Future titans of the Metaverse: Part 7
In this ongoing series we explore the past, present and potential future of the largest players in the Metaverse. Today, we’re taking a look at American video game developer Roblox.
For those of you who have been living under the proverbial rock, Roblox is a free-to-play online gaming platform and game creation system. As a User-Generated Content (UGC) platform, Roblox’ key feature is its huge collection of unique, user-created games, made using free tools such as Roblox Studio. Roblox currently has 199 million monthly active users, according to estimates from RTrack.
Roblox Corporation was founded in 2004 by David Baszucki and Erik Cassel. Baszucki is a Canadian-born American entrepreneur, engineer, and software developer Prior to Roblox, he co-founded and served as the CEO of educational software company Knowledge Revolution. Cassel, who also worked at Knowledge Revolution as their Vice President of Engineering, sadly passed away due to cancer in February 2013.
Originally named DynaBlocks, Roblox went into beta in 2005, meaning it was made available to a select number of individuals to test, examine, and report problems, and was released in 2006. While Roblox's isn’t aimed exclusively at children, the majority of its users are under sixteen and, in 2007, a safe chat feature was added, which prevented under-thirteen year olds from typing custom messages in the chat, restricting them to a list of predetermined messages to help prevent them from seeing or typing expletives or profanities. Other events in 2007 included the introduction of the in-game currency called Robux, which allowed players to make in-game purchases.
Roblox growth was initially restricted, but the platform began to rapidly grow in the second half of 2010. The popularity of the platform surged during the COVID-19 pandemic as schools closed and children stayed at home. Since March 2020, over 50 million new users have joined Roblox and, in March 2021, Roblox went public, with first day trading valuing the company at more than $45 billion.
Roblox is regularly referenced in conversations regarding the Metaverse because it displays many Metaverse features. Interactions in Roblox occur in real time, i.e., a user’s actions illicit a response within milliseconds. Roblox is mostly 3D, with the majority of in-game graphical elements being represented as three-dimensional objects. Roblox is mostly interactive, with over 40 million games, or “experiences” available for players to enjoy. Roblox is mostly social, with the majority of players joining to interact with or compete against other users. And, by definition, Roblox has a degree of persistence as it "continues to exist and develop internally even when there are no people interacting with it.” Roblox already supports virtual reality (VR) headsets via a Windows PC and future iterations might build on the above elements to create a more immersive
Roblox has recently come under fire for games depicting the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. One of these, called War on Larkiv: Ukraine, allowed players to fight and kill each other as Russians or Ukrainians and clocked up 90,000 plays before it was removed.
In more positive news, American multinational retail corporation Walmart, the world's largest company by revenue, announced last month that it will be using Roblox as a testing ground, as it considers other moves in the Metaverse and beyond. In its press release, Walmart said that “Walmart Land will feature a variety of immersive experiences, including a virtual store of merchandise, or “verch”, for your avatar; a physics-defying Ferris wheel giving users a bird’s-eye glimpse of the world; and unlockable tokens and badges that can be earned in various games and competitions.” And “The year’s best toys will have busted loose and turned up in Walmart’s Universe of Play. The Roblox community can explore different toy worlds to earn coins for cool virtual goods, or complete epic challenges to build a personal trophy case, unlock secret codes and more.”