A new investigation by YouTube channel People Make Games accuses the video game platform Roblox of replicating the dirtiest practices of the unregulated gaming industry even though it’s aimed at young children.
Earlier this year, the documentary channel showcased how, in its view, Roblox was making false promises and exploiting its audience. The platform allows users to create custom games and monetize their creations by earning virtual in-game currency, which can be converted into real money. In its messaging, Roblox promised children success and ‘serious cash’ if they just worked hard enough. But the report by People Make Games alleged that Roblox, a $45-billion company, was essentially being propped up by unfairly compensated child labor and funded by the spending habits of kids.
Predictably, this drew the ire of the Roblox Corporation, which requested the report be taken down. However, the group behind People Make Games doubled down with a follow-up investigation instead, revealing that the situation at Roblox was even worse than they had previously documented.
Roblox is no stranger to controversy, having previously been accused of questionable business practices and monetization schemes. It has also been criticized for poor content and community moderation, with many trolls and extremists having used the platform to spread their message. But People Make Games’ latest investigation has revealed that the platform’s concept and issues in implementing it have resulted in the creation of a network of unregulated child developer teams as well as rampant gambling and abuse.
The new report includes interviews with several Roblox players, one of whom said he essentially worked on Roblox games as a full-time job, putting in over 60 hours a week, only to be cut out of the profits by his team’s leaders. Another developer was reportedly sexually harassed by a game creator after she joined the project. All of these players were minors.
Another point made in the report is how gambling has been allowed to get out of control across the platform. Roblox offers players a slew of in-game cosmetic items, often sponsored by brands and celebrities, and available for only a limited time. These items are initially sold for in-game currency equivalent to $5-10, but are scalped and later resold for extortionate prices that can be as high as $15,000. Given the Roblox Corp reportedly takes a 30% cut of all transactions, it’s not exactly surprising it hasn’t clamped down on the issue.
There’s now a black market for these limited items on external websites set up precisely to avoid paying Roblox its cut. That means children looking for a certain collectible are vulnerable to encountering the malware and other exploitative material often present on such sites. Yet Roblox doesn’t seem to want to take responsibility for any of this, since, it counters, it “did not happen on Roblox.com.” Its official response so far has been simply to state that it takes reports of abuse “very seriously” and encourages players to “stay on the platform.”