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The Seriously Shady Side Of Roblox

"Roblox" is an absolutely massive game. According to Statista, the game boasted "over 58.8 million daily active users of Roblox games worldwide." Despite this popularity and the fact that many of its users are children, there are a number of unsavory things to note about "Roblox." Before diving into the really shady parts of "Roblox," however, it is important to understand exactly what it is. "Roblox" is technically a game, but it really functions more like a digital storefront. Players are able to make their own avatars and customize them with a number of customization items, then use that avatar to navigate through millions of different games, called "experiences."

These experiences — of which there are tens of millions available — cover an incredible range of content. Players can jump into "Grand Theft Auto"-style open worlds, operate their own farms raising mystical creatures, or head to battlefields for some third-person shooter action. The game has managed to build such an extensive library, thanks in no small part to how it encourages (and even relies upon) its users to create their own content. It offers its own intuitive game-building tools, free hosting services, and users can even make money off their creations. But not all is well in the world of "Roblox."

Hackers stealing player accounts with ease

In a December 2022 report from IGN, "Roblox" was revealed to contain a massive network of scammers and hackers that operate in "Roblox" to prey upon its younger userbase. To make matters worse, the majority of participants in the Discord servers and online groups explored throughout IGN's investigation were children themselves. That's right; as IGN put it, "kids are scamming kids" in "Roblox."

The article's author, journalist Luke Winkie, worked his way into a Discord server that saw scammers openly sharing their hauls. They frequently post screenshots into the server's chat, showcasing the IP addresses of accounts that they were able to take over, sometimes stealing thousands of dollars' worth of Robux (the game's premium currency) in the process. Robux can then be resold, transferred, or cashed out, making this type of scam a lucrative practice, even for those who don't want the currency for use in the game itself. 

The most shocking revelation of the article, however, is just how simple it apparently is to steal another player's account. There are reportedly even guides in this Discord server that help to lead curious visitors through the process, which uses a simple program called a pin cracker. Once the hacker has guessed the player's security pin and have access, the program automatically removes the account's verified e-mail and allows the hacker to change the account's password. This way, the hackers are able to completely take control of another person's account, removing any options for the previous owner to get it back. 

The Kim Kardashian controversy

In early 2022, "Roblox" also made the news when it made an unexpected appearance in the reality show "The Kardashians." The show captured a moment in which Kim Kardashian was approached by her six-year-old son, who told her that he found her in "Roblox." When Kim looked at the game to see what he meant, she found a game that was supposedly advertising a follow-up to her infamous sex tape, which was originally leaked in 2007. 

This was understandably a distressing moment for Kim, and it raised many concerns regarding the game's content moderation. Any explicit sexual content is obviously very inappropriate for a game with as young of a target audience as "Roblox," where parents may understandably expect the game to be safe for their children to play. 

In the heat of the controversy that rose from the event, Roblox Corporation was quick to remove the reference to the tape. According to a statement given to Polygon, the tape was never actually available on the platform and the creator behind the infamous experience seen on "The Kardashians" was banned from Roblox. However, the whole episode was still very concerning. Even if such instances are rare, parents may worry that their children may occasionally see highly inappropriate content on one of the biggest social platforms for their age group.

It can be difficult for creators to cash out

Since "Roblox" relies heavily on user-built content to operate, it heavily advertises the fact that creators can make money by building content for the game. However, an investigation carried out by the YouTube channel People Make Games alleged that the compensation those creators can expect from the game can be pitifully low. 

"Roblox" creators can create entire games for the platform's players to experience, which sometimes reach the scale of indie titles available on platforms like Steam. Whereas Steam takes 30% of every sale on their platform and the Epic Games Store takes only 12%, however, "Roblox" takes a jaw-dropping 75% of every sale made in the game, making the lion's share of each and every sale of content that its userbase creates. 

People Make Games also looked into the ways in which the game's promise of a payout was especially attractive to the game's younger users. The ability to make money through creating content is heavily advertised throughout "Roblox," and it seems the company has made a concerted effort to highlight the fringe cases of creators making larger amounts of money. According to People Make Games, this method works very well to convince users to try and make their own games or content for the platform, even if these big paydays might actually be the exception to the rule.

New games get buried

There are literally tens of millions of experiences available on "Roblox" at any given time, which means that a majority of them can go completely unnoticed or don't see any play at all. It also means that the game has to provide means for players to search through all of the options to find games to play. However, People Make Games found through talking with developers on the platform that this practice allegedly feeds into an exploitative monetization method for "Roblox." 

At any given time "Roblox" advertises only a couple dozen of game modes at a time. Players are able to search for specific game modes if they want, but the search mode's algorithm shows players a selection of games that all have at least a couple thousand of active players at the time. This makes it exceptionally hard for new games to catch on and find a player base when it is released, which in turn pushes developers to invest in paying Roblox Corporation to advertise their new game for them. 

However, advertising isn't that straightforward. According to People Make Games' findings, when developers want to advertise their game, they enter a bidding war for limited advertising slots, which makes for a whole other kind of stress.

