What is to be done about Roblox?

If you’re a zoomer, you’ve probably heard your peers talk about Roblox. If you’re older, maybe you’ve heard a niece or a child talk about it. When I was the age of the demographic for it, I evaded it (luckily), though I heard about it. It’s been around for over 15 years now, and over the course of that time, it’s become one of the most popular games in the world.

Roblox, in short, is a free platform to make, share, and play games, and it’s specifically marketed towards kids. Kids aren’t the only people on Roblox, but they’re the intended demographic. I kind of think of it as a digital evolution of Lego, matched with the style of its avatars. Even as I was well aware that Roblox was a big deal, I had no idea just how big it was. Over half of children in the US have an account, and the company intends to expand into the Chinese market very soon. The CEO alone is worth billions of dollars. This all becomes significantly more worrisome, though, the more you learn about what the true face of Roblox looks like.

Quintin Smith on People Make Games talking about Roblox:

The takeaway from this video, for me, is that, as Roblox masquerades as a kid-friendly gaming platform, it’s actually a deeply exploitative system that encourages gambling and unpaid labor.

It’s an incredibly concerning revelation. But it gets worse, as PMG followed up when pressured to remove their video. Relevant CWs are in the video itself:

Simon Parkin, at The Guardian:

So, this sucks.

Apologies if I’m starting to sound dramatic here, but I don’t think it’s a stretch, when taking this all in, to say that Roblox is a horrifying example of modern capitalist exploitation. The comparisons to company scrip and NFTs are unsettling. Roblox doesn’t really care about its users, who are predominantly children, or their safety. It feels as though children are being trained to be a class of unpaid cognitariat, gambling that they’ll get any compensation for anything they do. They are being exploited.


I kinda just felt the need to spread this info around, but as a springboard: what do we do about it? I ask that earnestly. Obviously, I don’t think we as individuals can run up and change this, but something ought to be done. The easy answer would be to shut it down, but that’s probably never going to happen. What kind of regulations are feasible, and what would actually help this dire situation?

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I’m not a lawyer, so take any of the following accordingly.

It seems to me that if a game is using your content to make money, they should offer you some amount of remuneration in a reasonably-obtained currency of your choice (i.e. if you want Robux or whatever, that can be an option, but you should have the option to be paid in your local currency). I’m even less qualified to speak to the child labor implications, but, like, pay people.

They do; it’s called “Devexing” (developer exchanging). The problem is that a) you must have a monthly subscription to do so b) the minimum withdrawal amount is 100,000 Robux, which is roughly $1,000 USD, and c) that exchange isn’t 1:1, so you end up only getting like 35% of the money your Robux are worth from that exchange.

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I don’t know enough about labor law to do anything other than Dunning-Kruger my way through this post, but it seems like we’re talking about trying to find some kind of employment category for Roblox

I think that’s really hard because it is User Generated Content. No one at Roblox is forcing anyone to make content for them much in the same way no one is forcing anyone in the TF2 community to make cosmetic items and maps for Valve, they just do.

The best solution is teaching people to not get taken advantage of by this system but that’s really hard to do when you are talking about children (although getting kids to be pro union early in life would be an interesting idea).

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Those stories are absolutely messed up. No idea what can be done, really, although I’m extremely disturbed by monetization being an encouraged part of a game aimed at kids. As long as money can be made there will be people working to exploit others, and once the audience has a substantial amount of kids that becomes dangerous.

Ideally, I’d like for this type of monetization not to be a thing at all in games aimed at children. Kids will build and play stuff in any game without the promise of making money. If a game like Roblox can’t exist without making money through child labor, maybe it shouldn’t?

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I think one thing a person could do, especially if you’re a parent with kids, is to introduce the kid to other easy to learn alternatives to Roblox. Stuff like GDevelop, GB Studio, or even Bitsy. Depending on how willing they are to learn a new development suite they’d be much better off. The downside to this is that a lot of kids play Roblox because it’s where their friends are. It’s not an easy sell to kids in those circumstances, unless you can somehow wrangle their whole friend group too.

My other solution to the Roblox problem would be industrial sabotage. In Minecraft. As a treat. Just a little goof.

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That’s something I find so fascinating when I read about modern video games. I can’t even begin to fathom a video game all of my friends play. Heck, I can’t imagine having that many friends who play video games, period. Video games have always been a fairly solitary activity for me, a few nights in Rainbow Six: Vegas and a very memorable trip through the Splinter Cell: Conviction co-op mode notwithstanding.

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I had a strange experience on reddit that pointed to just how insular and messed up the Roblox community is. In the comments on an article about all the issues around Roblox a person who develops game for the platform went on and talked about how Roblox was great because it allowed them to easily contract people, including children as young as 13, to work on their games “without having to get a lawyer involved”. When many people explained that this was a pretty clear violation of child labor laws they protested that it wasn’t a contact, just an agreement to give someone money in exchange for work.

