Earlier this year, documentary group People Make Games reported that game creation platform Roblox was deceiving some of its young users. Roblox allows users to monetize their creations, but very few become popular enough to make the time investment worthwhile. All the while, Roblox promises users riches and fame if they just grind it out. The whole thing sounded unsavory and exploitative—so now, months later, the collective claims that Roblox was trying to pressure them into pulling the video.
It didn’t. Instead, it dug deeper into the individual experiences of players on the platform.
We already knew that Roblox has struggled with things like content moderation, recruitment efforts by fascists, and a suspect business model where few can monetize their creations. In its latest video, People Make Games reports that this basic premise has led to a sprawling network of unofficial child development teams and gamblers ripe for abuse and exploitation. But because much of what’s taking place is on third-party sites or Discord channels, Roblox apparently doesn’t feel responsible for it.
Here’s the full video:
One Roblox player told People Make Games he effectively began crunching—a video game industry term for prolonged periods of overtime—on helping develop someone else’s game only for the original creators to eventually cut him out of its future success. Another talked about being sexually harassed by the creator of popular fan game Sonic Simulator in Discord DMs once she started working on it. A third said he regretted blowing the roughly $1,000 a popular game of his made on virtual Roblox items rather than saving the money. All of these players, mind you, were minors.
While players can request real world cash payouts, Roblox’s catalogue of digital goods is tradable, and shows data on how prices have gone up over time, incentivizing speculation. The Roblox company gets a 30 percent cut of all of it. Third-party sites, meanwhile, let players swap items for Roblox digital currency, allowing them to cash-out. And of course all of this activity is aimed at kids, the overwhelming demographic behind Roblox’s huge popularity and recent $45 billion Wall Street IPO.
Based on People Make Games’ reporting, it certainly seems like Roblox has managed to replicate all of the worst abuses and exploitative practices of the video game industry within a children’s game with Lego-looking avatars. What did Roblox have to say in response? Mostly that it takes violations of its terms of service very seriously, has a large team of professionals paid to monitor activity in the game. Roblox also added that it encourages players to not go off site.The company didn’t immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for additional comment.