Roblox CEO David Baszucki was giving a keynote address at a conference in September when his phone buzzed with an alert from … a goblin.
Ears wiggling and green eyes shifting, the creature — the virtual avatar of senior director of product Mahesh Ramasubramanian — began to show off. Joined by the digital version of Kiran Bhat, senior director of engineering, the duo proceeded to take over the massive on-stage video screen, bantering and demonstrating updates to Roblox’s avatar chat feature.
Goblin breaks are par for the course when you’re in charge of one of the most popular video games in the world, so Baszucki played along.
Roblox is an interactive platform for immersive online games. These “experiences,” as the company calls them, include Royale High (where you can attend classes, socialize and play dress up in a magical high school) and Jailbreak (where you can help stop or participate in heists).
The platform’s reach is absolutely massive; at last count, Roblox had 58.8 million daily active users, many of whom are young or developers who help create its ever-growing network of experiences. At one point in 2020, the company claimed that more than half of all U.S. kids under age 16 played it.
Baszucki’s own Roblox journey dates back to 1989, when he and his late co-founder, Erik Cassel, launched a physics simulation at the educational software company Knowledge Revolution. It soon got acquired by another firm, but as Baszucki later wrote in Harvard Business Review (HBR), “the notion of enabling meaningful co-creation stuck.” Next, the duo coded DynaBlocks, which eventually became Roblox, formally launching in 2006.
Though Roblox is free to play, players use real-life money to buy Robux, which can be spent on outfits, power ups and other expanded abilities. Creators can also earn Robux, and after accumulating enough, swap it out for actual money at an exchange rate of $0.0035 per 1 Robux.
“Our developer community now earns more than half a billion dollars annually, helping our members start their own businesses, expand their teams, pay college tuition, invest and much more,” Baszucki wrote in HBR.
Success stories abound — like that of Alex Balfanz, who released Jailbreak in 2017 and went on to pay his way through Duke University (and buy a Tesla) with the “several million dollars a year” it earns. So does criticism: In 2021, a British investigative journalism project called People Make Games made a viral YouTube video accusing Roblox of taking advantage of young developers, who earn just 29 cents for every dollar other users spend in their experiences.
Despite the controversy, Roblox isn’t slowing down. Big brands see big opportunity in the metaverse: Companies like Chipotle, Gucci and Walmart have recently set up interactive worlds for Roblox players — moves Baszucki has predicted could lead to an “emerging market” for Roblox’s community of developers that are being tapped (and, hopefully, paid) to show brands the ropes.
Baszucki — the architect of this impactful, profitable community — remains something of a celebrity in Roblox circles. At the September Roblox Developer Conference, he posed for selfie after selfie with fans who shared the photos online with captions like “the man, the myth, the legend.” Later, he danced through the crowd in shades and a scarlet tuxedo.
This time, no one interrupted.