On Roblox, Kids Learn It’s Hard to Earn Money Making Games

Roblox provides a lot for its developers: server space, marketplace infrastructure, cross-platform capability. Roblox Studio is, like the game, free. Developers can make money through Roblox with its Developer Exchange program, or DevEx, which gives developers 25 percent of a game’s earnings. (Part of Roblox’s justification for this split is its huge investment in infrastructure for these devs.) Roblox’s VP of marketing told AListDaily in 2018, “From the very beginning, it was about having kids develop games for other kids.” DevEx’s terms require users to be 13 or over.

Most of Roblox’s userbase is under 18, with about a third between 9 and 12. Emil, 11, tells People Make Games that he “saw other developers getting money in a way that looked easy.” It wasn’t easy. To withdraw money earned through microtransactions in a game, a developer must earn a minimum of 100,000 Robux, the platform’s in-game currency. Buying 100,000 Robux through Roblox’s store costs $1,000. Selling 10,000 Robux back to Roblox earns you just $350. Withdrawal is not even possible unless these developers pay a five-dollar monthly fee for a Roblox Premium Subscription. (Second Life and Entropia Universe, which also allow players to sell items, respectively have $10 and $100 minimums for withdrawing money.)

“If you accept that we need to treat minors who are doing a job better than we treat adults doing the same job, that’s just abhorrent,” says Smith. “Especially when you consider the platform is encouraging kids to come and work for them.”

Smith believes this setup disincentivizes users from withdrawing Robux. They’re devalued off-platform, so why not spend them on other Roblox games? Smith compares Roblox’s currency to mining camps’ company scrips, a now-illegal currency used by miners to purchase goods at company stores. Miners were encouraged to spend their money on their employers’ goods because, elsewhere, the scrip was moot.

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A Roblox spokesperson tells WIRED that “building experiences on Roblox teaches the fundamentals of coding, digital civility, and entrepreneurship and has helped many begin their careers in STEM.” Roblox gave developers $129.7 million in the second quarter of 2021, and according to the spokesperson, over 600 developers earn over $85,000 a year from their Roblox creations. The company also hosts programs and offers Developer Relations professionals to help developers succeed.

Roblox’s gargantuan valuation and outstanding success is in part due to the number of children hoping to strike a vein of gold making games. Children can’t organize for better working conditions, though; in fact, adults in the games industry are having trouble reaching quorum to unionize.

“Kids working too hard with unreasonable expectations isn’t bad for the company. This is the heart of Roblox’s success,” says Smith in the video. “In convincing its young users that making money on the platform is possible, it gets hundreds of thousands of young people pouring their imagination and spirit into making the next big Roblox success story.”

Updated 8/19/21, 6:30 pm EST with comment from Roblox.


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