Building Social gaming

Yes, this is about games, about video games specifically. There are two sides to the current article we see in the Guardian (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/16/roblox-minecraft-user-generated-gaming). The first one is the entire ‘for kids’ approach.

Well, that part I am smitten with, you see, games should be to a decent extent to get the next generation into technology. To get them to know how to get by, how to interact and how to properly use technology. Like any skill, a child starts with crawling, moves to walking, soon we see tricycles, bicycles and more advanced options for movement. We have puzzles for the mind, whether jigsaw or other. Even though these options are falling to the back more and more, it is the threshold of technology that will help them move forward and move forward faster. Nintendo has always been a champion in this matter. As it catered to the younger player and to the family game environment, Nintendo had a niche. PC’s have for a long time remained far behind, because the revenue to cater to a less young population was forever more appealing. Even though most will see Minecraft as a provider here, Roblox has been around a lot longer.

Now that Microsoft dished out 2 billion and spare change for Minecraft, Roblox is hoping to see an influx of cash in their market as well, and why not?

Yet now we hit the part that is a little (just a little) cause for concern:

“In December, we hit 4.7 million players. The foundation of Roblox is user-generated content: just like on YouTube there is so much to watch, on Roblox there is so much to play,” says Baszucki” as well as “People get really attached to it: many of our players have played for four to five years, and our developers range in age from eight to 80. Some of the top developers are 18 or 20, and we have kids in high-school who are making two, three or four thousand dollars a month“.

You see, where do they get that money from? More important, who is paying for these ‘costs’?

Well the article explains that as well: “How? By creating 3D games on Roblox’s website, then sharing them to be played online, as well as on iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices. The money comes from the in-game currency, “Robux”, bought by players to spend within games, and then exchanged for real money again by those games’ developers“.

Is that a problem? Well, no not directly, as I see it, Roblox is all about creativity, yet some things must be bought. So their currency sets 400 Robux at $5 (for builders it is 450 for the same price), making a Robux around a cent (1.25 to be more exact), which might not be a biggie and 10,000 for $100 (15000 for developers), which makes a Robux $0.01, even less for developers. But what does it get you? More important, if some ‘developers’ get 5000 a month, how much money is exchanging hands here? Well, when you become a member of the Outrageous Builders Club and you have in excess of 100,000 Robux and a valid PayPal as well as a verified email address, you could qualify, if you successfully signed up for the Devex program. The last one seems to be set up to prevent phishing, falsehood and a few other markings. This all seems on the up and up. The exchange is 100,000 for $250. That comes down to 0.25 cents to the Robux, which gives the makers of Roblox a 4 to 1 profit. Now we get back to the very first paragraph “Some of our top developers are starting to get about a quarter of a million dollars a year. They’re treating it literally as a career, and starting to hire their friends…”, so how many Robux did that income make?

Now, this is supposed to be about the games and gaming design, which I do not oppose, so when I see the line ‘we have kids in high-school who are making two, three or four thousand dollars a month‘, meaning that they sold R$800K, R$1.2M, R$1.6M. At 4 to one that works out pretty spiffy for the makers, but is no one asking the question, how much money are your children sinking into this game that is the question! Even though much is clearly stated by the people behind it and even though we see “Roblox is free to play, but to get Builders Club which gives you more features“, we soon see that the smallest club is already $6 a month, making this a $70+ a year enterprise, which might not be bad, but everything costs in this game, from hats (that are seen as a status symbol as I personally see it) and there are more parts to all this, so when I saw the ‘promise of income’ as the article seems to imply, my question to Stuart Dredge becomes: ‘How deep did you look into the article you wrote?’ There is another side to the cash thing that was also not mentioned, The Roblox people had relief fund drives, which means that buying a hat (red, Blue, Rising sun) and for every hat sold, Roblox donated to relief funds for Haiti, Red Cross, the Tsunami efforts, so there is also a social drive towards good causes and this game ended up sending thousands upon thousands of dollars fuelled by the people getting the hat to be socially aware. That is a very good thing, especially as this is an environment driven largely towards the ‘less adults’ (small citizens usually younger than 18).

