Roblox is celebrating its ten-year anniversary this year.
The family-friendly user-generated-content gaming platform launched back in 2006, and a lot’s changed between then and now according to CEO and founder David Baszucki.
When the gaming platform launched a decade ago, the company envisioned it as “an immersive 3D sandbox” where game creators would drive the ecosystem, and user-generated content would power the fun. But as it took off and grew, taking on something of a life of its own, Baszucki realized that in order to keep top creators invested in the community and the platform, they’d need to find a way to keep them around.
“We started having more developers who wished they could develop on Roblox forever, but they were starting to go off to Google and get jobs,” he says. “It struck us that this whole platform play, where the creators were powering the fun, we could wrap it into powering the monetization as well.”
So in 2013, Roblox opened the floodgates, allowing creators to participate in the platform’s economy by allowing them to cash out the game’s virtual currency—Robux—into real money.
“Fast-forward now and we have creators cashing out $50,000 a month,” Baszucki says. Some are even building their own Roblox-based studios.
One of these top creators is 17-year-old Andrew Bereza, the creator of the recently-launched Roblox game Azure Mines.
Bereza was just 15 when he launched his first Roblox game. Before creating a game on Roblox he’d tinkered around on the platform, run a Minecraft server and had some experience coding, but hadn’t had any formal training in game design.
His first game, 2-Player Gun Factory Tycoon, took off over night. Bereza built the game for fun, but even then he viewed it as more than just a hobby.
“I can’t say it was just for me and my friends,” Bereza tells me. “I was really hoping other people would see it and play it and I sort of put it out there and had my friends spread the word about it, but I never expected it to grow as big as it did.”
Bereza says the game literally blew up overnight. “I soft of went about doing what I was doing,” he says. “The next day I woke up, looked at Roblox, and it was just huge.”
How huge? While neither Bereza nor Roblox will say just how much money the high-school senior is making, they are quick to point out he’s one of their top creators. You’ll recall that some top creators are earning $50,000 per month. Bereza says his first game has been played 30 million times. His second game, Miner’s Haven, which came out at the end of 2015, has been played 45 million times. Azure Mines, which is just four months old, has 9 million plays already.
“It’s allowed me to worry a lot less about the financial hardships of being a college student because I can focus now on my game development and my potential future career without having to have a side job,” Bereza says.
Bereza hopes to go work at Roblox over the summer and “sort of fine tune various aspects of my game development skills, whether it’s the marketing aspect or the underlying design aspect.” After that he’s set his sights on the University of Washington where he plans to study computer science before opening his own video game studio.
“I believe that my greatest talents are the big picture design stuff for games, not really so much programming as it is, just ideas and implementing those ideas.”
The way Roblox creators get paid is simple but elegant. Content creators make whatever they want for the platform, so long as it fits the platform’s family-friendly vision, and then can charge users—the platform has over 700,000 concurrent players now across multiple platforms ranging from mobile to Xbox One to PC and VR—for various in-game items.
Baszucki gives an example of a Roblox bird simulator. “If I was in our bird simulator, and I wanted to be an eagle, our developer of that game has actually allowed me to purchase and accelerate my turning to an eagle withRobux,” he explains. “I might buy $5 worth of Robux using the iTunes store, or a prepaid card or a credit card, and then spend some of those Robux to become an eagle in the developer’s game. The developer then can take those robux and turn them back into income through our developer exchange program.”
Roblox takes its cut, of course—82% according to a previous interview Baszucki did with FORBES earlier this year—but the company has moved more and more toward a creator-centric vision.
“If you look at where we started,” he says, “it was about user-generated experiences, about avatars that could be created by the users, but the original monetization was more around Roblox selling assets in the catalogues that we created. The migration to more of a developer-powered economy is actually truer to our vision, which is a platform for user-generated content driven by our community.
“If anything, it’s kind of opened our eyes and validated the notion that there’s so much more power in the community, not just for fun creation, but for monetization, for virality and growth of the platform in a lot of other areas than what we could do ourselves.”
And now, Roblox creators can make a living doing what they love.
Another of Roblox’s star creators is Cindering, the creator of 2014′s Roblox High School, which he describes as “a social hangout and roleplaying game.” The game has been played over 200 million times, and Cindering says that there are “always a couple thousand players on the game at any given time.”
Cindering, whose real name is Brian Wilson, says he’s worked with Roblox and third-parties like Disney to create special events in the game—sponsorship opportunities basically—and the entire thing allows him to keep making updates while paying for his college expenses where he studies Computer Science.
Wilson says he was 12 when he created his first Roblox game, “an obstacle course where players had to climb up a volcano while avoiding the trails of lava that stood in their way.” That was after just a few weeks on Roblox, and Wilson was thrilled when a couple thousand people tried it out. Naturally, going from that to 200 million plays of Roblox High School is a pretty big deal. “I’m grateful to all the players who made it possible,” he tells me.
