“This is real work for us,” said David
Baszucki, the CEO of video game platform Roblox, on stage at the Roblox Developers Conference this past Saturday.
Baszucki had just finished telling a crowd of 185-plus developers that Roblox was on track to pay out $US30 million to the developers making games on the platform — a crowd that generally ranged from 17 up to 22 years old, plus a few parental chaperones.
If you’re older than, say, 15, there’s a healthy chance you’ve never heard of Roblox, despite the fact that it has 56 million monthly active players. That’s a smidge more than the 55 million last reported by Minecraft, the phenomenon on which Microsoft spent $US2.5 billion.
And it’s a serious business: Of that $US30 million payout, $US3 million will go to one developer, with two more claiming $US2 million. Some teenagers are even paying for their private college educations thanks to their success in building games for Roblox.
Which goes back to Baszucki. He was there to make the case to these young developers that, no matter where their burgeoning careers took them, Roblox would be the best home for their talents. The game is growing like crazy, with expectations that the player base will double over the next year, as it did over the preceding 12 months.
“We would expect your earnings to double” as well in that scenario, Baszucki told the crowd.
This speaks to the greatest challenge for Roblox moving forward: How to keep these young developers happy, in a world where programmers, designers, and system engineers are spoiled for choice.
To Baszucki’s point, Roblox is a serious business. It’s over a decade old, profitable, and with a brand-new $US92 million round of venture capital funding in the bank.
Roblox’s platform is open; anyone with the requisite skills can make a game for it. Currently, there are almost 2 million Roblox developers on the platform — only top members of the community were invited to the Roblox Developers Conference.
That openness is reflected in the tremendous variety of games offered, including popular games like cops-and-robbers game “Jailbreak;” “Roblox High School,” a high school role playing game; “Work At a Pizza Place,” which is pretty much what it sounds like; and “Pokémon Brick Bronze,” a multiplayer homage to the Nintendo franchise.
Players use a virtual currency called Robux to buy items in games. In “Jailbreak,” for example, you can buy a stereo for your in-game car, or a VIP pass with unique privileges. Roblox sells Robux for real money. When users spend their Robux in a game, the game’s developer gets a cut.
Baszucki ultimately doesn’t see Roblox as a game platform. He sees it as a “platform for social co-experience.” In other words, games are certainly part of what Roblox is about. Really, though, it’s finding success as a way for kids to hang out online. That broader scope makes Roblox a better destination for more developers, he says.
“The gaming market is big,” Baszucki tells Business Insider. “The social co-experience market could be bigger.”
The big challenge
Most successful Roblox developers start when they’re young, experiment with creation as they get older, and eventually end up making full games on the platform. That’s why Roblox is rapidly working to expand its platform, and give developers a wider array of tools, so the company has tools to help them at every stage.
“I hopefully see it as a smooth, linear path,” says Baszucki.
Baszucki says that Roblox has some key technical advantages, often underrated by the rest of the world: First, because Roblox is available for PC, tablet, smartphone, and Xbox, it’s easy for a developer to code their game once and reach a massive cross-device audience.
Second, because Roblox also has a robust system for letting friends play games with each other and chat, Roblox is slowly evolving into a social network in its own right. That makes players more likely to stick around, in turn increasing the opportunity for developers. In the not-so-distant future, Baszucki says, the social networking aspect could be made smarter, so as to automatically filter trolls from online games.
“There’s enormously fun things we can do with the player graph, and enormously functional things, too,” says Baszucki.
Some of what Roblox is doing is outside the technical realm. For example, Roblox Stars is a still-very-early program that would essentially let the company act as the talent agent for select top developers. The idea is to help developers put their Roblox games front-and-center, alongside cross-media franchises like Pokémon.
“We’re not famous, our developers are famous,” says Baszucki.
Earlier this year, Roblox hired Grace Francisco as its first-ever VP of developer relations. Previously, Francisco was at Atlassian, makers of the ubiquitous Jira bug-tracking tool, among other staples of the daily lives of software developers.
A few months in, Francisco says that she’s continually impressed by the Roblox community developers she works with in her new role. They may be young, she says, but they’re as fiercely devoted to their projects and ‘professional’ as any developer she’s ever worked with.
“They really aren’t kids,” Francisco says. “They’re entrepreneurial developers and builders.”
The next step for Roblox, from Francisco’s perspective, is providing these developers with the additional tools and support they need to succeed. Roblox developers are starting to optimise their older PC games for the smartphone; that’s something Roblox can help more with. Some are building tools for player analytics on their own, because Roblox doesn’t offer the right service. That’s something else Roblox can help with.
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