In 2009, Roblox raised more than two million dollars in the first round of investment and four million during the second round in 2011.
We've got a Hack Week event, during which the company's employees were able to offer their brightest ideas for the development of the platform. During this period, Roblox came out on iOS, and in 2014 on Android. However, not everyone saw it: the company's co-founder Eric Cassel had died of cancer the year before.
In 2015, Roblox appeared on VR devices with an updated system for creating natural landscapes. Two years later, Baszucki's company attracted truly impressive investments: Meritech Capital Partners and Index Ventures invested $92 million in it. In March 2021, Roblox went public, and today it is worth more than Ubisoft and Electronic Arts.
In 2019, the platform was already visited by 100 million people a month - 9 million more than Minecraft. Now almost 45 million players enter Roblox every day - more per month than Steam, PSN, and the Xbox ecosystem. In the spring of 2020, the popularity of the platform increased so much that the developers even published a blog post for parents whose kids were having trouble getting distracted from Roblox.
One of the main growth factors the developers call total crossplay. The platform is playable on all current platforms except Nintendo Switch and PlayStation. Except that not all plays work well on every device.
“In my opinion, the key advantage of Roblox is that it is optimized to run on very old computers. In this way this platform can go beyond gameplay. It is noticeable how the platform is slowly but surely going towards this.” -
Yaroslav Kravtsov, indie game developer
Roblox was once conceived as a tool for teaching children, but today it has a much wider application.
First of all, it is a platform in the spirit of Little Big Planet or Dreams, where millions of users create small games and try the projects of other community members.
Except that in Roblox, the tools to create your prototypes are much more flexible than in the games by Media Molecule. Here, for example, you can use almost any graphic asset. At the same time, the platform is just as easy to master, and the Roblox Studio engine is also downloaded to your PC along with it.
The utility looks like a very simplified version of Unity, with a menu of pre-made assets available immediately on the main screen. These include a variety of weapons, furniture, and even vehicles. Especially convenient local landscape generation system: to create your game map, just enter parameters like its size, the presence of ponds, or other special places like lava springs.
Thanks to such a number of tools, a small working prototype is assembled in just a couple of clicks. Among the templates, you can choose a ready-made setting - here a pirate island, a town in the Wild West, and even a map to capture the flag.
But the creators of the playsets go further. Roblox has full-fledged clones of complex games like Call of Duty or Escape from Tarkov with weapons customization - similar mechanics are implemented using simple Lua programming language. Roblox even has a website similar to Unity Learn and Unreal Online Learning, where we go step by step through Roblox Studio and teach the basics of coding.
Anyone can accumulate Robux donation currency. And to convert it into real money, you have to have a premium subscription and a Robux account of a hundred thousand or more Robux. Each of the three Roblox Premium plans gives from 450 to 2200 Robux per month, but you can also buy currency. Interestingly, 100 000 Robux will cost $1200, but it will only turn into $350 after withdrawal.
After that, the user can earn by introducing paid items on their plays, as in large free-to-play games. Or ask Robux for the very opportunity to enter the game. Back in 2015, a user named Laimonas Mileska earned over $100 000 on his plays with in-game purchases for Robux.
In 2019, Roblox paid developers about $110 million, in 2020 - $250 million, and in 2021 planned the amount of half a billion dollars (no official statistics for the past year yet).
Josh Wood from England started playing Roblox at the age of 12 and monetized his game within a year. In 2017 he released his most successful game, Game Dev Life, where you have to develop your studio. So successful that Josh Wood started an actual game-making company. The owners of the platform helped him launch a line of toys based on Game Dev Life. He even ended up being able to pay his way through university.
Another successful game creator is 20-year-old Ann Shoemaker, who moved to Silicon Valley to work alongside other playmakers. At first, making money at Roblox wasn't enough for a normal life, but after the pandemic began, Shoemaker made half a million dollars in less than a year from just two games, Mermaid Life about the lives of mermaids in an underwater world and My Droplets about raising pets.
The creators of the most popular games even earn several million dollars a year. So it's understandable why the virtual shopping platform UseHero suggested in its article: Roblox has become the path to success for a new generation, just as YouTube once was for millennials. And, as with YouTube, not everyone can make good money in Roblox - in 2021, out of 40 million plays, only about 1000 brought the creators more than $30 000.
By the way, Josh Wood is not the only Roblox user, who together with like-minded people has put the production of games on stream. The Gang, a Swedish team of game developers of different scales from indie to AAA, did it too. It has already released 10 games that have been played more than 100 million times and have gathered a community of a million fans on Discord.
“Even though Roblox is geared toward kids, it's actually quite a full-fledged platform for free-to-play games. They are proud of the sums they pay out to the creators of the projects - that's really huge money for a platform where big players like Bethesda or EA didn't come in.” - Yaroslav Kravtsov, indie game developer
Another way to encourage young developers is through the Incubator program. Roblox invites creators of popular games to its office to create a new game in cooperation with platform developers for five months.
Like Fortnite, there are occasional events of various scales. In the era of the pandemic, they were especially relevant and helped promote themself among the young audience.
