Roblox, the online gaming platform kids love, is causing a stir, here's why

Roblox, the online gaming platform kids love, is causing a stir, here's why

The online gaming platform Roblox has seen its popularity soar with the Covid-19-related confinements. Tens of millions of young users, half of whom are under the age of 13, play together. But Roblox has its darker sides. It is accused of profiting from the creative work of minors, whom it pays very poorly on its site. Cases of assault and online harassment have also been reported.

Signing up for Roblox is literally child's play. You just have to go on the website, enter your age, a nickname, then the site asks you to download an application, and voilà! You are now one of the more than 33 million users of this platform, which includes several million "experiences" - that is, games. From flight simulators to survival games, fighting games, and action games, there's something for everyone, reported indiasneed.com.

Roblox

Half of the users are under 13 years old

This free and protean aspect, combined of course with the ease of access, appeals a lot to young people. Yes, half of the platform's users are under 13 years old.

"There are billions of games! I play almost every day on the computer or on the iPad. It's a bit addictive, you want to try them all," said Cézanne, 10, a schoolgirl in New York (USA), to Agence France-Presse (AFP).

But, if everything is free, where is the profit, which earned the company a listing on the stock market for 46 billion dollars (about 41 billion euros)?

Pay in Robux!

Of course, there is a wolf. If the interface is free, many so-called "premium" contents can be bought with "Robux", the virtual currency of the platform. This is a classic business model, used by many applications and online games.

For €20.99, you get 1,700 Robux, which you can use to buy a boat in Sharkbite or a house in Brookhaven RP (RP for Role Play), or to buy additional items to customize your avatar. It costs 100 Robux for a "strong jaw" and 300,000 Robux (about €3,000) for the crown of the fallen baroness.

And it works: the group has generated more than $1.2 billion (about €1 billion) in purchases on the Apple App Store since its inception in 2006.

For €20.99, you get 1,700 Robux, which you can spend on a boat in Sharkbite or a house in Brookhaven RP (Role Play), or on additional items to customize your avatar. It costs 100 Robux for a "strong jaw" and 300,000 Robux (about €3,000) for the crown of the fallen baroness.

And it works: the group has generated more than $1.2 billion (about €1 billion) in purchases on the Apple App Store since its inception in 2006.

User-generated content gets 73% of the revenue

Well, there are two wolves. The second is the creation of "experiences". All of the content hosted on the platform is in fact created by users. Simplified coding software is offered to them in order to shape their worlds. With a tempting promise: you can become rich if you create a game for which other users are willing to pay!

Roblox thus makes its young users, including minors, work to create content on its site. For a fee, of course. The platform commits to returning 27% of the money generated. But it is only possible to convert this virtual currency into real money if you have already collected 100,000 Robux, or about €1,000 (10,000 Robux cost €99.90). Otherwise, the profits are entirely captured by Roblox.

Several scandals

As the British newspaper The Guardian notes, Roblox has made headlines several times, but rarely for good news. In 2017, the platform was suspected of being frequented by adults trying to approach children to offer sex acts. In June 2018, the avatar of a 7-year-old female player had been sexually assaulted online by two male avatars: the players had hacked the game's code to show very explicit images to the girl.

Roblox

"We really make safety our number one priority. We know we have very young players, so we have to be on the cutting edge in terms of safety," says British child protection cybersecurity expert Laura Higgins, hired by Roblox in January 2019 as "director of digital civility" to the Guardian.

On December 13, 2021, English journalists from the People Make Games collective revealed through an investigation several forms of harassment on the platform. They demonstrate, with testimonies, that the ecosystem established by Roblox would push unhealthy practices. Accusations were formally rejected by the company.

Sexual harassment

A developer - a minor, at the time of the events - tells how she would have been sexually harassed by a creator with a very good reputation in the community, while she was working with him on a fan game on the theme of Sonic, a highly popular character.

After being publicly denounced, with discussion histories to back it up, the Roblox platform has taken virtually no action against the developer, who continues to operate there, according to British investigators.

Theft of items

Another example shows how a developer, a minor, has recovered a small amount of money through his creation. In this case, 200,000 Robux, the game's currency, or about €2,000.

With this money, he made "cosmetic" purchases of avatar customization, called "items" on the platform. These purchases brought his Robux hoard below the 100,000 thresholds, below which it is not possible to convert them into real money, reported. The collective People Make Games then tells how this same developer would have been stripped of his newly acquired virtual items by one of his peers, without Roblox seeing anything wrong with it. In short, it's a bit like the law of the jungle.

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