Roblox Developers and Their Troubling Treatment

by in General | Aug, 23rd 2021

Game development is a huge industry, and Roblox wants the entire pie. Roblox’s “experiences” contain user-created game modes with simplistic goals such as avoiding explosions in a bright environment with crazy, cartoony physics. Roblox’s experiences aren’t deep, are only sometimes functional, and more often than not, pester users to unlock something in the game mode using Robux, Roblox’s in-game currency. Roblox has an almost sinister way of getting you accustomed to its bizarre ecosystem for its developers and working with it, which has led to some troubling conclusions regarding the development of many of the game’s experiences as detailed in a video investigation by People Make Games’ Quintin Smith. 

What Roblox Pitches to Kids and The Unfortunate Truth

The image of Roblox that Roblox Corporation presents to kids, parents, and educators is that the platform is a fun, engaging, and socially driven space where kids can express their creativity and play games in an environment suitable for them and their peers. Roblox compounds this idea of a kid-friendly platform by introducing the prospect that kids themselves can create the unique experiences they’ve come to enjoy with their friends. The splash page on Roblox’s create page reads “Make Anything You Can Imagine” and promotes the idea that anyone can become a rockstar developer with some creativity and hard work: “Creators like you are getting paid for what they love to do. Our top developers are earning over $2M a year by providing in-experience purchases.” 

From the get, Roblox’s website copy is quick to include the user into its exclusive group of creators and the lucrative opportunity of developing a hit experience for serious cash. Smith goes on to describe how PR at Roblox hyper emphasizes this point on their YouTube channel, in press, even on the education section of Roblox’s website. The manipulative language and the image of Roblox as a child friendly space makes the idea of developing your own “experiences” seem rather innocuous, but the goal for Roblox isn’t to provide kids with the opportunity to learn basic game developing skills and techniques, but to indoctrinate them into an ecosystem of economic exploitation. 

As Smith describes in his investigation, reaching an audience is the beginning of the challenges young developers face in Roblox’s experience marketplace. Unless developers are able to partner with popular content creators that are distinguished in the Roblox community, their only option is to utilize Roblox’s internal ad network to promote their game.

Assuming an experience manages to attract a community of players and the experience is meaningfully monetized, developers have to go through several hoops to simply withdraw the money they earn in-game as USD. 

Firstly, Roblox takes a 30% cut of every transaction on the platform, giving the remaining 70% to creators in Robux. In order for creators and developers to withdraw their Robux, they need to withdraw a minimum of 100,00 Robux (equivalent to $1000). In order to withdraw any Robux, users need a Roblox premium subscription ($9.99 per month). Once you FINALLY reach the requirements to withdraw your Robux as fiat, you’ll learn that the Roblox buys your Robux at a lower rate than the purchase rate given to users. Your balance of $1000 worth of Robux nets you a total of $350 once you convert it. 

This process encourages users to keep their money on the platform and creates an ecosystem where the volume of incoming fiat remains high and exiting fiat stays low. It’s a practice that Roblox acknowledges in its filing with the SEC. Roblox claims that “developers and creators do not always cash out their Robux to real-world currency. Some choose to reinvest their Robux into developer tools, promote their experiences through our internal ad network, or spend the Robux as any other user would.” It’s a practice that Smith likens to scrip currency used to compensate workers during the American logging and mining industry booms of the 19th century. 

It’s difficult to not see this system as being predatory as a majority of the aspiring developers on Roblox are children. Many of these children have little context for the value of money outside of personal experience, which includes routine activities such as shopping with their parents or using money to pay for lunch at school. Children understand instrumental use of money, but not symbolic worth, which makes it difficult for them to understand the value of their purchases inside of Roblox.

According to a study conducted by Kupisiewicz and summarized by Agata Trzcińska and Katarzyna Sekścińska in their articleThe Effects of Activating the Money Concept on Perseverance and the Preference for Delayed Gratification in Children,” Kupisiewicz found “that children between 6 and 8 years of age have some, but not a full instrument understanding of money. They understand the main function of money… but are unfamiliar with the prices of products and services.” Trzcińska and Sekścińska also note that research concerning children’s understanding of symbolic wealth value is lacking: “It still remains to be exhaustively explained whether or not the symbolic understanding of money comes with instrumental knowledge about it or if it develops independently.

Roblox takes advantage of children’s understanding of money as an instrument (tool of exchange for goods and services) but their limited experience and conceptualization of value and wealth (the “value” of a good or service when compared to its purchase price). Roblox creates an economic system that makes sense to children because it introduces an economic model reliant on enhanced user experience, which children will prioritize over material wealth, physical assets, living costs, etc, because they have no understanding of the value of these concepts. If Robux is the unit of exchange in Roblox, then anything that provides the user with Robux is either fair compensation or a pleasant bonus to re-invest into the user experience. 

Because young developers are accustomed to the Roblox model of value, it makes it easier to exploit them. 


Leave a Reply