For example, in May 2021, the Gucci exhibition was held, where exclusive locations and customization items for Roblox were available. The most expensive was a handbag from the old Dionysus collection, which was sold for 350 000 Robux. At the same time, the real counterpart from the current collection cost less.
In 2020, during the advertising campaign for the cartoon "Scooby-Doo," its creators added Scooby-Doo himself to the super-popular game Adopt Me! Lil Nas X's concert on the platform was seen by 36 million people (by comparison, Travis Scott's Fortnite concert was seen by only 27 million). Warner Bros. organized a themed game Wonder Woman: Themyscira Experience for the release of Wonder Woman 1984.
Corporations are so willing to use Roblox in advertising because of the platform's openness. To hold a concert in Fortnite, you first have to agree with Epic Games. In Roblox, according to researcher Andrew Douthwaite, this kind of bureaucracy can be avoided. After all, everyone can create their own game there. And kids like to see real-life brands on the platform.
“The good thing about Roblox is that it can have about 700 people in the same space at the same time. Other games don't offer anything like that. We didn't go for such records, for us the optimal number is 50-200 participants. We needed that many people to give the participants the feeling that they were taking part in a big event.” - Yaroslav Kravtsov, indie game developer
Its creators have not forgotten about the original purpose of the platform, either. The Roblox website has a whole section devoted to education, where you can even find courses on programming. For example, during the lockdown, physicist Phillip Williams explained to his students what a chain reaction is, using a specially created play. He also used Roblox to teach game design.
There are dozens of live and online courses for children on Lua programming or simply constructing in Roblox. The company itself aims to have 100 million people learning through the platform by 2030.
Today, the total number of "students" is unknown. But, for example, the educational program Build It, Play It from Roblox involved more than 20 million users. In November 2021, the company even established a special fund: it will support teachers who use Roblox as well as popularizers of science around the world. After the foundation was established, the company immediately sponsored the Boston Museum of Science.
Over time, Roblox became so feature-rich that during the surge in popularity of meta universes, it was called their first working prototype. However, Roblox started it all back in 2006, and since then it has accumulated an incredible user base and technical expertise in virtual worlds.
After the company founder David Baszucki shared his views on the meta-universe on CNBC's Mad Money program, Roblox stock skyrocketed by 42%. And at the very beginning of 2021, in his column for Wired, he made a lot of assumptions about how in a year, the meta-universe will become a part of all spheres of our lives. Some of these predictions have already been confirmed.
“In the next few decades, the ways in which the meta world can be used will surpass our wildest fantasies. But perhaps its main advantage is the possibility to unite the most diverse people and build a civilized virtual society. In 2021 this society will begin to become a reality.” - David Baszucki
Roblox emphasizes three principles that will guide the developers in the development of the metauniverse in the future. First, communication in virtual space should follow the rules of the real world. We raise our voices when we want to be heard from afar; otherwise, we whisper and use gestures and facial expressions to convey emotions.
Second, in the metauniverse, there should be no boundaries between real and virtual communication. For example, the developers mentioned the situation when a player is talking to a friend in Roblox and the person next to him in the real world at the same time. In this case, all participants of such a conversation will be able to change the type of communication at any time - for example, go to video chat.
The third and main principle converges with the core values of Roblox. Communication in the metauniverse should be safe for its participants and take place within the law. To do this, it should be regulated, just like in the real world. For example, no one will know if you and a close friend are alone to discuss something not very legitimate. But if you yell at someone in the middle of the restaurant, the people around you will react immediately.
The creators of Roblox also want the players to be able to look and behave in the game the same way as in reality and introduce the corresponding technologies. For example, the ability to create a realistic character instead of a cartoon man or Spatial Voice.
And in the summer of 2021, the company signed a partnership with Sony Music to develop a kind of "innovative musical experience" within Roblox. For example, Lil Nas X, who performed in Roblox earlier, cooperated with Sony's music division. So we can assume that this is how the company wants to legitimize music in its metauniverse. In the past, the Music Publishers Association sued Roblox for 200 million for the illegal use of songs.
The company also believes that the young audience of Roblox will help create a full-fledged meta-universe because this generation grew up in the era of the Internet and smartphones.
“When I grew up, I would take my bike and disappear until the street lights came on and my mom would yell out for me to come home. Now, my kids, they've got an after-school activity that's led by an adult. They come home, they've got two to three hours of homework. And when do they actually have time to hang out with their friends? It's in the evening, and they're popping into Roblox. I think the lives that kids live today, they're finding that venue for unstructured hangout time, it's easier for them to do it in the digital world than in the physical world.” - Craig Donato, Roblox Chief Business Officer
Last January, Roblox raised $520 million in investments, and in the spring it went public with a capitalization of $41.9 billion. Now that figure has risen to $51.5 billion. A utility that was conceived 17 years ago as a learning tool has turned into a global playground, and has managed to outpace the tech giants in the development of the meta universe.
Roblox still has a lot of problems, both technical and social, that no popular online platform from Facebook to TikTok has ever managed to avoid. But the prospects of David Baszucki's company and the variety of Roblox applications are still impressive. And the constant development for almost twenty years gives hope that Roblox will be able to get rid of its shortcomings after all.