NOC Interview: Quintin Smith of People Make Games on “Roblox Exploitation”

Like many games finding a surge in popularity at the height of the pandemic, Roblox has amassed a following that could rival the likes of Fortnite with its appeal to younger audiences. However, after weeks of careful research, Quintin Smith, journalist and presenter at People Make Games, discovered that Roblox frequently, and unflinchingly, exploits young video game developers on its platform.

The Nerds of Color x Quintin Smith of People Make Games

Roblox is a single player and multiplayer game creator and massive multiplayer online game that is currently available on PC, iOS, Android, and Xbox One. If you’re unfamiliar with it, then you should note that it’s currently played by over half of kids in the US under 16-years-old. The game recently started hosting its own Fortnite-style virtual events and has a considerable hold on a demographic eager to make a splash on the platform.

The DeanBeat: Roblox's kid developers make enough 'robux' to pay for  college | VentureBeat
The aesthetic of the Roblox brand is the main reason so many young players are drawn to it. CREDIT: ROBLOX

While the game seems innocuous, Smith’s recent investigation on the exploitation of young game developers in Roblox is an alarming discovery he said “took weeks” to compile. What he found was that the platform lures young and unsuspecting game developers looking to make money creating content in Roblox and then gives virtually nothing in return. Levels, or “experiences” as they’re called in-game (for legal purposes), can be downloaded and played for free by players, but the content within each experience costs money, or Robux, the game’s virtual currency.

To make matters even more duplicitous, the platform has an incredibly opaque breakdown of its economy beyond its free-to-play elements. According to the Roblox FAQ:

 “Roblox is completely free to join and free to download. If so inclined, users can choose to purchase Robux (our virtual currency) to buy in-game upgrades or accessories for their avatar. They can also purchase an optional “Premium” membership, which includes a Robux stipend and access to our trading and sales features.”

Even though the game itself is free, the content that really drives each “experience” is far from it, sweetening the pot for young developers to potentially get their game downloaded by the thousands and in-game content purchased all the same. Between a shady bidding system for developers to promote their games, to an atrocious withdrawal process, the likelihood that developers can make any money in Roblox is slim, according to Smith’s findings.

His investigation revealed the staggering cuts to developer pay when looking at the fine print, as well as the duplicitous language found all over their website and FAQ. We sat down with Smith to break down what this really means for young developers on the platform and why Roblox still has not publicly addressed these issues. You can find our conversation at the top of the article and the video to Smith’s investigation just above.