If you’re a tween, there’s a very good chance you’re playing Roblox. About 75% of American children ages 9 through 12 play Roblox regularly with friends, according to the company. During the pandemic, kids flocked to Roblox to throw virtual birthday parties and other in-game events that were no longer as safe to hold in-person. In July, gamers spent 3 billion hours playing Roblox, twice as much time as in February.
Roblox is essentially a digital sandbox where kids can build their own games — anything from a simulation of running a virtual restaurant to adopting a pet. The entire platform is made up of user-generated games, many of them created by children and teens who have made millions of dollars through the platform.
Katie Salen Tekinbaş, a game design professor at the University of California, Irvine, estimates that the virtual camp nonprofit Connected Camps she co-founded, which teaches kids how to build Roblox games, saw attendance jump to 10,000 over the summer, while previous years typically saw 2,000 attendees.
“I think it does begin to open up pathways for young people, particularly into the tech sector, which is hard to get into,” said Tekinbaş.
For the platform’s most successful developers, Roblox is more than just fun: It’s a paying job. The Roblox platform offers tools and tutorials for young developers to customize and create their own titles that can easily be monetized. They can sell in-game items like virtual clothes or pets for real money.
“I do this because I enjoy it. The fact that I get paid just means I don’t have to get a job,” said CJ Oyer, a 22-year-old Roblox game developer and game design student in Indiana, in a video shared with CNN Business.
Oyer began playing Roblox as a 10-year old and made his first game in 2008. He has now earned six figures developing a series of games, played tens of millions of times, where people can roleplay as their own superheroes.
With his excess earnings, Oyer turned to charity work, giving out an estimated 40 loans to help people pay for college.
“What makes it fascinating is that it’s relatively untapped as a target market for a lot of professionals, which is surprising because it’s a cash-generating machine from top to bottom,” said Alisha Karabinus, an assistant professor and games researcher at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
Unlike many other video games, Roblox is primarily aimed at children under the age of 13. Roblox games are more bite-sized than the titles for PlayStation and Xbox and more focused on multiplayer interactions. That opens up the platform to a myriad of responsibilities, including offering strong parental controls and educating parents on how to use them.
Roblox has come up in the headlines when kids spend too much money without parental permission and when predators target children using the platform. And because it’s made up of user-generated content that may include popular franchises like Pokémon, Roblox can often be the target of copyright complaints from other companies.
Karabinus, the professor, has discussed with her own children, who are 7 and 12, that while they can play on Roblox with friends of friends and in groups, they cannot play with strangers. And she doesn’t allow them to spend real money, although she said she knows other parents who give their children allowance in Robux, Roblox’s in-game currency.
“You can have a very safe experience if you’re aware of things and careful,” said Karabinus, who talks to her children about how to recognize scams.
Roblox said it works with parents to refund purchases if their child buys anything without consent.