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Roblox is being scrutinized for real-money collectibles, shady moderation

YouTube channel People Make Games is once again highlighting scurrilous situations enabled on the Roblox platform.

Bryant Francis

December 13, 2021

The team at People Make Games are back with another video this week criticizing some of the business practices that have helped propel Roblox Corp.'s earnings higher and higher over the last few months.

Back in August, the developer-focused YouTube channel uploaded a video arguing that the Roblox platform's financial incentives and low payout rate loop young users into the grind of game development. In the interim, more Roblox users reached out to share their stories about other pitfalls waiting for young players, and to explain how the parent company has done apparently little about addressing them.

People Make Games' new video goes extensively into a number of issues, including a fuzzy set of moderation policies, an in-game collectible market that borders on real-money gambling, and a series of terms-of-service-violating black markets that seem to exacerbate these issues. You can watch the whole thing for yourself up above this article.

There are two issues from this new video that are worth describing in brief here. The first is a number of issues related to content moderation and child safety. Half of the platform's users are under the age of 12, but Roblox's moderation policies seem to have holes that let bad actors slip through, or even continue to make money even if banned from the platform.

One Roblox user, "Sarah," told a story about now another user named "Doc" allegedly sent her and other players sexually explicit messages for a numbers of years even though she was 12 years old. These messages were sent over Discord, which admittedly means they more directly fall under that company's terms of service rather than Roblox Corp.'s, but after Sarah came forward with her story, Doc was allowed to make money off a popular Sonic the Hedgehog fan game on the platform even after being banned.

He did so by transferring the game's ownership to a different account (literally with the name "holding group" in the title, to add to the absurdity), and then posting YouTube videos promoting and hyping the game's vision. Users spending Roblox Corp. currency on the game (Robux) are still apparently funneling money to him, since he oversees the development team working on the game.

(Doc also claimed in an email to People Make Games that he was not banned for messages to Sarah, but other account violations.)

Also it's quite strange that if there was a focus on this Sonic fan game, why said game was not explicitly removed for violating Sega's copyright for Sonic the Hedgehog video games.

The second issue raised by People Make Games host Quintin Smith that's worth highlighting is the existence of a real-money collectibles market that invites minors to buy and sell limited items for a chance to earn actual money. This is a market (easily findable on the Roblox store) that allows users to purchase "collectibles"--in-game items that are either limited in quantity or were only purchasable during a short window.

Said items can be purchased in Robux, and with no cap on item value, that means some collectibles can be sold as high for $15,000. Smith spoke to one user who purchased several of these collectibles after earning Robux with a briefly popular game they'd created, only to have them stolen by a user who was able to hack their account by way of a cookie shared with a file downloaded through Roblox.com.

Watching footage of this collectibles system is bizarre, if only because it looks like a blockchain-free version of the NFT craze that some game corporations have been working on for the last year. Turns out you don't need blockchain technology to create limited items, you just need a system to pay out your in-game currency for real cash.

There appears to be no age-gate on interacting with this system, only on purchasing Robux with a credit card.

Both of these systems are exploitable by bad actors, including a network of black market sites and dubious developers who assemble teams on the basis of profit-sharing, then who flip the script and create actual companies to manage the development of Roblox titles.

Roblox Corp.'s responses to People Make Games are equally frustrating to read. The company did not respond to direct questions, only sharing talking points after saying Smith's inquiry "was not coming from a place of of objective inquiry." They also apparently suggested that People Make Games should take down their first video, but did not provide breakdowns of any factual incorrections in it.

We've reached out to Roblox Corp. for comment on this story, and will update it when they respond.

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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