Learning About Roblox

I was talking recently with Liz, Julie, and Bob about Roblox. I know it’s something younger kids are into, and I’ve known about it for some time… but I failed to adequately describe what it actually is. Mostly because I wasn’t 100% sure I knew what it actually is.

To the best of my understanding, Roblox is an online environment that allows people to create games for others. And also has highly customizable avatars. And an in-world currency called Robux.

I dug around a little online, and found some useful information. If, like us, you’re not super clear on what Roblox actually is… check this out:

I also recalled seeing a post on MetaFilter, talking about how there are some serious issues with younger children doing development work on Roblox. This is a video from Quintin Smith, someone I recognize from numerous board game review videos via Shut Up and Sit Down.

Note: this is a much deeper dive into the specifics of how game development, promotion, and monetization work within Roblox. And how problematic it is.

The thing that struck me most was the specific process of how Roblox pays people in its own currency. If nothing else, jump to this segment for what I found to be a really eye-opening moment.

… the lack of regulation in today’s tech sector is seeing a lot of historically illegal practices coming back again, with a new lick of paint. Robox paying people in Robux is very, very similar to historical mining and logging camps in the United States paying people in company scrip.

I like the idea of kids getting involved in online worlds, and learning dev/coding skills. In a lot of ways, I think about early MUDs and MOOs… and how those environments helped lead people into the world of tech.

I’d like to think the same of Roblox, but there seem to be a lot of really troubling aspects to that world that I wasn’t aware of. It seems that a lot of younger kids nowadays want to become Twitch streamers or Roblox devs, as a kind of aspirational career. Which I guess is technically possible, but the odds are just incredibly low (akin to someone wanting to play professional sports as a future career).

Beyond talent and luck though, there also seem to be troubling mechanisms built-in to the Roblox ecosystem. The phrase “it’s all fun and games” comes to mind, but then I remember Roblox Corp is valued at around $4 billion.


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