The User-Generated Civilization of Roblox

Keith

August 6, 2021

The light show is designed as if latecomers were anticipated. It builds to false climax after false climax, like an expressive fireworks show, and each one is better. It is so vast and complicated that no one sees more than 10 percent of it; you could spend a year watching it over and over again and keep seeing new things. — Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash

Mapping the Metaverse V

For the past eight years, Roblox has hosted a community showcase to commemorate the platform's best user-generated experiences. Since 2020, the Bloxy Awards has become a fully interactive event that streams live from a 3D experience replete with curated exhibits, rides, and humorous sketches from a lineup of cartoon emcees.

The 7th Annual Bloxys accommodated 600,000 live attendees. As colorful avatars lavished awards on notable creators, guests got to float down a lazy river, collect souvenirs for their inventory, and swarm around on push scooters. Meanwhile, an auction of community-created items raised more than $100,000 for charity.

At the height of the show, the Roblox platform hosted four million concurrent players—a feat at the time, but a speck in the rearview mirror now. Just this year, the 8th Annual Bloxys drew over 26 million unique visits, while more than 855,000 people hung out together in the Bloxy experience.

To give you a sense of scale: the 2020 Academy Awards only roused 23 million viewers. This year's Oscars mustered an all-time low of 9.8 million sets of eyes. Blame it on Hollywood's tiresome grandstanding or the box office slump, but it seems the dear old Academy can't touch JParty's demonic clout.

Roblox now sees 42.1 million unique active users every day. It's a remarkably late windfall for a fifteen year-old game—doubly so when you consider that few people over twelve are playing it.

Down the Hatch

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Everybody knows the Roblox user base skews young. When 64% of active Roblox users are under age sixteen, it's not a stretch to assume that most adults have never even tried to fathom what goes on in it. You might be deeply alarmed if you did.

Adopt Me! is a roleplaying game set in a world where dogs hatch from eggs, people turn into babies at will, and the hottest whip on the strip is a royal carriage. It also happens to be the most-visited experience on Roblox.

On my first foray (for reasons of gonzo research, I assure you), I was dismayed to learn that—since I had classed myself as a "baby" upon entering the game—any of the world's "adult" players could carry me off to join their family.

Within minutes, a woman in a cyberpunk visor with a perpetually screaming face had dumped me on the floor of her bedazzled home and demanded that she become my mother. Though I begrudgingly accepted, I was eventually cast out. You can't hatch the elusive white puma if you've got no Robux for the family kitty.

Once you see what works and what doesn't, it's easy to intuit the rules of any Roblox experience. You just need to try things out, make mistakes, and occasionally let somebody throw you in a crib. No wonder kids don't talk to their parents about it.

Blox Party

Over the course of many company focus groups, Roblox CBO Craig Donato saw a pattern emerge: young players were afraid to talk about Roblox with their parents.

What we've seen in a lot of focus groups is that kids and teens don't know how to talk to their parents about all the stuff that's going on in the digital world, because their parents don't understand it. When they do, the reaction of a lot of parents is that they're scared. And of course, when parents are scared, the first thing they do is they're going to lock it down. And that's exactly what kids don't want. This is how they're primarily engaging with their friends.

Kids don't want to describe what goes down in Roblox, because grownups simply wouldn't get it. The roleplaying element of the most popular experiences would probably elude most of us by itself. We've already had a hard life of figuring out who we are, and we're not about to let some video game make a baby of us (again).

There's no cause for alarm, says Donato. The reason Roblox is "naturally attractive" to a young audience is precisely because kids are used to thinking about themselves more flexibly. "They're growing up with this different perspective about what it means to be in the digital world."

Should it really surprise us that socializing occurs in digital spaces? My generation grew up impersonating grown-ups on AOL Instant Messenger. Now we're living in a reality where "brb" might as well be considered cave-speak, because conversations are extensible across all our devices.

Kids are living busier lives than ever. With less time away from the rigors of school and extracurricular activity, it makes sense that kids would seek out a digital context where leisure and socialization time can comfortably bleed over. Blurry distinctions between playing games and hanging out aren't really new: whereas my generation had N64 and Xbox Live, today's grade-schoolers chill out on Discord or Roblox.