Since 2008, Roblox players have spent 4.9 billion hours playing Roblox games created by other users. The platform’s active monthly players have grown by 278% to 30 million. And Roblox has paid out over $7 million to community developers.
The company employs 148 people in its San Mateo, CA headquarters, and over 500,000 budding creators have used its tools to create over 15 million Roblox games.
I ask Baszucki how players can possibly filter through so much content. After all, it’s hard enough to navigate the Google Play store or Steam. He compares the experience to YouTube, another platform of largely user-created content that tries to filter the best and most relevant to the top of the pile.
“Roblox is really heavily based on automated sorting of content in various ways,” he tells me. “What’s popular with monetizing, what’s been most favorited, what’s most retaining. We’re constantly working on ways to surface the best and most interesting content, just like YouTube would or any other user-generated content site. You can definitely go onto Roblox and go deep, deep, deep down into the chart and find random creations, just like you might find someone’s first YouTube video with 5 views. Generally, we’ve seen a continued increase in the quality of the top popular, the top grossing, the top-favorited experiences on Roblox. Now, those are starting to resemble the top of any other charts.”
Much of the platform’s success, Baszucki says, is thanks to the fact that the platform is cloud-based and runs seamlessly across platforms. “So, having these experiences run everywhere heterogeneously, will let people play with their friends wherever they may be.”
But running in the cloud is important for lots of other reasons, too, like allowing a game to become popular very quickly and not buckle under the strain of too many users. “Running on the cloud gives us scale,” says Baszucki. “It also allows us to moderate, watch the chat, keep Roblox family-friendly and safe, and it allows just everyone to kind of push their creations and immediately scale infinitely. Cloud is really big.”
The cloud-based, cross-platform experience allows friends to play together on different devices, anywhere they want. And it allows developers to create content on a stable platform. “We have a really stable, awesome and evolving API,” Baszucki says. “Even though we’re shipping a new Roblox client, roughly every week or two on phones, tablets, computers and Xbox, all of the games that the developers have created, they keep working right out of the box with any new integration.”
What Roblox Games Should You Play?
With millions of games, it might be hard to know where to start playing. So I asked Baszucki, Bereza and Cindering to tell me about their favorite games—other than the ones they themselves have made.
“I like it because it’s very simple,” Baszucki tells me. “It’s friends and myself running around, jumping every three minutes on a new island, with a new natural disaster and there’s a bit of being both together and being scared as we try to outwit a hurricane, or a tidal wave, or a lightning storm or a tornado and the environment’s really dynamic. Things are flying around. We have to figure out whether to climb to the top of a building or hide out in a shelter. I like that. I like it because it plays well all the way from phone to virtual reality, and it’s really a simple thing and a very social thing.”
“While the gameplay itself is pretty straightforward—the sheriff and the innocent people have to stop the mystery knife-wielding player from defeating everyone—it has a lot of goofy items and social elements that make it a lot of fun to play with other people,” he says. “Every person behaves differently and you’ll always have unique interactions with the other players, so every round feels fresh and interesting.”
For Andrew Bereza’s part, he’s been watching a game some of his friends on Roblox are developing called Exteria.
“They’re basically designing the first full fledged in-depth MMORPG on Roblox,” he says. “The reason that I’ve being so into that is because they are really creating a story. They are creating really a unique world, a really in depth game and that’s really the type of game I go for. I like games where there is more than just the gameplay.”
My nine-year-old has been playing a bunch of Roblox games over the past few months, but her favorite game on the platform is a spin-off of that terrible YouTube song Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing On Rainbows. I can only describe the game as a Starburst nightmare.
I guess even with a good content filter, there’s still no accounting for taste.
I ask Bereza what his game design philosophy is. What makes a game fun?
“I got my laptop when I was in third grade,” he tells me, “and I would take apart an old Super Mario ROMS and there was this program I used that basically let me customize them and make my own game out of them. I’ve been technically making games since I was eight years old. My philosophy has always just being I’m making stuff for myself that I find fun and it just so happens that a lot of other people also find it fun.
“To me it’s really an entire experience, allowing yourself to get immersed and invested into what the game is offering, the story, just the world that’s created by a game. The Roblox platform has been really great in allowing me to do that by myself but I really want to not necessarily tell a story but let the player be a part of my story. I think what makes a great game is when you involve the player in something greater.”
Bereza’s answer dovetails nicely with how Baszucki describes his company. He calls Roblox as “a social network for human co-experience.” More than just content or communication, Roblox is about people sharing an experience. “We’re kind of powering something that only recently people have been able to do at the computer, and that is use it as a platform so you and I can do stuff together. Survive the disaster, be in the fashion show, work at a pizza restaurant.”
Roblox, Baszucki argues, is part of an immersive new category of social technology. “We’d like to grow that category,” he says, “and make it better, more immersive, more social, with more interesting content powered by our developers.”
Do you play or make games on Roblox? Let us know in the comments or on social media.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.