So, am I lashing out at the makers of Roblox? No, not really, they seem to be clear about the options and about the costs, and people can start with a free account, one world and the choice to continue if it is their kind of world. This is all fair, but do the parents realise what happens when these kids sign up for more? Perhaps they do, but do they realise the added price tag? You see, that might all be fair and good and it is important to note that Roblox shows nearly all the information openly and clearly. They have no traps in there. The only paragraph touching on this is “A platform with lots of children playing and a growing number of games using in-app purchases? It sounds like a recipe for controversy, especially with the US Federal Trade Commission poking around in the affairs of Amazon, Apple and now Facebook over children’s in-app spending“. I think the paragraph is much too meager and other elements are not looked at (as I showed in my earlier part).

There is also a second side to Roblox. A side we all ignored unless we actively dug into it ourselves. You see, I was around when Atari had STOS, Amiga has AMOS and when we saw the growth of Little Big Planet one, two and three. We all think we are future game developers. I played with some of the demos and was able to change a few things get some things rolling, but overall, no matter how good my insight, you need creativity and vision. Roblox is giving tools to the makers to address their creativity, but what about vision? Well, I got my parts done in the builder of Neverwinter Nights, and the best result was making an actual adventure for the Commodore-64. The last part was done by a set of articles that were published in a magazine called ‘Computer and Video Games (CVG)‘ in the mid 80’s. I learned so much from those articles.

Here we see the power of these tools, which brings out vision and creativity through patience and persistence. When a parent realises this part and that a game like Roblox could empower these two elements, then spending $72 a year is a steal at twice the price. Whether this results in making some actual cash, or just makes the maker break even with the costs involved, the last one would be worth it all because whatever they make now, will shape the power of innovation down the line. Kids (adults too) could go through life never realising the power that creating innovation brings.

It is the last paragraph that matters: “Ultimately, games that start to look like high-end CGI movies. And companies are starting to realise that this user-generated content segment could be bigger than any individual games company. There’s so much leverage from being a platform rather than a content producer, where every few years you need a new huge property”. There is a truth and a hidden untruth here, the games that look like high end movies come at a large cost for the player, when we see $100 games that give us no more than 10 hours, we see that a move towards sandbox games are definitely worth it, because the overwhelming difference that value for money gives the player, yet the failed attempt we see in games like Assassins Creed Unity, a game released last November, that is still receiving patches (at http://www.designntrend.com/articles/40441/20150218/assassins-creed-unity-ps4-xbox-one-patch-release-ubisoft-gameplay-graphics-multiplayer-glitches.htm). By the way, personally as I see it, when we see the quote “patch 1.05 goes a long way towards promoting ‘stability and performance’ in the latest entry to the annualized franchise“, I mention this for two reasons, the first is that high end games, when not properly supervised could become the end of any software house, the second reason is that the Assassins Creed Wikia calls it a “Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a 2014 sandbox action adventure game“, trust me that any reference to Assassins Creed being a ‘sandbox game’ is like comparing a Ford Edsel to a Bentley, Minecraft being the Bentley that is.

So as we see Roblox and Minecraft as the growing community towards the sandbox loving gamers, I see a win-win situation. You see, I remain a fan of RPG games, these games propel the interest and the desire for RPG games and as such, I will win as better RPG games are released.

So as we consider the subtitle where we see that Roblox is an environment of 4.7 million people, focusing on growth, we can see that Roblox has a future as it focuses on all devices and Cloud based usage. The only danger I see now is that they might try to grow too fast in too many directions. There might be a comparison to Minecraft, but not in the user base, because Minecraft has over 100M users registered on PC and well over 50 million copies sold on consoles. Roblox could grow faster and larger, but as I see it, it will have to offer more to the free player, as I see it by adding 2 worlds and adding those option to have more options for free. It would be fair enough to make those free players earn these options to be unlocked in some way, but as the starting player is reeled in through the growth of options and interactions, so will their eagerness in becoming a premium member. It is that growth curve that Roblox will need, because no matter how proud they are with their 4.7 million players, if they want to attract bigger business they will need to do more than just double their current base, in addition, as the article shows a drive for makers to ‘make’ money, we need to also consider (in all fairness) that in the end, it must be looked at how much currency is transacted in and how this is broken down in user population (especially the age group based demographics). As I stated before Roblox has been on the up and up in this regard, but their continuation will require a massive jolt towards value for money, because that will drive growth faster and a lot more profound.

 

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