Whatever the heck is happening within the game, it's even weirder to try and comprehend what it's doing to our world.

The Best Game in Town

Anybody paying attention could have told you Roblox was on a path to world domination years ago. COVID-19 just poured gas on the fire. Suddenly bereft of in-person social outlets, millions of kids made Roblox the first worldwide LAN party. Indie developers benefited most; what were lofty engagement ambitions just a year before became comfortable baselines.

Dreamcraft (the studio behind Adopt Me!, since rebranded as Uplift Games) rode a groundswell of fan support to become the most exalted experience developer on Roblox. When the team inevitably won the Bloxy for 2020's Studio of the Year, developer Josh Ling offered heartfelt thanks to the community that had made Adopt Me! a Roblox rising star. "I hope we can serve as a positive example of what's possible on the Roblox platform," he said.

They're perhaps the best example. A month after the big win, Adopt Me! logged a record-breaking 1.6 million concurrent players and a cumulative total of 5.7 billion unique visits since launch. With the introduction of engagement-based earnings later that month, the upstart studio found the runway to expand its pet-rearing paradise forever.

Have You Ever Been Experienced?

In a previous transmission, we discussed how Roblox could really be considered a social network at heart. According to Developer Relations VP Matt Curtis, user-generated experiences add a complementary dimension that turns social circles into global communities. Games like Adopt Me! owe their wild success to their engaged communities.

On Roblox, the players are creators, and the creators are players. Roblox users intuitively understand the development process because they have access to the same creative tools. Millions of daily players stimulate not just a trade economy but a collaborative exchange, where any visitor could offer the creative insight that helps a fledgling experience take flight.

According to Curtis, the gaming industry has been slow to incorporate UGC because video games are "a deeper medium." Roblox has proven that the fear is misguided. User-generated content isn't just T-shirts and funny-looking hats; players are creating sequential narratives and personal dramas that rival the most artful telenovelas. Entire roleplaying societies have developed in experiences like Welcome to Bloxburg and Brookhaven RP.

It's the free market ad infinitum. Players use Robux as a locus of exchange, monetizing their creations and using the same virtual currency to spend across the ecosystem. Most of the profits generated on Roblox return to the game economy—as fees to list new marketplace items, content purchases, or comfortable salaries that incentivize the ongoing development of the best platform experiences.

The integrated Robux economy puts a premium on the products of imagination, but it's a modest price that doesn't hinder creativity. Users are free to design and sell their own items, issue paid passes to their experiences, and create micro-societies. If it wasn't already obvious, people are building trade economies that rival ancient Babylon right in their living rooms.

That's why Curtis says user foundation provides the "flywheel" of the Roblox ecosystem. While plenty of game developers celebrate the creations of their communities, what sets Roblox apart is a true symbiosis with player-creators. For every experience that goes supernova, the platform sees better player concurrency, higher trade volume, and ballooning revenues—all of which introduce opportunities to expand the platform.

We Have the Technology

In a presentation entitled "The Future of Gaming is UGC," Curtis detailed forthcoming "platform technology" innovations that will bring Roblox that much closer to becoming a truly persistent Metaverse.

The platform already permits creators to instantiate experience servers where fellow Robloxians can visit in real-time. Soon they'll scale game servers to persist across sessions and accommodate 200 players. Curtis also showcased an avatar creation tool that uses advanced scripting to render high-fidelity user avatars, and a machine learning integration that can instantly localize any Roblox experience for users around the world.

Machine learning will also prove vital to simplifying the way we interface with creative tools. Using adaptive technology, developers can lower the barrier to entry so that anyone could create the next Adopt Me! In the words of Pim DeWitte, making Metaverse experiences will be as easy as "creating a YouTube video.” It's possible that the kids of tomorrow will socialize using tech we've only just begun to understand.

Roblox has already begun developing collaborative environments where multiple creators can build out a game experience together, using real-time scripting and modeling software. They're adding cross-server messaging and shared memory databases to store and query temp data. Once creativity moves at the speed of human whim, building in the Metaverse may become a lucrative job in itself.

