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Why are horror games so popular on Roblox?

Spooky season is eternal, especially on Roblox.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

November 22, 2022

8 Min Read
A screenshot of Roblox game Piggy.
Image via the Piggy wiki.

As Roblox Corp.'s game-making platform Roblox has grown, developers in the space have begun experimenting with all kinds of twists on familiar genres. As others have documented, plenty of these games have been race-to-the-top riffs on multiplayer classics, often influenced by if something like the Netflix TV show Squid Game becomes an international hit.

But one genre in particular has begun to stand out in a really fascinating way: the horror genre. Roblox creators of all sizes are beginning to learn that the (particularly young) playerbase wants the thrill of the jump scare. Some of the most popular experiences across all genres include games like Doors, Piggy, and Evade.

In particular, Piggy has managed to rack up over 11 billion visits (Roblox Corp.'s metric for players accessing games) and Evade has crossed over 1 billion visits. What are these two games doing so well?

The folks at Roblox Corp. were keen to connect us with Piggy creator MiniToon and Evade creators Beefchoplets and OsterDog (all three requested that they go by their pseudonyms for this conversation) for a chat about horror on Roblox. Here are some takeaways that might help developers on Roblox or even other platforms:

Roblox players love to run from monsters

It obviously matters what kind of horror games are popular on Roblox. It's not a platform for Silent Hill-likes or riffs on Fatal Frame. The root of popular Roblox horror games seems to be Five Nights at Freddy's. That's probably because Five Nights is already popular with the target demographic (young players), but also because the mechanics are simple: weird autonomous creatures try to hunt you down, when they pop up for a jump scare, it gives you a thrill.

MiniToon's riff on the format Piggy trades animatronic robots for anthropomorphic animals, with a bit of a Dead by Daylight riff—if you're playing with other people, one of the human players can take on the role of the titular serial killer. 

Nothing about that formula seems particularly surprising—so why is Piggy doing so well on the Roblox platform? Minitoon reckons it has to do with the "various mysteries" of the game, and the secrets players can uncover while running from the monster. "There's always so much for players to discover as they continue to explore this world filled to the brim with secrets," they said.

Beefchoplets and OsterDog came at their horror game Evade (which is made collectively by the Hexagon Development community)from a different direction. "We never really took a direct interest in horror games," the pair explained over e-mail. They noted that they personally prefer making story-based experiences. 

In Evade, players are again stalked by a mysterious monster, though Beefchoplets and OsterDog have put a greater emphasis on visual atmosphere and lots of subtle mechanics to shape their horror experience. The pair are especially proud of their use of a "round" system, where players are shuffled through three-minute rounds on a multitude of maps.

A screenshot of one of Evade's environments

For instance, players are tasked with collecting books that have clues about the story of Evade. The more of these books they collect, the faster the monster chasing them gets. The in-game monster is alerted to sounds and can "detect the player's heartbeat" (meaning it's got some proximity-based logic for finding the player).

Evade began life as a riff on a Garry's Mod mod named Nextbots. In that mod, players could spawn an AI hunter called a "Nextbot" that they could run and hide from. Most Nextbots took the form of "trending memes or media" (one popular Nextbot game on Roblox jokingly refers to them as "loud pngs.") The pair said it was really fun, only missing "replayability." 

While making Evade, the pair got feedback that their game should "have more jumpscares" or add "more spooky-themed nextbots." "To know that the Nextbot could be anywhere and can suddenly jumpscare you definitely gives a horror vibe," they noted.

It's great to see developers experimenting with and making unique horror games with an audience—but the question remains: why go on Roblox if you could strike out on your own?

Why develop horror games on Roblox?

To hear these developers explain it, the built-in audience on Roblox isn't the only reason they picked the platform. The toolsets were another huge draw.

MiniToon noted that they've been building games on Roblox since they were "much younger" (the platform's technically been around since 2006). They explained that outside of Roblox, they've mostly enjoyed designing board games (even more than they enjoy playing them).

