What is Roblox?
Roblox is an online multiplayer gaming platform that hosts over 43 million daily active users (Curry, 2020). The platform was launched in 2006 by David Baszucki and Erik Cassel and aims to “connect billions of people through shared experiences in the Metaverse” (Roblox, 2021). Roblox users can both create their own games for the platform and participate in millions of user-developed servers around the world, all whilst communicating with other users. The platform’s intended user is aged between ten to eighteen years old, but people of any age can play.
This article will explore Roblox through a lens of platform moderation, using Gillespie’s (2017) definition where platforms are “the sites and services that host, organise and circulate users” whilst not just mediating public discourse, but constituting it (Gillespie, 2017, p.257).
What is Roblox? Source – Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YU2pLJiptzA
How Roblox Operates
Roblox is a gaming platform where members of the community can create and play a diverse range of games. Playing is simple, and it is a multi- device platform where controls are interchangeable depending on the device used. Roblox is currently available on PC, Mac, VR headsets, mobile phones, X-box and more. All players must do is sign up for free and search for one of forty million games (Curry, 2020). Players can create and tweak custom avatars with free items in the clothing shop, or purchase Robux- the in- platform currency, to spend on more luxe items.
Adopt Me, a popular game with over twenty billion plays, allows players to adopt a variety of pets and role-play as their owners. Pets are hatched from eggs and users can use Robux to purchase rarer eggs. Users can also trade pets with other users in their server if both parties agree. The game is a perfect example of how a Roblox game operates and user interaction all occurs within the platform’s affordances.
Like any platform, Roblox has its own forms of content moderation and community guidelines that must be adhered to and create the affordances of Roblox that facilitate and shape the public discourse that occurs on its site. As proliferated by Gillespie (2018), platform regulation and content moderation is essential when reliant on user-generated content, and platforms must moderate both the content and activity of users utilising some form of “detection, review and enforcement” (Gillespie, 2017).
Roblox prioritises platform moderation due to its young audience and does this through its extensive Community Guidelines (Roblox, 2021), as well as avatar clothing detection, reporting system, chat filters, customizable parental controls and a Roblox Trust and Safety Advisory Board. Roblox’s community standards are organised into four sections: Safety, Civility & Respect, Fairness & Transparency and Security & Privacy. These standards posit rules that must be followed and may lead to banning or termination of accounts if not done so. Roblox’s first standard outlines its zero- tolerance policy for endangering children, as well as being anti- discrimination and bullying. Roblox’s Trust and Safety team refers to these standards to moderate user’s content and accurately respond to reported users (Roblox, 2021).
Roblox also moderates the platform using avatar clothing detection, which uses automated technology to ensure all users are wearing appropriate and non- harmful attire. It also uses a chat filter- a combination of human and software moderation to remove any content that goes against its guidelines, such as bullying, racism, sexual content and personal information. Customisable parent controls allow parents to limit or completely disable chat features on the platform and restrict the visible games to only display age- appropriate content. Roblox also has collaborations with child safety organisations such as WePROTECT and Family Online Safety Institute (Roblox, 2021) to ensure that the platform is up to date on child-safety issues and is appropriately moderated. Roblox’s extensive moderation links to Gillespie’s (2018) proposition that platforms must moderate both to protect users from each other and to remove offensive material, as well as to present its most appealing face to users, advertisers and the general public.
Roblox has become an incredibly successful platform in the last decade and has seen an increase from 35 to 150 million active users in the last 3 years, with 50 million of these users being added during the COVID- 19 pandemic (Curry, 2021). Adopt Me, the Roblox game previously discussed, has amassed over 20.5 billion plays. Over 33 million people use Roblox daily, and the Roblox app has been downloaded approximately 400 million times on both Google Play and IOS (Curry, 2021). Roblox’s success and popularity has transcended the virtual world to become common playground talk for primary-aged children and has become a novelty (see Roblox Birthday Cake image).
Roblox’s success can be amounted to its accessibility, as it is free to download and can be played on most devices, whilst also offering access to an enormous online community for peer interaction.