Music copyright infringement

Whenever a game features a great amount of user-created content, concerns arise regarding copyright infringement. For instance, "Roblox" players will frequently create content based on properties such as "Sonic the Hedgehog" or "Star Wars." This raises questions of whether or not derivative content should be allowed — and in 2021 these concerns were raised by the National Music Publishers' Association. 

According to a report from Reuters, the NMPA sued Roblox for $200 million dollars in 2021 over the game's failure to get licenses for music appearing in the game's experiences. Since players are able to put whatever sound or music in their games that they want, many songs from artists represented by the NMPA were being used without permission or license. The case was eventually settled outside of court, but the controversy still begs further questions regarding user-generated content in "Roblox."

Cashing out can be a pain

While all purchases in "Roblox" are made with the game's premium Robux currency, they can be cashed out for real money. This allows the game's developers to profit from making "Roblox" content, but the system for cashing out one's earnings can be a bit of a confusing headache, according to People Make Games' investigation.

The first requirement to withdraw earnings "Roblox" is to have a $5 monthly premium subscription to the game. In addition, players have to have a minimum of 100,000 Robux in their account. When purchasing Robux, 100,000 is equal to roughly $1,000. The old saying goes that you must spend money to make money, and according to several developers, "Roblox" apparently follows that philosophy.

However, the rate that users can cash out Robux at is different than the rate at which they're sold. According to the developers interviewed by People Make Games, cashing out 100,000 Robux allegedly ends up earning closer to only $350 USD, rather than the $1,000 paid for the currency. This is an unconventional way to handle the pricing of the game's premium currency (to say the least), and can occasionally make it harder for developers to discern what percentage of their sales they are actually receiving. 

Stopping criticism

After the initial video investigating "Roblox" was released by People Make Games, the channel released a follow-up to discuss the fallout from the video. The channel alleged that Roblox Corporation tried pushing them to delete the original video, citing an anonymous article online that claimed there were numerous factual errors made in the original video. People Make Games also claimed that the takedown requests for the first "Roblox" video began after the channel reached out to Roblox Corporation for comment, which the channel apparently never received.

The actions People Make Games claim were taken against the channel have, for many viewers, painted Roblox Corporation in a negative light. The comment section on PMG's second video are full of fans expressing their disappointment with the company for targeting People Make Games, as well as a number of "Roblox" users seemingly corroborating some of the claims and issues brought up in the previous investigative video.

Virtual fascism

During an investigation in 2021, Wired looked into the rise of content in "Roblox" that preached fascistic principles and ideology, seemingly with the goal of indoctrinating the children playing the game. The report found a shocking rise in fascist experiences throughout the digital ecosystem. 

The game has built-in moderation systems that place a ban on words like slave or using Nazi memorabilia. Despite this, the investigation managed to find experiences that contained shocking content, including recreations of the deadly Christchurch mosque shooting. While many of these abhorrent experiences were taken down shortly after being published, others were only taken down when Wired reached out to "Roblox" and drew the company's attention to the offending content.

Wired also found that some experiences on the platform were being used to introduce vulnerable children to fascist ideology. Because of the highly social nature of "Roblox," it provides a prime environment for bad actors to join random games and bring players over to their own game. From there, they are able to build a sense of community and gradually desensitize other players to radical opinions.

A digital Red Light District

Another investigation into the shadier parts of "Roblox" was carried out in 2021 by Rolling Stone. This investigation, however, was concerned with sexual content on the platform. Rolling Stone found that there was a thriving underground community in the game that supports experiences filled with virtual gentlemen's clubs, adult roleplaying, and more.

The investigation found numerous experiences that were built around hiring players to act as private dancers or virtual escorts and paying them in Robux. Allowing children to carry out these acts in a virtual world and even pay real money for them is disturbing enough, but it gets worse when considering that children likely aren't the only people participating in these experiences. Since any player can join the experiences, they are open to predators and older individuals that aim to take advantage of the children playing. 

Rolling Stone even spoke with a 16-year-old — anonymously referred to as "Katie" in the article — who participates in the community through a dancer alter ego. Katie told Rolling Stone a number of disturbing details, explaining that she's received messages from people threatening or trying to dox her, discovered that accounts interacting with her were run by older men posing as teenagers, and that she's interacted with a number of users who have attempted to meet up with her in real life.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Collectibles and the black market

The core userbase of "Roblox" is the millions of players who don't actually make anything of their own. However, People Make Games reported in its second video on the game that the game's emphasis on player customization has inadvertently created even more exploitative systems for the game's younger players.

The first component of this is the game's collectible market, which allows Roblox Corporation and other players to sell items for Robux. "Roblox" also frequently releases items for a limited time window, which causes these items to spike in value after they are no longer available. The market also displays the price history of items, which PMG argues could cause players to assume that more purchased items could eventually accrue greater value later on. Items are sometimes sold for thousands of dollars on "Roblox," and the developers take a 30% cut with every single transaction carried out on the store. 

To circumvent Roblox Corporation's cut, many users have turned to using third-party websites to sell their wares and cash out at a higher rate, some of which have operated undisturbed for years. Who knew "Roblox" users would go and create their own black market?