Roblox CEO David Baszucki says he has a bullish outlook for digital social spaces – aka metaverses – and expects that non-gaming activities will be key drivers of growth in the near future.
Speaking on The Verge’s Decoder podcast, he shied away from using the word ‘metaverse’, but he is clearly a believer in digital-social spaces where people gather to enjoy fun activities.
“When we say social media, we mean a lot of things,” he said. “It can mean you and I sharing photos. It can mean you and I consuming short form videos. It can also mean you and I hanging out and communicating in a virtual environment and doing some of the things we do in the real world.”
He added: “How do we communicate? How do we stay connected? I’m optimistic about the direction we’re going – around civility, safe communication and around learning with your friends. A lot of the things that people are starting to build on Roblox are very positive things for the world.”
Down the aisle
Baszucki said: “When we take a step back and we look at the history of technology, we believe it’s much bigger than gaming. The next wave is 3D simulation communication. In 3D simulation we can play hide and seek but we can also get a high school diploma or walk down the aisle. We can have a birthday party. We can pretend we’re in the office together.
“Say we want to have a Roblox company meeting with 2,700 people. It’s one thing to have everyone on Zoom, but it’s very different to have 2,700 people feel like we’re all in the same place … to walk around and have all of that social stuff. There’s a lot of inherent benefits. And so I think it’s bigger than gaming. It’s how people ultimately communicate at work, how we go to school, how we go to concerts – a wide range of stuff.”
Education, he said, is a potential area for growth. “Roblox is starting to be used for computer science education,” he said. “Not everyone has the ability to have the physical hardware to compete in robotics [so they are] doing that in a simulated way, learning about traveling to Mars for example. I think there’s going to be a continued educational groundswell.”
He predicted that consumer spending on fashion, entertainment and personalization in digital spaces will likely be proportional to spending in the real world, based on time spent. “If I’m spending five percent of my time in the digital world I might spend five percent as much digitally on what I’m wearing and the brand as what I spend in the physical world. I think that supports some of the behavior we’ve seen,” he said.
The company recently outlined plans for appealing to older players with the launch of a 17+ category. Roblox has generally been associated with children, and previously mandated 9+ and 13+ categories. As players grow older, they are staying with the platform, while looking for more age-appropriate experiences. Roblox says young adults are its fastest growing audience sector, with 38 percent of its most active users ages 17 and older.
He said that growth among older players is coming both from loyal fans, and from newcomers. “We see that people have been on Roblox for 12 years now, which is really, really cool,” he said, adding that there’s also a market for “word-of-mouth 21-year old friends who are like, ‘oh, go try this out’. So I think they are both coming together and as we get into 30 and up less of those people have been on the platform before.”
On the subject of maintaining a safe platform for both children and adults. Baszucki said: “There’s so many ways to grow, and one is all ages. We typically ask ourselves, what would be the hardest way to do this? The easy way might be to split the platform – have an older Roblox and a younger one. The hardest would be to be so good at safety and civility across the platform that we can start supporting those older, more mature experiences.”
As Roblox’s popularity, and its public profile, have grown, the company has often struggled to stay ahead of bad actors, scammers and weirdos. Earlier this year, it initiated a raft of new rules designed to protect children from predatory advertisers. Baszucki said that Roblox has always put safety first, right back to the company’s founding.
“Imagine four of us in a small office in Menlo Park, being live for about a month and peak times maybe 50 people on the platform, ” he reminisced. “The temptation is to do more engineering because there’s so much more stuff we can build. But my partner Eric talked and said, we have to build a moderation system. It was actually a real ‘values’ moment for us. He added: The four of us were the moderators. It started very early. It’s always been a top focus for us. The challenges get more and more complex all the time, and we get better and better. But the core value has always been there.”
When asked if Roblox would ever allow “nudity” on its platform, he replied that “I would never rule it out,” based on the company’s long term view of mirroring real life activities and enthusiasms, while also maintaining safe boundaries. He added that “getting to that kind of stuff probably isn’t in the short term future for us”.
He reiterated that allowing Roblox’s development community to flourish is essential to the platform’s ongoing success. “One of our innovations was to trust the creativity of our developers, rather than being very regimented around what you might buy in an experience. If we provide the core platform and the infra we’ll continue to be really surprised by [what they do].”