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One problem I believe is shared between roblox and fortnite is the way these games encourage cyber bullying as a monetisation strategy. I’m sure we’re all familiar with “default” becoming an insult thanks to fortnite, and how that pushes kids into buying battlepasses and skins.

In roblox, this pressure is used to discourage devs from taking their money out of the system. As vehemently mentioned, the devex rate is awful, so they need incentives for developers to keep their money in the system to stop them revolting against this rate. You can hear an example of a child who was caught by this in the second video vehemently linked.

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Roblox has benefited a lot from no one knowing or caring about them but their user base, the more attention they get the better.

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In my mind, realistically, the only way to really fight a fad behemoth like Roblox is for children to convince other children that Roblox is about as cool as toilet paper hanging from your shoe. I have confidence this will eventually happen. Even Minecraft slowed down, after a generation.

In the meantime though, the more people my age hate it, the cooler it gets.

Less cynically, it would be nice to see non-profit competitors to Roblox get some traction, and divert attention, but without the exploitative tricks (or massive content lead) Roblox has, I have doubts.

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I think this is true to a point but in the past 10-15 years it has shifted.

Society has basically instilled this belief that if you try hard enough you can turn anything you do, especially hobbies, into money and I think this has trickled down to influencing kids. It’s why things like the Gmod Store exist. Facepunch isn’t making money off this, this is a store run by a 3rd party company for allowing people (mostly kids & teens) to post/accept jobs and buy scripts for their servers. It’s the equivalent of Upwork but for Gmod where the pay is even further below minimum wage. There are people who are going to extreme lengths to protect their maps on Gmod because they don’t want people who didn’t pay for the map to play the map as an example which is pretty much against the idea of modding in general. I’m talking absurd levels of protection from stripping all the entities out and loading them in via server side with scripts to someone charging 50 Euros per map and 10 Euros per map update to protect it from decompiling.

Largely it comes down to a weird server vs server mindset because server operators are making some money off of their regulars either through donations or purchases. If you step back and look at it on the whole it really isn’t much, we’re talking a popular server maybe making $1K-$2K a month which is not pocket change but keep in mind these things are run by entire teams of individuals and time put in vs what you get out is way under even minimum wage. But again these are mostly teens and preteens we’re talking about so of the $1K if you get $250 a month you think you are on your way to being the next big thing.

The saddest thing is Gmod is a platform that lets you do whatever you want essentially when it comes to creativity and the community found ways to turn it into a way to make money by implementing microtransactions and ads in a system that never intended for there to be any.

We’ve some how reached a really gross point where hobbies can no longer just be hobbies for enjoyment. You need to justify your use of your free time by saying “I enjoyed this and I made $X while doing so” and it’s become ingrained in our culture to a point that even young people think this is acceptable. Look at how people in all sorts of creative fields are exploited with low wages and bad benefits by dangling the idea that they could get paid to do what they are passionate about in front of them. It’s really easy to see how a child gets influenced by all of this when it isn’t hard to find someone making a YouTube video or a news article about how someone turned their hobby into fame and fortune. You tell a kid “keep this up and one day you can be a developer at Nintendo” and in 20 years they find themselves working at a studio being taken advantage of because they’ve been taken advantage of by the game development scene since they were 10.

As for Roblox I don’t know what you ultimately do about the problem. I think there are people who clearly violated child labor laws like MostlyHarmless pointed out that should definitely be looked into but the problem at large is Roblox created a set of easy to use creative tools and gave people the option to make money off of it as long as they get the lions share and to a lot of children who don’t have a way to make money the idea of even making $10 for something they made is appealing ranging from validation of work to just having $10 to spend.

I think the first step is in making parents more informed about what is going on in that game and how their children could potentially be being exploited. It’s safe to say everyone here is pretty online but most people are not. I believe a very valid tactic should be a campaign of some kind to raise awareness. I think children should be better educated in schools about labor, unions, and how to spot someone using them for financial gain but good luck getting any of that to happen. Maybe enough bad press eventually forces Roblox to change policy or gets the attention of a law maker who makes it a personal running point to do something about it. So I guess what I’m ultimately saying is the first step should just be talking about it more and making people more informed.