Microcosm Economics

Last year, Roblox introduced engagement-based earnings known as "Premium Payouts" that reward creators with Robux for the time spent in their experiences. Since every experience on the platform is eligible by default, it has motivated Roblox creators to develop with quality in mind. It also helps that beaucoup 'bux can be transferred back into real-world currencies.

At the time Curtis gave his presentation, there were around 315,000 monthly active creators on the Roblox platform. By the following year, the Roblox Corporation paid $250 million in Premium Payouts to its 345,000 top developers.

The move improved user engagement across the ecosystem. As players spend more time in Roblox experiences as a whole, it becomes more likely that these players will opt into Roblox Premium—a recurring subscription that awards passholders a set amount of Robux every month—and purchase additional content in other experiences.

Experience creators can also solicit Premium signups in-game, or make purchasable items unique to Premium subscribers (so long as they abide certain rules of fairness). Premium Payouts put a bounty on platform loyalty that can generate life-changing income for top creators.

Adopt Me! has now soared past 23 billion visits, and holds a platform concurrency record of 1.9 million simultaneous players. It's amazing to think how a lithe studio of twenty-odd people working out of the home can achieve—but it doesn't surprise the people who want to build the Metaverse.

Brand New Deal

Over the last two years, Roblox has inked advertising deals with the likes of Disney and Warner Bros. to expand its world with branded experiences and items. These memorable inclusions allow users to engage with their off-platform interests in a more organic way.

Take the virtual experience DC Comics commissioned for Wonder Woman 1984, the in-universe In the Heights Q&A with Lin-Manuel Miranda, or the time WWE heroes and heels appeared as purchasable in-game avatars. What about Gucci Garden, the interactive store and plein air art show I'm certain no nine year-old asked for?

The company has even begun to forge the kinds of cross-media partnerships perfected by Epic Games. In July 2020, they enlisted the help of Monstercat music studios to create 50 tracks for use as free scores in Roblox experiences. Swedish singer Zara Larsson debuted songs from her new album Poster Girl in the limited-time "Zara Larsson Dance Party" Roblox experience.

By welcoming brand inclusivity, Roblox has multiplied its touchpoints with its users' genuine personalities. Just because you're stomping around as a fire-breathing dragon doesn't mean you can't still like wrestling. With every successful partnership, more brands are poised to interact with the Roblox universe.

Soon the Metaverse will become too robust to ignore. The question is, what will it take to unite all our digital worlds together?

Ticket to Ride

Something is happening in Roblox. Top games garner billions of visits in a matter of months. The Academy Awards has been roundly BTFO'd in raw viewership by a Roblox community showcase. Somewhere, right now, your baby cousin is gawking at Gucci belts in a Roblox pop-up shop.

Roblox checks many of the Metaverse boxes all on its own. It has a self-perpetuating economy, its users co-create the shared physical space, and it showcases a diversity of thought. Each game has its arbitrary rules and discrete pieces, but most things can be carried over from one experience to the next. You can truly do most anything—and if it doesn't already exist, you can probably build it.

For a dozen hours a week, the youth of the world is vanishing into a user-generated civilization.

Roblox just may prove to be the nucleus of tomorrow's Metaverse—but buy-in remains a limiting factor to population growth, especially among a young core demographic. One Robux gift card could help new users intuit the rules of this obscure universe, or give them the means to create the next runaway success on the platform. Yet most youngsters don't have the means.

The PC is making a comeback as our terminal to the Metaverse. Our hope is that Salad will provide the engine to get us there.

As the real-world possibilities of game economies expand, our ambition is to empower the next generation of Metaverse creators. Like Roblox, our user-powered network relies on the contributions of thousands of individuals. Computesharing on Salad will provide the seed money for the next Adopt Me! or help a first-time Robloxian list a cosmetic for sale. We're unlocking the value of home hardware so they can unlock their creative potential.


NEXT TRANSMISSION: Fortnite Built the Metaverse On-Ramp