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Roblox: How the 15 year old game got more successful than Fortnite and Minecraft

Roblox was released in the USA 15 years ago. For a long time, the computer game, in which everyone can develop their own game world, ekes out a niche existence. But as of 2016, the number of monthly active users has exploded from nine to 100 million per month. We show how the Roblox team was able to attract not only many players, but also millions of recreational developers, why they are now sometimes making good money with Roblox and how a whole economy has emerged around the game.

In 2004 David Baszucki and Erik Cassel founded Dynablox, and in 2006 it became Roblox. A computer game that actually functions as a platform for many individual games: Players can either play one of the more than 15 million games developed by the community, or they can simply develop one themselves. Roblox now reaches 100 million monthly active users - more than Fortnite or Minecraft. The reason why it is still less well known is probably due to the platform approach, which now also enables the creators to have lucrative business models.

Roblox founder David Baszucki

Educational game + Friendster = Roblox

Before Roblox, the two Americans Baszucki and Cassel had developed educational software for physics experiments that many students used like a game. "They had fun building their own experiments," says founder and current Roblox CEO David Baszucki to Techcrunch. “They did car accidents and collapsing buildings and other funny things.” The basic idea of ​​this educational software in connection with the impressions Baszucki had received as an investor in the Friendster social network lead to the idea behind Roblox: a freely configurable game world and exchange between the players.

The typical Roblox style

The approach is full of risks: Roblox is dependent on user-generated content - only at the beginning does the team develop some games itself in order to avoid the chicken and egg problem of many platforms. At the same time, it completely takes care of the infrastructure, provides developer software, servers, apps and the chat function. During the first test, the characters still floated through the picture because the team did not have time to animate them. Nevertheless, a few dozen testers play the first version. When the first version of Roblox Studio - the developer version of the game - was released in 2006, things really started. “It started a lot better than we expected. There were paintball games, model trains, scary Halloween houses, ”says founder Baszucki. In 2008 Roblox stopped developing its own games for the platform because the developer community was rolling out its own games at full speed.

These are popular Roblox games right now

Millions in sales through virtual shops

Since then, the company has been tempted to rethink its business model. Minecraft starts in 2009 - a game with a similar look, but only one game world. In 2013 Minecraft had ten million paying users. King.com (Candy Crush) and other game developers are first trying their hand at Facebook and then starting with free-to-play games in the app stores. They make millions from users' in-app purchases. Roblox maker Baszucki is still sticking to his platform idea and is considering initial monetization ideas: In 2008 the team introduced the in-game currency Robux. Players can still use it to buy clothes for their characters, brand new characters, weapons and other things like wings or Batman costumes. In the games themselves there are also various virtual products that developers can offer or they make their entire game chargeable. Robux again cost real money: 400 Robux, for example, just under five euros, for 10,000 Robux 100 euros are due.

Players can buy costumes or characters from the catalog

The company does not publicly disclose sales figures, but there are indications of the magnitude. According to estimates by the analysis tool Sensor Tower, Roblox has earned over $ 750 million from its apps alone. Every day, players around the world would currently spend almost $ 1.2 million on the apps, which would mean over $ 400 million in annual sales for Roblox - through in-app purchases alone.

According to Roblox, just over half of the users now play in the apps, which on the other hand would mean more millions in sales through the desktop versions. In addition, the company sells its own toy figures in its own Amazon shop and through other retailers, which are a bit reminiscent of Lego men, typical of the Roblox look. It all adds up to a current company valuation of $ 2.5 billion.

Roblox developers become millionaires

The independent developers, who have already placed 15 million games on the Roblox platform so far, are an important building block for success. That is why the company gives them a share in the company's success. If players spend their Robux dollars in a game, the developers receive a portion of the sales generated in this way. According to its own information, Roblox paid out over $ 60 million to its two million hobby developers in the past year alone. The most successful would have made between two and three million US dollars.