In addition you have to think about what make Roblox appealing to kids and a large part of that is creative output in the form of easy game development. I am one of those weird tech people who really, and I mean really, gives a damn about documentation. Nothing drives me more mad then a seemingly good project having terrible documentation. I think we have good documentation for adults and young adults for things like Unreal, Godot, Unity but do we have good documentation aimed at younger audiences? When I was a kid I had 2 books on how to use GameMaker studio and I absolutely loved those books because they were easy to follow and it was easy to see after you were done how it is you could go back and modify these games it had you make to be more interesting. You even got an executable at the end you could send someone or share on YoYo games website. Looking at what GameMaker Studio is today it seems a lot less new user friendly. It’s more sharp looking and looks a lot closer to an actual IDE, it’s really intimidating to look at. A lot of the main people who are making content for Source Engine games/mods these days are still kids and teens and I highly suspect it has to do with Hammer being such an easy barrier of entry to clear when it comes to making a basic level and being able to play and share it with friends.

What I’m getting at is while everyone else in game engine development was chasing the professional/indie crowd Roblox chased the younger audience and it paid off massively for them. Networking is easily one of the hardest parts of game development and Roblox handles that all for you which is really necessary when you are trying to attract a younger audience who are mainly wanting to make something to play with their friends. I think part of the solution is making an open source alternative to Roblox so kids can just create games to share with their friends.

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I mean, anyone reading Mark Fisher’s critiques of “capitalist realism” has been railing about this for some time! I’d argue the key response needs to be even deeper than what you’re talking about, and actually address the caustic effect that late-stage capitalist thought processes have on culture and society in general.

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One small thing I want to push against is that I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with charging for mods/games by amateurs, or modders/amateur developers making less than minimum wage from that work. If it’s something they want to do as a hobby and they’re happy with the situation, then that seems fine.

The problem with Roblox is that players have to pay for the content created by modders/amateurs, but those creators are not the ones getting paid. That’s the part of this that is skeevy, exploitative, and needs to be fixed.

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I agree I think people should be able to sell whatever they create but I also question the validity of some of the things sold on the store. Someone did a backup of the Gmod workshop last year and found that the amount of duplication happening is massive.
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I do not believe the Gmod Store is doing any kind of validation of authorship on these items, which is already a big problem for the Gmod community (well really the Source community as a whole). It’s not uncommon for people to hire other people to do edits of someone else’s map. Sometimes it’s with permission from the original author a lot of times it’s not. Normally it will be something like “Our RP server wants this building replaced with this building”. Eventually some maps like downtown reach an infamous level of what is the original map and when does an edited copy stop being an edited copy and become it’s own original work and should the original creator still be credited or even allowed to voice an opinion on it.

This all to say however that I think what is happening with Roblox is 10x worse. This is the dark future that Gmod could have become IMO.

My main concern with the way people are making money on Gmod is that I think they are undervaluing their own work. A lot of things made are incredible and they deserve to be paid full value for their work. I don’t want to see young people think their work is valued that little and carry that stigma forward in life.


You know with how much money Roblox has I’m shocked that companies like Sega or whoever holds the rights to DBZ are not taking them to court over it. I have no idea if that Sonic game that is talked about in the second video is very successful but it must be successful enough to warrant an 11 member team. I don’t want to encourage DMCA take downs but I would not mind seeing large corporations fight each other.

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I’m not a parent, but I am an uncle to about six kids. Bought my five year old niblings Game Builder Garage last year, sat down and helped them make a couple of games, let them do the tutorials, and they both still play and send me their level codes every few weeks. There’s no problem teaching a kid to enjoy making games for the sake of creative expression or entertaining your friends and family.

But my 8-12 year old niblings? [Minecraft oof!] They’re in school, all of their friends play Roblox, it’s an absolute nonstarter getting them to play anything else. Unfortunately, the parents of those niblings are also my most conservative family, so when I’ve gone to them with ‘listen, I know you guys ask us to buy Roblox gift cards for them to save y’all the money, but you should really know this about that game’, their response is ‘well, my kids aren’t [unkind word] enough to be exploited’. :grimacing:

And I don’t doubt that my younger niblings, once they have friends who play Roblox, will also want to play Roblox. I’ve linked these vids to their parents, as a head’s up, but short of finding a good ‘Das Kapital: For Kids!’ book, I’m not sure how to talk to the kids themselves about the specifics of this. So many moral lessons for children are kind of vague things about not letting people make you feel bad or sad or mad, but not really "okay, so if you create something and only make a 24% share of the profit from selling that thing, you are being exploited by the company making the other 76% of the money’.

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brb off to write “Cameron Cat Defeats Capitalism”

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We need a new modern version of the board game Pay Day that shows kids how they are getting cheated lol. Players get the same job but different payouts, get injured and lose your job so you don’t make money that month, and one person at the start is chosen at random to be CEO who never runs into financial trouble and is all but guaranteed to win the game.

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This is the type of thing I’m most concerned about. This might be too cynical of me, but the question of “what can be done about roblox?” leaves me with the answer: start a moral panic about it facilitating grooming and encouraging gambling, rather than the fact their whole model is based on child labour…

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