When it came to making Piggy, they noted that Roblox's pathfinding tools were a big boon. As a small developer, it would have been a huge effort to build that technology from scratch. Having solutions to build an AI that could hunt players in way that felt realistic (but not impossible) was important. "Roblox does the difficult work for us and allows us to focus more on the creative aspects of designing projects," they explained.

One of Evade's brighter environments.

Beefchoplets and OsterDog were less experienced with the Roblox platform, but noted that the platform's convenience made it easy for them as developers to find an audience fast. "Roblox cycles through millions of people globally everyday, hosting your game on a website for free that can be easily accessed by anyone is advantageous," the pair noted. 

They also credited Roblox's built-in tools for making Evade's development such a smooth process. Having pathfinding, materials, models, and meshes already on-hand got them up and running faster than if they were working in Garry's Mod, and they said that "keybinds, [user interface], and character models" were "easier to develop" because the platform "provides a decent amount of ways to do what [developers] want to do."

"Light horror," content creators, and an ocean of modders

Beefchoplets and OsterDog noted that the success of horror games on Roblox is driven by "light horror" and content creators. "Almost all Roblox horror games have followed a story-driven path," the pair noted. "Content creators love to make videos on linear story game sand theorize with their viewers about what an upcoming chapter might have."

These aren't games like the upcoming The Callisto Protocol which might be filled with wall-to-wall gore and an unending sense of dread and violence. They're also regularly updated with new "chapters" that fuel the content creation cycle. Searching for any Roblox game on YouTube brings you to a slew of fresh-faced streamers playing these horror games with their friends or audiences, often while they speculate about the weird messages or symbols inside the games.

There's also another factor that MiniToon, Beefchoplets, and OsterDog alluded to but don't necessarily identify: Roblox's sea of content creators has made for a fast-follow-focused platform. MiniToon says they've already gathered a team of creators for an "open world multiplayer RPG" called Piggy: Intercity. MiniToon said they want to work on something new and original, but roping in a group of community creators on Roblox is, for better or for worse, an easy task.

The customizability and remixability of Roblox games is also a big part of the equation. Beefchoplets and OsterDog said they really saw Evade take off as users created their own custom "nextbots" to hunt them or their friends. 

Here's where things get a little weird: though none of the creators we chatted with brought it up, these little sub-horror brands that have grown big on Roblox also benefit from the fast-follow culture in a specific way: other developers looking to exploit the platform's discoverability tools will make their own versions of the game. 

This is what you see when you search

For instance, a quick search of Piggy on the Roblox platform shows MiniToon's original game, and some other experiences that MiniToon either participated in making or at least gave their blessing to. But then there are some grey area-type experiences. A game called Don't Press The Piggy Head says it's "inspired" by Piggy, but doesn't credit MiniToon. It's also a blatant mashup of another popular game called  Don't Press The Button by Crazy Studios.

It's not clear if these "fan games" (for lack of a better term) violate Roblox's terms of service, but they speak to how even games like Piggy and Evade came about: a genre grows popular, then fans iterate on the genre until they're sufficiently distinct enough to become their own games, and so on. Sometimes there's good faith in that effort, sometimes there's blatant chart-chasing. 

That open remix culture both lets well-meaning fans make their own fun riffs on these popular games, and builds a runway for fast-following creators to catch the eye of an audience hungry for the next genre. It keeps players interested in their favorite horror games, but it also runs the risk of a given horror brand being diluted or tainted if one of those fast-follow iterations sneaks in some inappropriate content. 

Of course that's true of everything popular on Roblox. A Roblox spokesperson noted that in 2021 there's been "a surge" in horror and anime experiences, and some of the most popular games sit side-by-side with their more generic knockoffs when you search for those titles.

Is there any indication that Roblox's young playerbase is ready to immerse themselves in a variety of new horror experiences? Not really, but if you can make a game where a creepy monster chases the players around and there's tantalizing clues about the overall plot, there will be an audience waiting for you.

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About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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