As a prisoner in the game Jailbreak, which has been played a million times

Many of the young developers started out as Roblox players. Like Alex Balfanz, who published the game "Jailbreak" on Roblox in 2017 when he was 18 years old with a friend. On the very first day, the two had recorded 75,000 simultaneous players - at the end of the year there was a seven-digit turnover. Another young developer, Andrew Bereza, has been making good money since 2015 with his game "Miner's Heaven". So much that he was able to pay for his entire university education. “The cool thing about Roblox is that it handles a lot of the heavy lifting,” Bereza told Business Insider. Many of the young developers only put a few hours of work into a game at the beginning. If it takes off, success can only be sustained with constant updates.

Games like Jailbreak can come up with incredible numbers. According to the statistics on the Roblox platform, the game's page has been visited over 2.8 billion times. More than 3 million players have given the game a like. In order to keep the huge developer community in line, the company has been holding developer conferences since 2015, as do large platform companies like Apple and Google. Very successful game makers are allowed to work directly with the Roblox team in California on a permanent basis.

Who is playing that?

The whole success is mainly due to one target group. Roblox mainly reaches children under the age of 13. According to the company, the majority of 9 to 12 year old Americans are already on the platform. There are several reasons for success with children and failure with other target groups at the same time. Founder Dave Baszucki speaks of a “co-experience” when he talks about the Roblox gaming experience. The players should experience worlds, chat with others and build their own identity. In the gaming experience itself, this manifests itself in unfinished landscapes, a lack of explanations on how the games should be played and, as a result, wandering aimlessly. After all, the young developers also learn what it means to build real games.

“If you play our games, it's not to win. You go to these worlds to meet people you know and share an experience, ”Roblox chief business officer Craig Donato told Techcrunch. “At the moment, children simply have too few places where they can let their imagination run wild.” One advantage of these game mechanics, which are not geared towards competition, is that many girls now cavort on the platform and may find a way to become games developers. 40 percent of Roblox players are female today.

The Roblox world also lives on other platforms

But how did the platform - even if it took a long time - grow to 100 million active users? And why has there been such a leap in growth, especially in recent years? As is so often the case, other platforms help. The Roblox community has found a second home, especially on YouTube. Whole short films are published there - the Roblox characters as the main actors. One of the largest German Youtubers who generates hundreds of thousands of views is “Arazhul” with over 1.7 million subscribers (he also makes videos about the other two heavyweights Minecraft and Fortnite). With videos about scary mansions with Roblox males, he usually has more than 500,000 views per video.

US Youtubers like "The Pals" with more than three million subscribers have specialized completely in their Roblox adventure videos. Your most successful clip has over 18 million views on YouTube. Under each of these videos - whether from Arazhul, The Pals or countless others - the Roblox website is linked. Youtuber Arazhul is also promoting his Roblox group under his video - another clever community tool in the game. Here his fans can get in direct contact with the Youtuber. The Arazhul group has more than 52,000 members and he sells a virtual t-shirt for 50 Robux in the attached shop.

Another Youtuber with the nickname Kavra even reaches more than 450,000 of his fans with his Roblox group. Here he not only earns a few Robux with digital t-shirts, but also advertises his games, in which his fans can potentially meet him - and in which the players in turn spend Robux dollars, from which Kavra then collects a commission. It's not for nothing that founder Dave Baszucki speaks of a market economy that emerged from the game.

From 100 million to a billion players?

American kids are on board, now Roblox wants to get even bigger in two ways: internationalization and opening up new target groups. Both are made more difficult by the principle that has worked so well up to now. The game has been officially available in German since April - but only the platform and registration. The individual games have to be translated by the respective developers, which seems to be a major hurdle when tested by OMR. Almost all the games are still in English. If there is a translation, words are usually linked together in Google Translate style. The launch of Roblox in China should give a real push. To this end, the company has formed a joint venture with the Wechat maker Tencent. The Chinese also own 40 percent of Fortnite developer Epic Games.

The team wants to reach new age groups by polishing up the graphics and creating larger worlds. At the same time, Roblox also wants to attract more professional development teams to the platform. Instead of going under in the app stores, they should design games at Roblox. To do this, however, work must be done on the personalization of the game overview. “There is already a lot of content that is tailored to very different age groups. But it's hard to find, ”said Adam Miller, Vice President of Engineering at Roblox. Roblox still shows the same games on the start page for every player. Clicking through 15 million - neither children nor adults do that.