Roblox wants to advertise to players aged 13+ in the Metaverse

Roblox, the platform with metaverse ambitions that targets tweens, is introducing a host of new features aimed at making its experiences more age-appropriate and profitable for the business. In the coming weeks, Roblox will introduce age guidelines for individual experiences or games, product manager Manuel Bronstein said, helping its 52 million daily users better navigate games hosted on the site. Games will be marked as appropriate for all ages, suitable for 9+ and 13+.

“Our platform is getting old now,” said Manuel Bronstein, chief product officer of Roblox. “Over 50% of our users are 13+, and our fastest growing demographic is 17-24, so it makes sense that people have control over what experiences they access. .”

Roblox’s platform includes user-generated games, many of which have been created by children and teenagers, some of whom have earned millions of dollars for themselves. The company declined to share exact percentages of the number of users under the age of 13. Last year, she said 54% were under 13. Roblox notes that around 90% of the developers of its top 1,000 games by revenue are above the age of 18. The platform has more than 12 million game developers.

According to the company, all-ages content might contain infrequent light violence or slightly unrealistic gore, while content that’s closed for ages 13 and up might feature moderate violence and light, realistic gore. Roblox says it doesn’t allow romantic or sexual content on its platform.

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The San Mateo, Calif.-based company went public in March 2021, at $64.50 per share. At the time, Roblox CEO Dave Baszucki told The Washington Post that he envisioned Roblox helping to build and grow the metaverse, or a next version of the shared, active internet, a confluence of music, games, movies and more. The company posted a net loss of $176 million in the quarter ending June, compared with a loss of $140 million in the same period last year.

Roblox has sought to add some features already popularized by other big tech companies, though the platform faces more challenges given its younger user base. Roblox plans to add facial animation functionality, allowing avatars to change their expression based on facial recognition – a feature popularized by Apple’s Memojis. The company said people will soon be able to chat with each other using the feature in a testing phase, and that it expects a full release early next year. The gaming platform has also been rolling out a spatial voice feature since last November, which works similarly to that offered by Meta, formerly Facebook, through their Oculus headset.

While Roblox seeks to grow, it still faces a major threat to its business. Unlike many other games, Roblox titles are often aimed at children under 13 and can be multiplayer, allowing users to interact with strangers online. This opens up the platform to many responsibilities, including having strong parental controls in place and training parents on how to use them.

“Much of the Roblox user base is simply too young to understand the nuance of data and security features like these, and I don’t think we should ignore that many kids are using platforms like Roblox unattended,” Alisha Karabinus said. , a games researcher at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, who has children aged 9 and 14. Do not share photos. But: what is more personal or more private than your face? »

Roblox requires users to verify that they are 13 or older to use the voice chat feature by submitting government ID or verifying their phone number. It relies on users to report bad actors, instead of full real-time moderation from employees or artificial intelligence, which has traditionally been extremely difficult for voice communications in games. Bronstein points out that users can also mute individuals or everyone.

“In the future, we may have technology that could possibly do some level of real-time filtering, but that’s not in place everywhere in the world right now,” Bronstein said. “So what you can do is do a lot of good real-time moderation and give users control.”

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Voice recordings may be used in the future to support reports of user misbehavior. Bronstein said Roblox is concerned about data privacy.

“First, we let people know that when they use voice, their voice may be recorded for moderation and abuse reporting, and then those files go away after a while,” Bronstein said. “We do not intend to store users’ voices for a long period of time.”

Roblox also tested a new version of text chat that would give users over 13 more freedom. The chat filter would prevent under 13s from seeing acronyms like “LMAO”, but would allow over 13s to see words and acronyms.

Next year, Roblox plans to introduce immersive ads, a way to tap into a new revenue stream on top of its existing subscriptions and in-game transactions. Warner Bros. and shoe company Vans tested ads on the platform.

“That will be our take on what advertising looks like in the metaverse,” Bronstein said. “It’s a huge area that we’re excited about from an innovation perspective, because I don’t think it’s been understood. We’re thinking of interactive formats, where if there’s a billboard promoting a nice item, like a pair of shoes, for example, you can tap on the billboard and immediately you’re in the fitting room where you can try on these shoes and complete the transaction.”

Ads will be closed to those 13 or older. But gaming experts have warned of adapting ads to children and the harmful effects it could have.

“Even an aging user base is still young, and Roblox’s profits come from children. This deserves more attention – or should,” Karabinus said, citing studies showing a link between junk food advertising aimed at children and childhood obesity.

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Creators on Roblox can already make a profit by selling items, and sometimes limited-edition virtual items that increase demand. When asked if that meant Roblox was considering getting into non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which are also digital and collectible, Bronstein said the company doesn’t need access to the blockchain.

“We are not reviewing NFTs at this time,” he said. “I have read about this space and I love it. I like technology and I like to understand what is going on. But we think we get a lot of the value or the utility without necessarily having to go into the blockchain. We are the platform where if you buy an item you will have an avatar or a place to use it. You will have 50 million other people to see it.

To become more profitable, the company expanded into Germany, Brazil, Portugal, Russia and China. It launched LuoBuLeSi, the Chinese version of its platform, in July 2021 only to shut it down six months later, saying it was working on a relaunch. Last year, the company listed the business as a risk factor because it could be affected by US-China policy.

“Currently, we have suspended services and are focused on making the necessary investments, including investments in our data architecture, to achieve our long-term vision for LuoBuLeSi,” said Desiree Fish, Vice President of Global Communications. from Roblox.

“We hope that over time, more and more of our core developers will come from China. … There’s also a lot of really amazing content from our global developer base that we think will work really well in China,” Baszucki told The Washington Post in March 2021.

Last July, Vice reported on leaked internal Roblox documents detailing how it planned to adhere to Chinese censorship rules to successfully launch in China, noting that players had national IDs and real names, which facilitated the search for child predators.

Roblox said in a statement, “Roblox actively investigated a phishing incident, which involved a Roblox employee being targeted by cybercriminals through social engineering tactics and using highly personalized scare tactics. These stolen documents were obtained illegally as part of an extortion scheme with which we refused to cooperate.”

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