Roblox’s success is also evident through its ability to create its own currency and marketplace, explained by John Herrman as “if successful, a platform creates its own marketplace; if extremely successful, it ends up controlling something closer to an entire economy.” (Gillespie, 2018, p134). Roblox made a $920 million revenue in 2020, increasing 111% since 2019 (Curry, 2020). Roblox’s success can also be attributed to its rewarding of game developers. Users are paid for creating games on the platform, thus rewarding users for appropriately acting in line with Roblox’s affordances and for bringing more users to the platform. The platform allows users who create games to exchange Robux for real- world money, with $250 million paid to game developers last year (Curry, 2020).
How Does Roblox Make Money?
Roblox connects players with each other whilst setting the terms for their interactions with set rules and regulations. Roblox also commodifies the way people play- whilst incentivising users to purchase the in- game currency Robux to upgrade avatars or fast track game progress.
Roblox makes money though selling Robux, royalties, licensing agreements and advertising deals. The platform utilises a ‘freemium’ model, where games are free to play but upgrades and customisations must be paid for. Roblox users instigate in-game pressures to purchase Robux as upgraded avatars become the norm and those with ‘free’ avatars are often scrutinised. The conversion price for 1 USD is 80 Robux, with the average user spending about 2000 Robux per year (Curry, 2020).
Concerns about Roblox
Although Roblox places high value on its platform moderation, there are still criticisms relating to the platform’s lack of appropriate regulation. Roblox has a zero- tolerance policy for breaches of community guidelines, but as Gillespie (2018) explains: “the instant a platform offers its service publicly, it is forever lashed to a ceaseless flow of information and activity that it cannot quite contain”. The main criticisms raised about Roblox are a lack of moderation that allows for sexually dangerous content and the ease for children to approve unauthorised microtransactions.
More than half of Roblox’s users are under thirteen, yet some games defy guidelines and show sex simulations and engage in sexually provocative discourse (Jargon, 2021). Despite chat filters, children are still susceptible to online grooming and harassment, with offenders finding ways to circumnavigate guidelines and direct conversations to third- party apps. In one case, a young boy was groomed into sending sexually- explicit images through a third- party app once meeting another player on Roblox (Stonehouse, 2019).
The below video elucidates the common issue of children authorising microtransactions for Robux on parent’s devices, with the platform’s design allowing for quick and easy financial transactions that young children can approve with fingerprint or Face- ID authentication.
Six-year-old racks up $8000 bill on dad’s iPad | A Current Affair – Youtube- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brE_h06jHNk
To combat these issues, Roblox is creating individual content ratings for games and is redesigning parental controls to make them more accessible and easily navigated for parents to use (Stonehouse, 2019).
Roblox just updated their TOS and I'm pissed
If I saw everything correctly
You can't hold hands or make kissing gestures anymore
You can't use a VPN
You can't have the same outfit as YouTubers
You can't make games that resemble natural disasters or dangerous activity
— Parker Kollars (@Parkers_tech) October 8, 2021
However, some users suggest that Roblox is over- moderated (see Tweet), so finding a balance between prioritising user safety and maintaining user satisfaction is crucial for Roblox to continue its immense success as a platform.
Curry, D. (2020). Roblox Revenue and Usage Statistics (2021). Business of Apps. Retrieved 13 October 2021, from https://www.businessofapps.com/data/roblox-statistics/.
Gillespie, Tarleton. (2017). ‘Governance by and through Platforms’, in J. Burgess, A. Marwick & T. Poell (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Social Media, London: SAGE, pp. 254- 278. https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/lib/usyd/detail.action?docID=5151795.
Gillespie, Tarleton. (2018). All Platforms Moderate (1st ed., pp. 1-23). In Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/10.12987/9780300235029
Gillespie, Tarleton. (2018). The Human Labour of Moderation (1st ed., pp. 130-135). In Custodians of the Internet: Platforms, Content Moderation, and the Hidden Decisions That Shape Social Media, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.sydney.edu.au/10.12987_9780300235029-005
Jargon, J. (2021). Roblox Struggles With Sexual Content. It Hopes a Ratings System Will Address the Problem.. WSJ. Retrieved 14 October 2021, from https://www.wsj.com/articles/roblox-struggles-with-sexual-content-it-hopes-a-ratings-system-will-address-the-problem-11618660801
Roblox Community Standards. Roblox. (2021). Retrieved 14 October 2021, from https://en.help.roblox.com/hc/en-us/articles/203313410-Roblox-Community-Standards.
Stonehouse, R. (2019). Roblox: ‘I thought he was playing an innocent game’. BBC News. Retrieved 14 October 2021, from https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-48450604.