Though new sandbox enthusiasts might be hearing about ROBLOX only recently, it's been around for some time now. Created in 2004 by David Baszucki and the late Erik Cassel, ROBLOX from the beginning, gave players the opportunity to make their own games and share them with other players. As it and other sandbox games relying on user-generated content evolved, the idea was born to allow content creators to monetize their efforts. Not surprisingly, the ROBLOX community (many of them teens and younger) has embraced this idea, and to date game-makers have earned payouts to the tune of $500,000.
Wanting some insight into this new phenomenon, I spoke first to founder David Basczucki about the inception of ROBLOX and then to Harrison Yuan, ROBLOX rockstar and creator of the hit shooter, Robloxia: Roblox at War.
Interview with David Basczucki:
MMORPG: David, what made you choose to make a sandbox game/platform reliant on player-made content? David Baszucki: A sandbox like ROBLOX gives a lot of freedom to players freely build any kind of place they want. With a huge community to receive feedback on any player-made content at any given time, I saw this as a great opportunity to share the projects and games I build. MMORPG: The market looks like it's become increasingly saturated with sandbox, Minecraft-like games. What makes ROBLOX the go-to product among all of these? David Baszucki: One thing that makes ROBLOX unique is the ROBLOX Studio feature that every player has access to. Unlike most sandbox games such as Minecraft, ROBLOX Studio gives players the tools and ability to build efficiently and to program virtually anything using the lua programming language. It also allows us to host local servers on our computers to run multiplayer tests and debug problems, something that is essential for us to develop great games. MMORPG: What do you think the new wave of player-made content means for the future of games? David Baszucki: I think that this means the quality games we play in the future won't be limited to triple AAA game titles, but rather anyone who has the ability to imagine a game of their own would be able to create it themselves and share it to the rest of the world. The possibilities of the different kinds of games we could see the future would be endless with the new wave of player-made content.
MMORPG: Who's your primary audience/demographic? David Baszucki: From kids to teens around high school age. MMORPG: ROBLOX-made games have a decidedly kid-friendly look which could draw kids and parents to it. What protections/measures are in place to ensure kid-friendly content? David Baszucki: In the case of fighting games, the violence is limited to a playful cartoon-style. None of the games are dark or contain inappropriate content and there's always a ton of playful humor in the games, especially in the case when unexpected things happen that may not be part of the game such as a player getting flung out of the map. This helps to ensure that ROBLOX games are always kid-friendly. MMORPG: What's the percentage of users spending money on the platform? David Baszucki: Most of the money spent goes to the builders club membership benefits. I imagine at least half of the users have spent money on either these membership benefits or on ROBLOX cards that can be redeemed for special hats and Robux. MMORPG: How much as the most successful player-made paid game earned thus far? David Baszucki: I've heard that some of the top paid developers have cashed a total of $30,000 at some point. This amount is probably far exceeded by now with the increasing number of players willing to pay for in-game features.
MMORPG: How tech-savvy do you have to be to build something with ROBLOX? David Baszucki: To build a casual house or even a city, players don't need to be super tech-savvy at all. The tools for building are already provided by roblox and all the player has to do is imagine what they want to make. However, when it comes to programming fully functional games, a great deal of scripting knowledge in lua is required for quality games.
Without scripting, the players' interactions within a game are limited to walking around and exploring. Scripting opens up a whole new range of possibilities for the player to interact within the game, making it more exciting to play to discover new results. Although a player doesn't have to be tech-savvy to start learning to script, it does take a significant amount of time and commitment to learn how to script on a level that enables them to program anything they can think of. MMORPG: What (if anything) is the most-requested feature missing from the ROBLOX toolset? David Baszucki: Prior to the release of constructive solid modeling (CSG), this would have been the ability to upload user-created meshes. MMORPG: What's ROBLOX doing to encourage community among makers/gamers? David Baszucki: One thing ROBLOX does excellently is creating an environment where game creators and play side by side with players. I often play my own game with fellow players to feel the gameplay experience and receive feedback on what things I could implement to improve the game. Players become really supportive of the game when their ideas are taken into consideration and added into, leading to a strong community between the gamers and makers.
Interview with Harrison Yuan
MMORPG: Harrison, what drew you to ROBLOX? Harrison Yuan: I found out about ROBLOX by unsuspectingly clicking a link to a ROBLOX game on a friend's status post back in '09 during winter break when I spent most of my days home aimlessly. The link led me to a blocky style plane wars game, but what caught my attention was the depth of the 3D world my character was in, the exploding blocks bouncing around with their physics, and the sheer number of players I was in a game with. These three elements of the game prompted me to continue exploring other games on roblox, and I was amazed to discover that all of these games were created by players like me. MMORPG: Why did you decide to make a shooter? Harrison Yuan: I've never owned a console and my computer was never powerful enough to run AAA title shooter games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. At the same time, I've had trouble dealing with the amount of realism in the blood and violence that came along with these types of games. But still, I wanted to play a fun shooter game. This gave me the idea to make my own shooter based on the popular Call of Duty series with a blocky cartoon style that appears a lot less violent while being just as fun. MMORPG: How long did it take you to make Call of Robloxia: Roblox at War? Harrison Yuan: I spent around four years making and constantly adding on to this game. But in the beginning first few years, I was just starting to learn how to program in lua and to use the ROBLOX studio. The game itself started off as a series of experimental shooting places to test out what I learned, which got popular one day with some friends. Seeing the unexpected success, I decided to commit on turning the experimental projects into the game it is today. MMORPG: What's the best thing about using ROBLOX? Harrison Yuan: Being able to have an immediate audience to test out my new projects and a large supportive community of players that continue to play my games today. Also, being given all the developer tools to create almost anything I want and having my game hosted to hundreds of players constantly for free. I never have to worry about the complexities of server hosting and networking, saving time to improve my game even more. MMORPG: What's your biggest peeve about using ROBLOX? Harrison Yuan: Having to deal with network lag and frame rate drops are some of the main complaints that I get from players that troubles me when using ROBLOX and often limits what I can add to my game. I would be much better off if ROBLOX provided more documentation on ways to code more efficiently to reduce lag problems. MMORPG: After having some commercial success, are you planning to become a game developer? Harrison Yuan: I haven't considered taking on a full time career as a game developer yet, seeing my interests lie somewhere in electrical or mechanical engineering. But I do intend to keep developing games on ROBLOX as a side hobby throughout college and perhaps even when I get a real job.