Roblox Pressured Us to Delete Our Video. So We Dug Deeper.
December 13, 2021 11:07 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this year, the People Make Games YouTube channel released an investigation (previously) into Roblox, detailing the shady methods (including literal child labor) that have, in part, made the company worth billions. Well, turns out there's more to report, so they're back with a new video, and it's even more disturbing than the first one.
posted by jklaiho (13 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Unregulated capitalist exploitation of children, it turns out, was only scratching the surface somehow.

The discussion about the collectibles market made me think about some other mainstream attempts in the gaming industry to make such a thing happen. The two most obvious examples I could think of are Blizzard's real money auction house in Diablo III (which they closed after it became very clear that even the people who wanted such a thing weren't happy with how it worked) and the Steam marketplace, where trade of collectible cosmetics in games like Team Fortress 2 and DOTA 2 happens.

I don't know as much about the Steam marketplace as I maybe should so I can't really talk very much about how it's different from Roblox, but two very big things come to mind: first, transactions are in real money and labeled as such, and in fact there are actual tax implications to this that Valve enforces on the platform. Second, it's not a platform that is expected to be used predominantly by children under 12. (In theory, the fact that you can't take money out of Steam is another differentiator, but since people on Roblox are heavily encouraged to keep everything as Robux and buy stuff on Roblox marketplaces instead of cashing out, I don't know that this is a major differentiator.)

One interesting angle that might explain why the black market aspects of Roblox continue to flourish is that Valve was actually hit with lawsuits and regulator allegations regarding their role in facilitating "skins gambling" for Counterstrike: Global Offensive cosmetics. Valve did not and does not run gambling sites of any kind, but because they allow API access to the contents of people's inventories, they are in some sense allow these sites to operate. In response to the 2016 allegations, Valve did send cease-and-desist notices to over 40 sites for improper use of the API to facilitate gambling, which seems to be more than anything Roblox has done to clamp down on black market trading. But the lawsuits so far have not resulted in any penalties or permanent changes to Valve's operations.
posted by chrominance at 11:21 AM on December 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

Grateful my kiddo (who would probably get along with Emil super well) has gravitated to Scratch as his "make games for other people" platform of choice.

It's weird being adult who knows all too much about the toxicity of game development culture while parenting a kid who is obviously headed in that direction and currently doing so in a joyful and constructive way.

Maybe a little like having a kid who is really into poisonous reptiles and wants to have one in their bedroom. Or something.
posted by feckless at 12:11 PM on December 13, 2021 [21 favorites]

the sub-video in which PMG directly address arguments made by the definitely-not-Roblox-PR-wearing-a-trenchcoat blogger Ecoscratcher is also worthwhile if you're as willing to get into the weeds of this as I am:
posted by Kybard at 12:47 PM on December 13, 2021 [5 favorites]

Quite some time ago I got an email from Roblox. Some person used my email address by mistake when signing up. The email was from the company, telling me ‘my’ child had signed up for Roblox and asking my permission.

So (a) they didn't verify email address ownership during the sign-up process, (b) they sent me a bunch of info on the kid who signed up not really knowing whether it was my kid, and (c) worst, by the time they had asked for parental permission, they had ALREADY harvested god knows how much info from the kid signing up.

I replied denying permission and asking the company to block my email address. Which they didn't do, because it happened at least 2 more times before I managed to get someone in their privacy division to actually block any accounts linked to my email.

My kid asked me once about the game. I told him flat no. I was skeeved out enough by their privacy omissions that I told him we would never approve it. After watching this, I am 110% confident I made the right call.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:56 PM on December 13, 2021 [12 favorites]

So much pseudo-gambling in kids games and toys overall these days. What else are possible "special surprises" in toy purchases? I've seen adults addicted to it (figure collecting). So much sleaziness directed at kids.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:59 PM on December 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Amway ain't got a patch on these guys, clearly.
posted by scolbath at 1:05 PM on December 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Man, another fun board game review from Quinns! Let me just take a big sip of my coffee, lean in close to my expensive laptop screen, and start watching…
posted by Going To Maine at 1:17 PM on December 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

I have just watched the first video and really enjoyed it, if that's a fair thing to say about something so infuriating. I enjoyed the interview—the smart young people who have been successful on Roblox, and the smart 11 year old who hasn't been and has figured out it's because the deck is stacked so decisively against him, and the prof who has a clear understanding about labor organizing. I was happy to listen to these people talk about their knowledge and experiences.

Game development is a creative endeavor, and it's not much different in this context, at least, from the exploitability of people who want to write or act—where there are many times more people wanting to be successful at it than the current setup of the industry can support, so there's a huge supply of people who are vulnerable to all kinds of exploitive shenanigans. And in this case, preying on kids who are 9 to 14 years old is simply reprehensible.
posted by Orlop at 1:43 PM on December 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

On reflection and after watching some of the second video, my comment was unfair to poisonous reptiles. I retract the comparison.
posted by feckless at 1:48 PM on December 13, 2021 [16 favorites]

Halfway across the river on a raft made of children, the Capitalist gave in to his nature and began to eat the children. The raft disintegrated, and the all died.

On the shore, a frog and a scorpion shook their heads sadly.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:26 PM on December 13, 2021 [35 favorites]

Grateful my kiddo (who would probably get along with Emil super well) has gravitated to Scratch as his "make games for other people" platform of choice.
Like feckless, my kids have also gravitated to making games in Scratch, and from everything I can see it about it, it is a great platform with a excellent education and community first mission ( When they first got interested in programming, I looked into Roblox, but I got a really hinky vibe off it from the get go and steered away. Glad I did.
posted by 3j0hn at 3:45 PM on December 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's weird being adult who knows all too much about the toxicity of game development culture while parenting a kid who is obviously headed in that direction and currently doing so in a joyful and constructive way.

Creating personal games (or to share with friends), is great fun and great way to learn about maths or just general problem solving, it doesn't mean you have to end up in the industry, you'll learn a ton of skills and have fun.

Where the fun stops, and that's what Roblox does, is when you turn the hobby/game into a high pressure competition & into work. They do create this illusion that this could be a successful venture, and market it as such..... to kids! And then they make it super hard to get the money out if they make a little bit.

Now I'm not exactly sure how much this differs from other "many called, few chosen" professions like rock star, actor or pro athlete, other than it gets super exploitative as soon as you start, you at least have to be at NCAA level to get exploited in sports. But the fact that it's the extreme version of something we tolerate doesn't justify it.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 6:19 AM on December 14, 2021

Keza MacDonald at the Guardian followed up with an interview with Quinton about the whole thing.
posted by juv3nal at 6:46 AM on December 21, 2021

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