Ever since Lego Universe Online went offline, the children in this house have been playing Roblox. I had heard tales around the Cub Scout campfires about this mystical game that allowed players to not only play games for free, but also build their own games. I thought for sure that no game like this could exist – and be free!
Recently, I received a notice that Roblox had just developed an iOS app to allow players to join in the fun from their iPads. Obviously this game is going somewhere, so I reached out to get the details from a guy who is also geek dad, David Baszucki, Founder and CEO of Roblox.
Sims: For those out there that are not in the know, what is Roblox?
Baszucki: Roblox is the largest user-generated content site in videogames. On Roblox, players use core building components to create and share elaborate online worlds that anyone can explore and play, generating over one billion page views and 29 million in-game hours each month.
The site is ranked #1 in the US for total engagement time for kids and teens. Our mission: to become the global leader in user-generated gaming and creation for all ages.
To enable our vast offering of user-created play, Roblox offers a virtual construction and game-development platform where everyone has the power to make anything from avatar clothing and 3D models to virtual worlds and hardcore games. Our users manipulate core building components in our building environment, Roblox Studio, to create physically simulated worlds, then share and play them with the Roblox community.
Sims: I know that Roblox is free to play, but what do you get with a monthly subscription?
Baszucki: Roblox is not only free to play, but free to build. We want all of our users to participate in content creation, whether they’re making avatar clothing, models, virtual worlds or hardcore games. Premium Builders Club memberships give users more flexibility in building and deeper access to our virtual economy. For instance, members can have more games and worlds open to players simultaneously, start their own personal building servers, create groups, sell their creations, trade virtual items and more. We also remove external advertisements and give members a daily stipend of Robux, our virtual currency.
Sims: Is there any software that the player must install? Can it run on PC and Mac?
Baszucki: Roblox requires users download a small software package that includes both the Roblox Player and Roblox Studio. Once downloaded, players can launch games straight from Roblox.com and use Studio to work on their creations locally, even without an internet connection. The applications update automatically when new features and improvements are available, and are available for both PC and Mac.
Sims: I have noticed that Roblox just released an iOS version. Is this the same experience as the desktop version? Is this also available for Android? Will it be?
Baszucki: One great feature of Roblox is all mobile players join the same game servers as desktop players, connecting users across devices in a shared virtual world. Barring the touch controls and reduced screen size, the in-game mobile experience is very similar to that of the desktop version.
Our mobile development team just wrapped up the official release of Roblox Mobile for iOS. Starting in 2013, the team will be making decisions as to what platforms to tackle next. Based on our user data and the division of the mobile market, Android seems to be the logical next step. We’re also considering digital distribution services and consoles for the future.
We have not yet tackled porting Roblox Studio to mobile, but there will definitely be a mobile building experience in the future. We don’t yet know whether this will be the full-blown Roblox Studio, a series of custom-purpose building apps that allow users to create and save specific types of Roblox models (such as cars, buildings, etc.), or a multiplayer building game that allows you to save your creations to Roblox.com.
Our building kit is very deep and many Roblox builders write Lua code to enhance their creations. The latter almost demands keyboard input. We want to nail simple building experiences before we venture into that kind of territory.
Sims: Is there anything planned that’s different for this mobile version?
Baszucki: Roblox Mobile (currently only for iOS, but other flavors coming) has an interface customized for mobile engagement. We are optimizing our game sort algorithm for mobile play, meaning that the games presented to you on the mobile games page are automatically selected for a great mobile play experience. The mobile games page also features “infinite scrolling” – meaning thumbnails for our thousands of available games are presented seamlessly as you swipe the screen.
Sims: Any thoughts of porting the program over to consoles?
Baszucki: It’s certainly doable, but it’s not our first priority. Porting to consoles does require some additional development, and we have some great things on our product roadmap that take precedence. Still, it’s something we’re considering.
Sims: My eight year-old son plays Roblox online. Should I be concerned about whom he is chatting with in-game? What if I enable “free chat”?
Baszucki: Above all else, everyone at Roblox is committed to member safety. We take every precaution possible to make sure kids are protected from inappropriate and offensive individuals as well as from indecent and distasteful content. We are a certified licensee of the TRUSTe Children’s Privacy Program, which has been approved by the Federal Trade Commission as an authorized safe harbor under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule.
Free chat allows members to type their messages when communicating with other members. However, every message that is typed first goes through a sophisticated filter that blocks inappropriate words and phrases. Roblox’s adaptive filter also learns to decipher and catch codes or other methods that members might use to bypass the system. In the event that foul language slips through the filter, members have easy access to a “report abuse” feature.
We also have a team of moderators who are constantly reviewing chat logs and discussion forums, fielding abuse reports from members, and screening uploaded content files. These moderators — both Roblox employees as well as trusted members of the community — follow our zero-tolerance policy in regard to swearing and obscenities, messages and content of a sexual or violent nature, and any sort of aggressive or threatening communication. In the rare times when an incident does occur, the infringing member is immediately suspended or permanently expelled.
Sims: Roblox players can build their own levels and create their own games. How difficult is this for a new player?
Baszucki: Well, it’s unlikely that a brand-new Roblox user is going to dive right into creating a game. Generally, people play a few games, get inspired, start tinkering with Roblox Studio and creating things, and then immerse themselves in programming and game design. So there’s a disctinction between creating a great place, building a level, and actually making a game. Creating a building or even a whole place (level) isn’t that hard (though it may be time consuming!). There are design templates to help out, and you can put items and objects around your map pretty easily.
Building a game, however, requires that you create parameters. Rules. Spawn points. Damage. Health systems. All these things are done by scripting, which involves using Lua, which involves using a programming language that is foreign to many and can be scary. So actually building levels is pretty accessible to most people, though actually making games with rules and parameters is where it becomes tricky. Once Lua gets involved, the average person may be somewhat daunted… but we’re working on ways to make this part of the Roblox experience much more accessible. We’re particularly focused on improving and enhancing our first-time user experience, so that people will be able to move deeper into the Roblox experience – from playing to building to designing – much more smoothly.
We want everyone on Roblox to build things (in addition to playing great games!). At its core, building is what differentiates our platform. We want your first build experience on Roblox to be easy, accessible and fun. We’re planning on combining the capabilities found in “build mode” with the Welcome to Roblox Building Place in an effort to create a seamless, core building application. We’ve been kicking around some ideas – like online/offline play, the ability to seamlessly transition from solo to multiplayer gameplay, and a curated system for users to create and sell building components.
We have committed to Roblox Studio as the core development environment for our platform, and plan on making it more accessible. We want Roblox Studio to be the “MS Word” of game development, providing easy access for beginners, and powerful capabilities and assets for more advanced users.
Sims: What is next for Roblox?
Baszucki: World domination! And we’re starting with our own world….
Our biggest priority is delivering a terrific, high quality overall user experience centered on building and creation. To that end, we’re developing new game products centered around building, and inventing new ways for our users to engage with us, and with each other; we believe that social is an important part of the creative experience and we want to see much more happening there. Our long term goal is for Roblox users to be able to play anywhere. We’re working on improving a common code base that can be used to port Roblox to tablets and phones running operating systems other than iOS, including Android and Windows 8.
There’s a reason that Maker culture is already a big thing and only getting bigger – people (and not just kids) are really looking for ways to express themselves creatively; Roblox is a terrific and unique platform to make that happen. We want Roblox to be everywhere that people are being – or want to be – creative.